It’s a feat that on the surface seems relatively impossible — “Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special” can, theoretically, appeal to old-school fans of the legendary crooner, as well as anyone excited by these words: “a Lonely Island/Comedy Bang! Bang! production directed by Akiva Schaffer and Scott Aukerman.”
Simultaneously a telethon, an old-school variety special, and an absurdist lark, this Netflix comedy original is rightfully premiering the week before Valentine’s Day because, to be honest, it’s not all that romantic. It’s rich with the trappings of romance, to be sure. But it’s all in the name of wackiness, as presented by Michael Bolton.
There is something very puzzling about the idea of Michael Bolton as a source of comedy, something that’s only been touched on in his previous collaborations with the Lonely Island. It’s not technically an one-note bit, and the writers find nuance to some degree. But is Michael Bolton actually funny? Or is the concept of the singer famous for dated slow jams like “When A Man Loves a Woman” goofing around with Andy Samberg and Will Forte what’s actually funny here?
It’s honestly tough to say, because of the way this special is scientifically engineered to showcase Bolton at his most deadpan (and theoretically, his most entertaining). We begin with your average everyday sort of opening, in which Bolton is celebrating Valentine’s Day because there are only 10 months left until Christmas (unsurprisingly, he chooses to do so with a song). Then he runs across Santa Claus, who begs him to encourage the people of the world to start conceiving babies, because Santa’s elves made too many toys. Bolton, never one to turn down an opportunity to spread romance, agrees.
It only gets weirder from there, though with plenty of pauses to let Bolton and others indulge in some musical numbers; based on the closing credits, there are 14 separate credited songs packed into this hour of comedy, including at least four original numbers and the requisite return of Michael Bolton and The Lonely Island’s first collaboration, “Captain Jack Sparrow.”
While Bolton’s powerful singing voice gets a serious workout, many of these other musical numbers are anchored by familiar faces; this is a special tailor-made for “Comedy Bang! Bang!” enthusiasts, which represents a pretty niche realm of comedy, but one that’s rich with talents like Sarah Silverman, Eric Andre, Janeane Garofalo and a lot more. If you’re not a “Comedy Bang! Bang!” enthusiast, never fear — you’ll still recognize plenty of the people involved.
Like any compilation of sketches, there are bits that play better than others. A Food Network-style tribute to chocolate featuring Fred Armisen plays flat, largely because Armisen’s usual gift for disappearing inside a character is challenged by the character in question lacking any real definition.
But there are some fresh touches, most especially when the boundaries of reality are completely tossed aside (once again, by the way, Michael Sheen sneaks into a comedy special and basically steals it with the shortest of cameos). When Aukerman and Schaffer pull out and pull back and break the rules, the comedy proves transcendent; if they’d gone just a little bit further, this could have been 54 minutes of pure magic.
The absurdity could be greater, and it lacks the heart and soul of Netflix’s last big holiday special, “A Very Murray Christmas,” But it’s still pretty fun, on balance. Just don’t expect to actually know anything about Michael Bolton by the end of it. He’s clearly in on the joke. But the mystery of whether or not he’s actually funny remains unsolved.
“Michael Bolton’s Big, Sexy Valentine’s Day Special” is streaming now on Netflix.