When it was announced on The Tonight Show that Lip Sync Battle—one of Jimmy Fallon’s most popular segments on Tonight—was getting its own show, there was palpable excitement, but also concern that a beloved game was going to wear out its welcome. After the phenomenal ratings success of the first episode and as the series has progressed, those fears have been realized. Even with John Krasinski and Stephen Merchant producing, the show has run out of steam.
There’s a lot about Lip Sync Battle that doesn’t work or isn’t sustainable, and we’ll get to much of that, but the show’s fundamental problem is that it’s not an actual lip sync battle. In fact, despite the title, lip syncing isn’t even one of the show’s top five priorities.
Even though this is a lip sync battle, the show is shot like it’s an actual singing competition. Most of the camera angles are far way enough that we barely get a good look at the performers’ facial expressions, let alone their mouths. While the backup dancers are fun, it’s hard not to think about how ridiculous and self-defeating an idea it is to have backup dancers in a lip sync competition.
The show has a sizable budget, but it’s clearly spent in all the wrong places. The audio is seemingly recorded right from the speakers on set rather than streaming the audio directly to the board or even overdubbing later, which both A) leaves a hollow echo sound that betrays low production quality, and B) helps emphasize that they’re not actually interested in the music part of this. Next time you watch, pay close attention to the poor audio quality—I can smell what the Rock is cookin’ (in this case, promoting Furious 7), but I can barely hear what he’s supposed to be singing:
While it’s not explicitly stated, there’s an understanding that the people facing off in competition will have some kind of connection to each other, but this rule is broken often—and when it’s broken, the episode tends to feel subpar. Common and John Legend just won an Oscar together, Anne Hathaway and Emily Blunt were in The Devil Wears Prada, and so on. But what do Malin Akerman and Stephen Merchant have in common? Theirs wasn’t a bad episode, per se—Merchant’s absolutely shameless take on Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty” was pure insanity—but the lack of connection between them kind of sunk the stakes. It felt less like friends trying to crush each other and more like two people they picked trying to do weird things.
When Lip Sync Battle started out, it was a viral hit. But like many viral hits, its lack of substance and originality eventually caught up with it, and its quality declined, as did its ability to keep pulling in A-listers.
The show’s star power started taking a dive after the fourth episode. Terry Crews and Mike Tyson are both stars, but they lack the magnitude of Anna Kendrick or John Krasinski, and they lack any kind of connection outside of the “muscly black man” aspect (which feels juuuuuust racist enough to either be the reason they were packaged together, or just an odd oversight). The fact that Tyson barely even lip synced to “Push It” by Salt & Pepa was obvious, despite the production crew’s attempts to hide it with constant camera changes. Episode six featured Hoda Kotb and Michael Strahan face off in a morning show host battle, but they felt grossly out of place when compared with previous contestants.
By episode seven, things had officially hit a slow point, with the aforementioned Stephen Merchant and Malin Akerman face-off. Not only is there no clear professional connection between the two of them, they aren’t stars of anywhere near the same power as the contestants before them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of both (Merchant in particular; if you haven’t seen his standup special “Hello Ladies,” I recommend you rectify that immediately) but they don’t have the pull of their predecessors. There’s not a lot of intrigue or motivation behind a battle between Silk Spectre II from the Watchmen movie and Portal 2‘s Wheatley, even if the end result is pretty amusing and features a shocked-beyond-belief Teigen.
By the time the show got to Salt and Pepa facing off (best known for the song “Push It”, and commercials trying to milk what they can out of the song a couple decades later) it was clear the show had run out of gas.
The show has most certainly had its moments—Terry Crews yelling “SOMETIMES YOU GOTTA GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR FEMININE SIDE;” Teigen looking on in disgust as husband John Legend performed “Slow Motion” by Juvenile; John Krasinski and Anna Kendrick’s power move battle during their first songs. But that’s all they are: moments. Anne Hathaway performed “Wrecking Ball” and cracked a million hits quickly. Salt, Pepa, Merchant, Akerman, Kotb, Strahan, Queen Latifah, and Marlon Wayans have yet to crack that mark as of press time. The only exception was the Hough siblings, but I suspect the guest appearance by Meghan Trainor and Julianna’s performance of “I Just Had Sex” had more to do with those hits. It’s fitting, though, since the show has more in common with Dancing With The Stars than it does the game on Fallon, and not in a good way.
Certain aspects have improved as the show has gone on. Chrissy Teigen, who spent much of the first few episodes doing little more than embracing her “eye candy” role, has evolved to a fully fledged color commentator. Though she still dances in the background with props (which is kind of ludicrous, but she seems to be having fun and Teigen is editor Haley Winters’s spirit animal, so I’m okay with it), she’s able to add actual commentary and interact with the guests in a way that feels natural. If nothing else, she seems far more sure of her role than she did on episode one. Host LL Cool J seems a little more composed in his role, even if his hat is a beanie and not a shark fin. There also seems to be improved usage of the first segment, allowing smaller props, much like Fallon did, without going overboard like they do for the second song. The fact that the crowd decides the winner has been a nice touch since Day 1 – Fallon always conceded to his guests, so having a measurable way to declare a winner is most welcome.
Every song performed can be found on the show’s YouTube page, except for Strahan’s performance of “Poison” by Bell Biv DeVoe, which I can only assume is because of rights issues—unusual, because Bell Biv DeVoe were present at his performance, but music rights are weird. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t watched some of them multiple times, but maybe that’s part of what’s making it lose its magic. When it was a game on Fallon, you could watch one over and over in anticipation of the new one. Now that there’s one every week, it feels less like a privilege and more like an obligation.
Next season is set to run for twenty episodes. It’s hard to imagine how they can fill twenty episodes with compelling celebrities duos when they barely had six out of ten in the first season.
Lip Sync Battle returns July 9th on Spike.