Television has always been a medium of habit. What works for one network is just copied over and over again by all of the other networks. Just look at all of the police and courtroom dramas we have gotten over the years. Then came the expansion of cable television and the Golden Age of television. Television is still a medium of habit, but thanks to the rise of cable a plethora of new ideas for shows has arisen. Yet it still has been quite a while since the networks have come up with an idea of their own. With the Big Four struggling in the ratings now would seem like the perfect time to begin experimenting, and NBC did just that last night by airing The Sound of Music. Airing a live musical made directly for television is definitely a risky move (and a costly one to with reports of the special’s budget being close to $10 million), but it has seemingly paid off for NBC with some big numbers in the 18-49 demo and over 18 million viewers. Did those 18 million viewers end up watching a good program? The amount of snark on Twitter and Facebook would make you believe otherwise, but The Sound of Music is a beautifully constructed if heavily flawed bit of television.
The Sound of Music follows Maria (Carrie Underwood), a nun in training who is given one last chance to prove herself by working as a governess for an Austrian military leader (Stephen Moyer). The special follows Maria’s growing relationship with him and his children as the Nazi party begins to rise in Europe. The special is directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller (Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock) with Rob Ashford (acclaimed theater director who most recently worked on the Scarlett Johansson version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) functioning as the stage director.
This special is clearly well produced. The sets are noticeably spectacular, the costumes fit the setting to a T, and the cinematography is quite intricate for a live production. The visuals are definitely not one of this production’s problems.
The main problem with this production happens to be with the poor casting of Carrie Underwood. Underwood is a fantastic singer and puts that talent to good use throughout the production’s runtime. However, Underwood can’t act, and she can’t act to the point that any scene where she isn’t singing becomes excruciating to get through. She is so flat and her facial expressions just seem so unnatural. That being said the rest of the cast does some good work. Stephen Moyer is a solid Georg von Trapp while Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti and Ariane Rinehart steal many scenes as Mother Abbess, Elsa and Liesl respectively.
The Sound of Music at its core is quite silly (in an unintended way). When it’s done perfectly such as in the 1965 film, it can be quite enjoyable. Yet when there is a faulty piece within the production (in this case Carrie Underwood’s acting), it threatens to bring the whole thing down. That being said NBC’s The Sound of Music is a good (if shaky) first step in a new type of television programming.