Only a fool would tune into “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” NBC’s annual tree-lighting special, for a thoughtful response to the events of the day.
But only a cynic could have expected a show as appallingly tone-deaf as this year’s edition, broadcast Wednesday night from New York, hours after protests broke out there in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict a white police officer whose alleged chokehold on an unarmed black man resulted in the man’s death.
Technically, Matt Lauer, one of the hosts of this godforsaken event, recognized the unfortunate timing, saying, “We have to mention it’s been a bit of an emotional, even tumultuous day here.” His cohost Savannah Guthrie added that some of the demonstrations were taking place just a few blocks away from Rockefeller Center.
But everything else about the production felt like willful propaganda — so much so that Seth MacFarlane, who sang a duet with Sara Bareilles, was compelled to clarify via Twitter that they’d taped their performance the night before, “pre-protest.”
The hourlong production began inauspiciously, with Mariah Carey mangling her classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” According to reports, Carey was meant to record the song Tuesday night but failed to show up on time. (The “situation was beyond my control,” she tweeted Wednesday afternoon.)
So NBC agreed to have her perform live, a capitulation both parties surely now regret.
How bad was it? Proceed to Deadspin, which posted what it says are Carey’s “unedited, isolated vocals.” It’ll have you feeling emotions — more awkward than you ever dreamed of.
Yet to make a big deal about the weakness of someone’s singing is to suggest that “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” might’ve been rescued by the strength of someone else’s. And that most definitely was not the case.
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett were fine ambling through “Winter Wonderland.” Prince Royce nailed every note in “Jingle Bell Rock.” Idina Menzel, appearing on her second miserable holiday special this week, brought the requisite cheer to “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”
LeAnn Rimes even made “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” sound OK, though her bizarre semi-striptease with a bulky overcoat made me wonder if the novelty song was delivering a double-entendre I didn’t catch.
But however good or bad these singers were was irrelevant to the larger problem, captured with queasy precision by the image of Darius Rucker crooning — wait for it — “White Christmas.”
“It’s time now to turn our focus to that beautiful tree behind us — that Norway spruce,” Lauer somehow said with a straight face at the end of the show.
Yes, of course, the Norway spruce. That was the important thing here.