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Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Ep. 1.01, “Reese Witherspoon”

Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Ep. 1.01, “Reese Witherspoon”

Best Week Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Season 1, Episode 1, “Reese Witherspoon”
Written by Neil Patrick Harris and Jim Wise
Directed by Glen Weiss
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm (ET) on NBC

You’ve been invited over to a friend’s house and he has you sit on his couch and starts making smalltalk about your trip. He asks you and your wife where you’re staying while in town and he reveals that he already knows the answer to the question. He proceeds to show you a video of him posing as a porter as you arrive at your hotel. He then further reveals that he was the school mascot that sat on your lap during a football game in Arlington and that he photobombed all of your wedding. All of this is revealed with video evidence. You and your wife don’t know if you should laugh or feel scared. This is not the plot to a paperback novel: This is literally a thing that happens on the series premiere of Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris.

Adapted from a British variety show—the hosts of which make an appearance during the freak show that closes out the hour—Best Time Ever operates with the premise that its host is the most adorable scoundrel to grace the stage and that you shall delight from his rascally ways. “Watch as he hides cameras in unsuspecting viewers’ homes and forces them to sing!” “Behold as he walks through the audiences and tells a national broadcast audience intimate details of their personal lives!” “Be amazed at how expertly he fools the judges of NBC’s The Voice with a strange accent and a fake beard!” NPH literally wears a fake beard in order to make a No Doubt joke at Gwen Stefani.

Best Time Ever quickly reveals that it is actually an elaborate trial to test the patience of both the viewing audience and NPH’s fabulous friends. One of the show’s innumerable gimmicks involves having a celebrity of note act as the MC for the evening’s affairs. For the premiere, that duty falls to Reese Witherspoon who seems genuinely enthused to be there. Too bad Harris decides to repay her game attitude by forcing her to be suspended from mid-air and complete an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course simply because Harris and company feel that it would be a cool thing to see. Put another way: “Hey, Reese, could you do me a favor? I would like you to be a part of my new show!” “Sure, Neil, anything for a friend. What do you need me to do?” “Oh, nothing serious.” *Turns to camera and winks because he knows he is going to force Reese to CLIMB SCAFFOLDING SUSPENDED HUNDREDS OF FEET OFF THE GROUND.*

The structure of the whole show is nonexistent. Commercial breaks string together discarded Tonight Show games. It isn’t hard to imagine that the show’s producers are simply salivating over the idea of something like the obstacle course being slated in to the daily blasts of content farm sites, sweeping across the internet like a great wildfire. This means that Best Time Ever lives and dies in the moment; it doesn’t matter if you didn’t enjoy this game show segment because up next is a prank video. That need to always be entertaining should be perfectly suited to a show that is broadcast live. Yet the only segment of this first episode that takes advantage of its live format is the obstacle course because the audience gets to see Harris and Witherspoon quickly having to throw on safety gear and react in the moment as they are being hoisted up into the sky. Between the pre-taped pranks and an audience that comes off as consistently bewildered with the cheery demeanor of a show that consistently calls attention to how much effort is being put into entertaining to them, the energetic tension that makes live TV so thrilling just doesn’t have space to flourish.

More than an old-fashion variety show, Best Time Ever feels like one of the high-concept flops that Jack Donaghy would be shepherding to air during his tenure at NBC; a lower-third promo for SeinfeldVision could run during Best Time Ever and not at all feel out of place. Synergy abounds, with The Voice prank segment, an audience member answering trivia questions about NBCUniversal properties, and essentially a mini-episode of American Ninja Warrior appearing in the middle of the show. NBC thinks is has cracked the future of broadcast TV and that all audiences want to watch is live programming like musicals, football, and Best Time Ever. If this really is the future, we should all start living our lives in fear that we shall at some point be roped into some smirking host’s cabal of “fun.”