The joke was right there – and a totally cheap shot — but critics clearly pulled the triggers of their Red Ryder BB guns and shot out the eye of “A Christmas Story Live,” which aired Sunday night. In fact many outlets, including USA Today, AV Club and the Washington Post, cribbed versions of the the famous quote for tongue-and-cheek headlines.
Fox’s latest live TV musical came in as the lowest-rated across all networks so far (1.5 ratings/5 share and 4.48 million viewers) and was ripped apart in reviews that were quick to compare it to its beloved source material, the 1983 Bob Clark classic of the same name (minus the “Live!” bit), which, was in turn, based on the cherished Jean Shepherd memoir. While writers conceded it covered every important part of the film, it didn’t deliver it in the same package — in fact, it might have been presented a little too perfectly.
Critics noted there were few missteps in the televised-production, which many thought made it less interesting than a usual live event. The performances of the main cast (Andy Walken as Young Ralphie, Chris Diamantopoulos as his old man and Maya Rudloph as his mother), were generally received favorably. However, more shoutouts went to the smaller roles filled by familiar faces like Ana Gasteyer (Schwartz’s mom), Jane Krakowski (Mrs. Shields), Ken Jeong (a Christmas tree salesman and Chinese food restaurant owner), Fred Armisen (an angry department store elf) and David Alan Grier (a more annoyed department store Santa).
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But no one seemed to be thrilled with Matthew Broderick’s Adult Ralphie creeping around stage during his narration. The heavily-hyped live commercial for “The Greatest Showman” even got special (negative) shoutouts in many a review.
Fox still boasts a smash hit in 2016’s “Grease,” but even using that live musical’s director, Alex Rudzinski, for this program didn’t seem to please a crowd of reviewers looking for a show that would give them the exact feels the cult classic does.
Read the five most scathing reviews below.
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Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times:
“And they were diluted again by its expansion into three hours of commercial-filled television, beginning with a perfectly irrelevant prologue in which Bebe Rexha performed a new work of ready-to-stream, pitch-corrected pop, ‘Come on Christmas.’ The white background upon which it was set had the look of a Target ad. (Target was not a sponsor, but Old Navy, which was, got its name on a store in the backlot downtown.) There was also a ‘live commercial,’ also shot on the Warner lot, in which Hugh Jackman and a cast of dozens pitched his new movie, ‘The Greatest Showman.'”
Noel Murray, New York Times:
“But there was a certain crackle missing throughout the three-hour show. Aside from Mr. Diamantopoulos and Ms. Rudolph sweetly covering for her stumbling over a line, ‘A Christmas Story Live!’ lacked the feeling of a piece of theater unfolding in front of the audience’s eyes in real time, like a slick magic trick.”
Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly:
“I would never accuse ‘A Christmas Story’ of having a ‘point.’ It’s too clever for that. ‘Back in those days, your parents didn’t say ‘I love you’ very often,’ was how Matthew Broderick began the long speech near the end of Fox’s three-hour ‘A Christmas Story Live!,’ the content of which speech ultimately landed on the profound explicit assertion that parents did love their children after all. I cringed a bit, but the whole musical was like that. Any subtle moment got blown out to glam showstopperhood, and the camera close-ups caught neo-Ralphie Andy Walken singing like he had murder in his eyes, and at long last we found out what Schwartz’s mom is like.”
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Kelly Lawler, USA Today:
“The added songs were too sugary sweet for the irreverent story, and as a whole package, it felt tonally dissonant and a little dull. The production tried to gloss over some of the more dated aspects of the narrative, set in the 1940s, with awkward results.”
Hank Stuever, Washington Post:
“I like musicals, and I’ve even enjoyed some of the recent efforts to make live television events out of them (NBC’s ‘The Wiz’ and Fox’s ‘Grease’ both come to mind), but ‘A Christmas Story Live!’ had a too-gooey center and a phony sense of seasonal exuberance. The music and direction added a cutesy layer that undermined the genuine sweetness that already existed in “A Christmas Story” as well as its rougher, less-sentimental edges. This might have been a better opportunity to try to entice the finicky American attention span with a comedic play — words only.”