Tag Archives: NBC

Welcome to Sweden, Working the Engels bow on NBC

'Welcome to Sweden' premieres tonight on NBC.

Josephine Bornebusch and Greg Poehler star in the delightfully grown-up romantic comedy `Welcome to Sweden,’ premiering tonight on NBC.

NBC premieres two new summer comedies tonight. The titles of both start with the letter W, they’re both about families and they’re both “foreign” in a sense. Stylistically, however, they’re very different, although both are single-camera (i.e., no laugh track) sitcoms.
First up, and by far the stronger, is Welcome to Sweden, a fresh, charming romantic comedy created by Greg Poehler, kid brother to NBC’s sitcom sweetheart, Amy (Parks and Recreation), who is the show’s executive producer. Don’t shrug off this show as an exercise in nepotism, though. It’s an original.
Poehler, a lawyer turned stand-up comic and now actor, based Welcome to Sweden largely on his own life experiences, chiefly how he hoisted anchor and moved from the United States several years ago with his then-girlfriend and moved to her native Sweden, where they live nowadays just outside Stockholm with their kids. Poehler’s sitcom counterpart is Bruce Evans, a successful but bored New York accountant who has started daydreaming of another, more fulfilling career when his girlfriend, Emma Wiik (Josephine Bornebusch, also one of the show’s co-writers), accepts a big banking promotion that requires her to move back to Sweden.
Thus, the impetuous Bruce moves without a job to a new country where he can’t even speak the language, which, by the way, is fairly complex to the point that its alphabet includes non-English letters. Emma’s close-knit family includes her laconic father, Birger (Claes Mansson), and therapist mother, Viveka (Lena Olin, Alias), who welcome Bruce yet are frankly baffled that the man hasn’t made much of an effort to learn Swedish. (Viveka also is almost comically stunned that her future son-in-law is so “short,” although Poehler is at least average height by American standards).
What follows is a mostly delightful fish-out-of-water comedy, as Bruce tries to master the cultural differences of his adopted country. Poehler shrewdly conceived Welcome to Sweden to work for both Swedish and American TV audiences, which is why the show has a mostly Swedish cast, yet is performed almost entirely in English, thanks to the plot point that Bruce cannot speak Swedish. (There are a few subtitled moments where Emma’s family switches to Swedish because they’re talking about Bruce and don’t want him to know what they’re really saying). The show also includes cameo appearances by American celebrities, including Amy Poehler and her Parks and Rec castmate Aubrey Plaza, Will Ferrell and KISS frontman Gene Simmons. Patrick Duffy and Illeana guest star in a couple of episodes as Greg’s visiting Midwestern parents.
As Welcome to Sweden unfolds, it gradually becomes more about the ways in which the characters are fundamentally alike than culturally and linguistically different, although it doesn’t hit us over the head with this message. Welcome to Sweden is aimed at adults, and frankly, it more often generates smiles of recognition than conventional belly laughs.
Yet Poehler – who, by the way, looks almost disconcertingly like Greg Kinnear’s baby brother – has his own distinctive comic sensibility and perspective, along with an unpredictably delightful story to tell. I hope NBC viewers will give a warm welcome to Welcome to Sweden. A second season already has been ordered by the show’s Swedish broadcasters, and fingers crossed the show’s success will translate Stateside, too.
Welcome to Sweden is followed immediately by Working the Engels, another, far broader comedy about a “foreign” family. In this case, the show is pretty defiantly Canadian, right down to its theme song by Barenaked Ladies, a predominantly Canadian cast and crew and, for once, a Canadian urban backdrop that is NOT trying to pass as a U.S. city. (Working the Engels aired in Canada earlier this year).
The great Andrea Martin – who technically was born in Maine, but is informally an honorary Canadian, thanks to her unforgettable, Emmy-winning years on the Toronto-based SCTV sketch show – stars as Ceil Engel, a doting helicopter mom forced to rally her three children when Ceil’s attorney husband and family breadwinner dies, leaving them a storefront law firm that is $200,000 in the red.
Thankfully, daughter Jenna (Kasey Rohl) is a qualified attorney, but her two siblings – kooky Sandy (Azura Skye) and dim-bulb Jimmy (Ben Arthur) – haven’t got a lick of legal training or expertise between them. Jimmy, formerly a smalltime crook, is reasonably capable of being the office muscle, but Sandy – who at present is ill-advisedly trying out a career as a life coach and ordained-online minister – is still flailing about for a professional identity.
Jenna, clearly, is the most together of the Engels family, yet Ceil is obsessed with the lack of romance in her life. When Jenna remarks that she enjoys being alone, Ceil freaks out, saying, “You know who also said that? The lady who was so fat, they had to CUT HER out of her house. Jenna, you are 600 pounds and 14 cats away from trouble!”
NBC sent out five episodes for preview. Working the Engels is an old-fangled show in its construction, but it gets better as it goes along. Most episodes feature Jenna in a main storyline about the office, while Ceil and Sandy get a secondary, far zanier plotline. Everything comes together very comically, however, by episode five, in which for complicated reasons Sandy is trying to pass herself off as the author of an erotic legal thriller called “Banging Gavels” (the manuscript is very heavily drawn from Sandy’s actual diary).
Ceil sees the commercial prospects of this “novel,” but offers Sandy her services as an editor.
“For one thing, you spelled ‘intercourse’ with a ‘k,’ “ Ceil points out. “And you might want to change some names.”
“Of who?” Sandy asks.
“Our neighbors’ husbands.”
Martin works very, very hard to sell the weaker material, and Skye – one of those brilliant and beautiful comediennes who never has broken out as she should have – is absolutely adorable, and both Rohl and Arthur are likable enough. Too much of Working the Engels is a hit-or-miss affair, though, despite guest appearances by celebrity Canadians Eugene Levy (SCTV), Scott Thompson (Kids in the Hall) and Gregory (billed here as “Greg”) Smith (Rookie Blue). Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills, 90210) directed most of the episodes NBC sent out for preview.
Working the Engels is a very broad comedy that works fairly well as lightweight summer entertainment, but I’ll be surprised if the Engels keep working past their first season.
Working the Engels

Kacey Rohl, Ben Arthur, Andrea Martin and Azura Skye (from left) star in ‘Working the Engels,’ a Canadian-American sitcom premiering tonight on NBC.

Malkovich makes Crossbones arrrr-fully entertaining

John Malkovich in 'Crossbones.'

Don’t call him Blackbeard! John Malkovich gives a rich, flamboyant performance as Edward Teach in NBC’s new pirate adventure series ‘Crossbones,’ which premieres tonight.

Most broadcast networks rely on a heavy lineup of unscripted “reality” programs during their summer months, so it’s especially encouraging to see NBC rolling out the lavish and almost unlawfully fun pirate saga Crossbones tonight, with Emmy winner John Malkovich as the legendary Blackbeard.
Whoops, sorry. Make that “The Commodore,” because the B-word is frowned upon on the secret Caribbean island where Edward Teach (Malkovich) holds court, some 11 years after his reputed death during a 1718 sea battle. “We don’t use that name here,” he purrs quietly yet dangerously to each newcomer who finds himself in Teach’s presence. His logic? If Blackbeard is “dead,” no one is likely to come looking for him.
From his tropical hideaway, Teach dispatches crews of pirates to retrieve precious treasures that have caught his eye. As the story opens, his latest fixation is the Longitude Chronometer, a new invention that allows ships at sea to stay unerringly on their course. When Teach sends out a massive attack on the English vessel entrusted with delivering the chronometer into royal hands, however, his pirates are in for a jolt: The supposedly mild-mannered medical officer aboard the vessel is actually Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle, Coupling), a spy whom the ruthless governor of Jamaica (Julian Sands) has charged with protecting the invention – and, oh yeah, also assassinating Blackbeard at this earliest opportunity.
Lowe is able to destroy the chronometer during the attack, but the pirates retrieve the inventor’s encrypted notebook containing instructions on how to build another of the devices. In a very ballsy move, after Lowe and his loyal cabin boy, Fletch (Chris Perfetti), are captured, Lowe memorizes the key to the encrypted book, then burns it, ensuring his own continued well-being at Teach’s hands.
As Crossbones unfolds, Teach and Lowe discover a grudging respect for each other, although the old pirate is determined to secure his prize at any cost. Meanwhile, Lowe falls in love with Kate Balfour (Claire Foy from the 2008 Masterpiece Classic miniseries adaptation of Little Dorrit), the pretty and very resourceful quartermistress entrusted with buying and selling supplies in their island community.
Malkovich, as always, is absolutely fascinating in the principal role, sketching in a characterization that is both fiercely intelligent and quirkily eccentric. Coyle, who starred as Piper Perabo’s secret lover in Season 3 of Covert Affairs, makes a splendidly cool foil for Malkovich’s sometimes over-the-top flamboyance.
Crossbones is one of those international co-productions (like NBC’s recent failed series remake of Dracula), so don’t expect to recognize that many other faces among the cast. Special effects are just so-so (the CGI looks, well, computer-generated), but the set and art direction in some of the scenes is absolutely stunning.
Crossbones is no masterpiece, but it has enough energy and imagination to qualify as perfect summer entertainment.
Richard Coyle in 'Crossbones.'

Richard Coyle co-stars in NBC’s new pirate drama ‘Crossbones,’ premiering tonight.

NBC delivers a glossy remake of classic Rosemary’s Baby

'Rosemary's Baby'

Patrick J. Adams and Zoe Saldana star as Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse in NBC’s two-part remake of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ premiering tonight.

Nearly 50 years after its 1968 release, Roman Polanski’s big-screen adaptation of Ira Levin’s 1967 bestselling horror novel Rosemary’s Baby still stands as a brilliantly constructed milestone in film horror. The director scored an Academy Award nomination for his taut screenplay, which leavened the suspense with Polanski’s typically mordant wit, and supporting actress Ruth Gordon won an Oscar for her unforgettable performance as Minnie Castevet, the sweet little old neighbor who was harboring a big secret.
In contrast, NBC’s two-part remake, which begins tonight and concludes this coming Thursday, feels more like the work of international corporate deal-makers, not artists, with a cast and production that seems to be designed primarily to appeal to as wide a global audience as possible. In fact, arguably the most audacious thing NBC has done with its Rosemary’s Baby is programming it to start on Mother’s Day.
That’s not to say that it’s a train wreck, though. Although this new version incorporates most of the broad tropes of Levin’s book, it transplants the main action from New York to Paris, where American couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Zoe Saldana of Avatar and Patrick J. Adams of Suits) are currently living, following her recent miscarriage. Guy’s an aspiring novelist who is teaching at the Sorbonne for a puny salary while struggling with massive writer’s block. Their lifestyle is changed dramatically one day when Rosemary comes to the rescue of chic Parisienne Margaux Castevet (Carole Bouquet, For Your Eyes Only) during a “chance” encounter.
Warm and effusively maternal, Margaux and her handsome husband, Roman (British actor Jason Isaacs from the Harry Potter films), almost immediately adopt the Woodhouses as their latest project, insisting that the couple move into a newly vacant apartment in their impossibly grand building. What Guy and Rosemary don’t know is that their flat is vacant because the previous tenant, a young pregnant woman, leapt to her death from its balcony.
At a party hosted by Roman and Margaux, Rosemary witnesses, or hallucinates, a handsome stranger having sex with some of the other guests. The man begins to turn up elsewhere in Rosemary’s life, chiefly in her dreams, which carry a new erotic charge.
You know what’s coming, at least in broad strokes. Rosemary becomes pregnant following a hallucinatory dream/nightmare in which the mystery man appears to take Guy’s place in her bed. Not long after that, Guy’s fortunes mysteriously begin to improve. As Rosemary feels a mounting sense that something is terribly wrong, she begins to fret that Guy has made some sort of Faustian bargain with occultists who want to use her baby in their obscene rites.
Close, but no cigar, Rosemary.
The four main performances (you won’t recognize most of the rest of the cast) are all quite good. Saldana, often cast in films as an action babe, gives Rosemary a strength and a quiet resolve that’s a marked contrast to Mia Farrow’s most aggressively neurotic performance in Polanski’s original, and Adams’ Guy very clearly loves his wife, which was somewhat in doubt while watching the more feral John Cassavetes on the big screen.
Making the Castevets younger and sexier also makes dramatic sense. After all, if you’re going to be two of Satan’s most powerful earthly minions, you’re going to want to look the part.
Under the direction of Agnieska Holland (Europa, Europa), the TV movie looks very expensive and captures the feel of a very old and jaded city in which Rosemary and Guy are natural-born outsiders. Unfortunately, the pacing is seriously off, mainly because of the very uneven screenplay by Scott Abbott and James Wong. While some scenes still carry a jolt, others seem to drag on forever, undercutting the tension. Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby clocked in at a fairly efficient two hours and 15 minutes. The NBC remake, if you subtract commercial breaks, comes in at about three hours. I watched the two parts back to back, and still my attention began to wander in several spots. I can’t imagine how much worse it will be for most viewers, who have a four-day intermission inserted due to NBC’s scheduling.
Ultimately, the scariest thing about this new Rosemary’s Baby is that it’s just not all that scary.
Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs.

Carole Bouquet and Jason Isaacs star in NBC’s remake of ‘Rosemary’s Baby.’

NBC’s About a Boy rates about a 7

Benjamin Stockham and David Walton star in 'About a Boy' Saturday on NBC.

Precocious young Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, left) finds an improbable mentor in his new neighbor Will (David Walton) in the new NBC sitcom ‘About a Boy,’ which premieres late Saturday night.

About a Boy, a new NBC sitcom premiering Saturday after the network’s primetime Olympics coverage before moving into its regular Tuesday berth next week, first saw life as a 1998 novel by British author Nick Hornby, which was adapted into a hit movie comedy in 2002. That film starred Hugh Grant as Will Freeman, an idly rich, emotionally stunted Londoner who finds himself after reluctantly befriending 12-year-old Marcus Brewer (Nicholas Hoult), the precocious yet socially inept son of Fiona (Toni Collette), a neurotic single mom.
For the new NBC series, executive producer Jason Katims (Parenthood) has shaved a year off Marcus’ age and moved the action and characters to San Francisco. When we first meet Will (David Walton, Bent), a songwriter who lives very comfortably off the royalties of a blockbuster Christmas tune he wrote, he’s trolling a support group for single parents, seeking easy prey for his erotic exploits. His quarry at the moment is Dakota (Leslie Bibb of GCB in a recurring guest role), a lovely but somewhat ditsy cellist who easily falls for Will’s cynical lie that he has a young son who is stricken with leukemia.
Will’s discovery that women find vulnerable single dads irresistible coincides with the arrival of new neighbors, Fiona Brewer (Minnie Driver) and her 11-year-old son, Marcus (Benjamin Stockham, 1600 Penn). Soon, the two males strike up a deal: Marcus will pretend to be Will’s doomed son and Will will let the boy hang out at his next-door apartment, playing games and chowing down on the meat his staunchly vegan mom forbids.
NBC sent out three episodes for preview, but after watching them, I still have only a hazy idea about the three principal characters. In the film, Grant and Hoult were able to build a convincing relationship arc as Marcus begins to develop new confidence and self-esteem from spending time with Will, who in turn truly starts to connect with his improbable young friend. Despite good performances and chemistry from the two male leads, the TV show is notably less successful in this regard.
Walton, who has been flirting with TV stardom for years now, has the kind of delicate touch that allows him to walk the fine line between genuine cad and harmless mischief-maker, but the writing does him very few favors. Will’s degree of jerkiness – indeed, his core personality – keeps shifting from episode to episode, sometimes even from scene to scene. In one episode, he improbably agrees to babysit for his best friend (Al Madrigal) and his emasculating wife (Anne Mumolo) and, in the span of that two-hour gig, transforms himself from clueless confirmed bachelor into a Child Whisperer who tenderly tells one of his young charges that he loves her.
The character writing for Marcus is likewise erratic. There’s a genuinely funny moment early on when the boy catches Will in a delicate situation and realizes his adult neighbor needs Marcus to cover for Will’s lie. Marcus quickly plays along, then leans in and whispers to Will, “I own you.” That suggests a level of savviness that we rarely see elsewhere in what Marcus says and does.
It’s poor Driver, though, who needs a full-blown character makeover. This Fiona is a spiritual sister to Susan Mayer, the bottomlessly needy single mom played by Teri Hatcher on Desperate Housewives. She fancies herself an attentive mother, yet is anything but that, with a parenting style that seems to focus on what Marcus isn’t allowed to do. In a scene in the pilot, Will is happily grilling a steak on his backyard barbecue when Fiona interrupts him to demand that (a) Will turn down his (moderately loud) music so she can meditate outside instead of simply going indoors and (b) refrain from using his grill anytime the prevailing breeze might blow the meat aromas into her yard and offend her pristine vegan sensibilities. That’s self-absorption on a fairly epic scale.
I don’t mean to suggest that About a Boy is a terrible show, but at least for now, it’s neither as funny nor as emotionally resonant as it could and should be. Walton and young Master Stockham, though, have a nicely relaxed mojo that may keep me watching and pulling for them, at least for the moment.
NBC About-a-Boy

Intelligence lacks creative smarts

Marg Helgenberger, Megan Ory and Josh Holloway star in 'Intelligence,' premiering tonight.

Marg Helgenberger, Megan Ory and Josh Holloway star in ‘Intelligence,’ premiering tonight on CBS.

I get that everything old is new again on TV these days, but I’m still a little shocked to come across a big-ticket series called Intelligence, no less, that feels like a throwback to the 1970s or ‘80s. And not in a good way.
This new CBS drama, which premieres tonight in the coveted time period following NCIS, stars Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) as Gabriel Vaughn, a decorated hero with a genetic quirk that allowed the U.S. military to implant a super-computer microchip that links his brain to what the show calls “the information grid.” That means Gabriel is able to access even highly classified information at any high-tech facility in the world, making him one of the most important weapons on the planet.
As the series premieres, however, Gabriel is largely preoccupied with his missing wife, another operative who almost everyone believes went rogue and changed sides during a violent episode in India. Gabriel refuses to accept this, however, and he is prone to reckless, loose-cannon behavior on most of his missions, so his boss, Lillian Strand (Marg Helgenberger, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), hires Secret Service Special Agent Riley Neal (Megan Ory, Once Upon a Time) to protect this vital human asset from outside threats.
Gabriel’s embedded chip allows him to investigate incidents by accessing hard data from the information grid and then interpolating that with informed speculation on his part to form a dreamlike snapshot through which he can physically walk and examine an event literally from every perspective. The snapshot we see in the Intelligence premiere – the moment when his wife supposedly went rogue in Mumbai – is stunningly realized in visual terms, but nothing around it is anywhere near as impressive.
Fans of Chuck, Josh Schwartz’s clever 2007-12 NBC spy dramedy starring Zachary Levi as a young man with the Internet downloaded into his brain, will recognize the basic premise of Intelligence, and that became a problem for me as this “new” CBS series unfolded. Apart from some of the technical visuals, most of Intelligence feels so flat and unoriginal and lazily retro up against Chuck that I started having the weirdest, time-warping feeling that I was watching a much older, inferior sci-fi series that somehow inspired Schwartz to make his own, far more entertaining, show.
Even the villains in Intelligence feel tired and recycled. In the pilot, it’s the Chinese. In episode two, it’s Islamist terrorists looking for new ways to blow themselves up. Who should we expect in episode 3? Lex Luthor?
For the record, Holloway is much better than the writing would seem to allow, adding interesting layers to Gabriel that aren’t really in the script, but I hope Helgenberger is getting a really nice paycheck for Intelligence. This exceptional actress, who has an Emmy Award and four other nominations for past performances, is playing a character who might as well be called Sister Mary Exposition, because all she does is walk through scenes and keep viewers up to date on what’s happening. As for Ory, I thought she looked far too supermodel-y to be a credible Secret Service agent in the pilot, but by episode two, I have to admit, she was earning my respect.
In addition to these three hard-working actors, Intelligence also largely squanders the wonderful character actor John Billinsgsley as – I am not making up this name – Dr. Shenandoah Cassidy, the neuroscientist who designed and implanted Gabriel’s microchip.
I like all these actors, and I like to believe Intelligence can somehow turn itself around creatively and become a much better show. At this point, however, that show would have to be called Blind Faith.
Josh Holloway and Megan Ory in 'Intelligence,'

Josh Holloway and Megan Ory in ‘Intelligence,’

Harmon-y restored as Community begins Season 5

'Community'' kicks off ifs fifth season with two back-to-back episodes tonight on NBC.

Sleazy lawyer Alan Connor (Rob Corddry) urges a depressed Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) to assist him in a suit against Jeff’s alma mater in the Season 5 premiere of ‘Community,’ tonight on NBC.

For a show with a title that suggested people pulling together, the NBC sitcom Community has had a rocky run during its first four seasons. While critics largely praised creator Dan Harmon’s sharply written comedy set at a downscale community college, mainstream audiences never flocked to the show, despite its knockout ensemble cast that included Joel McHale (The Soup) and Saturday Night Live veteran Chevy Chase.
To make matters worse, Harmon and Chase – whose character, bored millionaire Pierce Hawthorne, was hardly a fan favorite – had a fairly tense working relationship that occasionally spilled over into social media. After three seasons, Harmon was unceremoniously removed as show runner for Community. Season 4, during which Chase finally quit, was just so-so without Harmon’s lunatic vision and ended with all the remaining members of the main cast graduating from Greendale Community College.
Season 5, which begins tonight with two back-to-back episodes, finds Harmon back at the helm, and as a result, Community feels once again as subversive and funny as it did in its first two (and best) seasons. The season premiere opens in a dark place, as Jeff Winger (Joel McHale) watches his career as a crusading attorney crashing and burning. Jeff is so depressed that he’s easy prey for his sleazy courtroom nemesis, Alan Connor (guest star Rob Corddry), who urges Jeff to reconnect with his inner shark and assist Alan in a devastating lawsuit against Greendale. “Jeff, I once saw you convince an arson victim that he liked his home better burnt!” Alan reminds him.
When Jeff shows up on the campus of Greendale (motto: “Ranked America’s Number 2 Community College by Greendalecollege.com”), the smitten Dean Pelton (Jim Rash) instantly jumps to the conclusion that Jeff has returned to save the day and, shortly thereafter, Jeff’s study buddies rush to his side to help, not aware that he is working a secret agenda. We soon learn that, like Jeff, the rest of the group also has seen their dreams denied in the months since they graduated.
Tonight’s first half hour is called “Repilot,” and in the show’s self-referential style, Abed (Danny Pudi) explicitly comments on how it’s a reboot of the series (“This could be like Scrubs, Season 9!”). By the time the first half-hour is over, Harmon and co-writer Chris McKenna have come up with a comical and fairly credible way to keep Jeff and his former study group at Greendale for another 13-episode season (although Donald Glover’s Troy is being written out for several episodes to allow the actor to focus on a new project for FX). An upcoming – and absolutely hilarious – episode scheduled for Jan. 16 also explains why Chase’s character will not be returning to the show.
Although Harmon has worked a near-miracle in resuscitating his beloved sitcom, it seems likely this fifth season will be the show’s last hurrah. Then again, even the most ardent among us fans never truly expected to get a fifth season of a show that seemed to be wrapping itself up very efficiently with last season’s graduation-themed finale. If there’s one thing this dementedly funny show has taught us when it’s at its best, it’s that we never should assume anything where Community is concerned.
Jeff Winger (Joel McHale, center) reunites with his old study buddies tonight on NBCV's 'Community.'

The study group (from left, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie and Donald Glover) reunites in tonight’s fifth season premiere of NBC’s ‘Community.’

NBC’s risky ‘Sound of Music Live!’ premieres tonight

Carrie Underwood (center) stars as Maria in ''The Sound of Music Live!' tonight on NBC.

Spirited governess Maria Rainer (Carrie Underwood, center) helps her young charges rediscover the joy of singing in “The Sound of Music Live!,’ premiering tonight on NBC.

When NBC announced plans several months ago to present a new holiday version of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood as Maria, many Julie Andrews fans reacted with the same apoplexy that greeted the news that Ben Affleck would be the next Batman. To put it mildly, they had a problem with this Maria, and poor Underwood soon was getting hate tweets on her Twitter account.
That initial hysteria seems to have died down, for the most part, but as The Sound of Music Live! premieres tonight as a three-hour special on NBC, many viewers tuning in will be doing so to see whether Underwood – a former American Idol winner and country music superstar but an untested actress – can pull off this iconic character that brought Andrews her second Academy Award nomination as best actress.
If comparisons to the much-beloved Andrews are inevitable, to some extent they’re also irrelevant, though. While Underwood is playing the same character that Andrews portrayed in the 1965 Oscar-winning movie blockbuster, this new NBC production actually is (for the most part) a reimagining of the 1959 Broadway version of this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic, which earned a Tony Award for Mary Martin. In recent days and weeks, anyone close to The Sound of Music Live! has been taking pains to draw that distinction, and fans of the 1965 film are sure to notice some striking differences, particularly in the order and context of the songs. Whether they find those differences interesting or irritating remains to be seen.
“My Favorite Things,” sung by Maria in the film to calm the Von Trapp children during a thunderstorm, here is a duet for Maria and the Mother Abbess (Audra McDonald) early in the show, before Maria leaves the abbey. “I Have Confidence,” which Rodgers wrote expressly as a transition song for the film to follow Maria from the abbey to the Von Trapp estate, isn’t to be found in The Sound of Music Live!, although – try to stay with me, now – “Something Good,” a love song for Maria and the Captain (Stephen Moyer) that was written for the movie, has now replaced a similar song from the original Broadway production called “An Ordinary Couple.”
Baroness Elsa Shrader (Laura Benanti, Go On) and Max Detweiler (Christian Borle, Smash) are singing characters in this production, which means we get the happy restoration of two more songs from the original Broadway score, “How Can Love Survive?” and “No Way to Stop It.” Both numbers reflect the wordly, cynical attitude of Elsa and Max, which helps cut the sugar a bit.
Earlier this week, Sony released a studio recording of this cast performing the songs they’ll be singing live in tonight’s telecast. After hearing Borle and Benanti tear through their two numbers, I can’t ait to see these two Tony winners recreate them in live performance. I’m also looking forward to McDonald’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” which raises goosebumps on the CD
But back to Underwood. Obviously, I have no idea how well she’ll pull off the acting part of her role, although come on, she’s playing Maria, not Medea. Based on the CD, however, I can report that vocally, she sounds sunny and self-assured. If you’re tuning in expecting her to face-plant in her songs, you’re probably going to be disappointed. She makes an especially lovely thing out of “Something Good,” which she sings simply and without affect (Moyer’s very good in this duet, too, and in his other songs).
I’ve got my fingers crossed that NBC’s team is able to pull off this technically daunting production. Certainly, it was smart casting to hire seasoned theater pros like McDonald (who has five Tony wins to her credit), Borle and Benanti to lend Broadway credibility to a project whose leading lady is green in terms of stage experience. Yet while it admittedly takes awhile to get used to hearing these familiar tunes sung in anything other than Andrews’ crystalline, British-inflected soprano, once you get past that hurdle, Underwood’s singing is very persuasive. To paraphrase a lyric from the movie, I have to agree, she has confidence in herself.
Stephen Moyer and Laura Benanti star in 'The Sound of Music Live!' tonight on NBC.

Stephen Moyer stars as Georg von Trapp and Laura Benanti is Baroness Elsa Shrader in ‘The Sound of Music Live!’ on NBC.