The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show December 23, 2019
Lana Del Rey
acey Musgraves was born in 1988. Although she was introduced to the world long after the variety show boom, it seems, with her new Amazon Prime special The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, that she’s nostalgic for the form as if she'd seen its peak in real time. That makes her, I think, a refreshing generational anomaly. Watching the feature, which runs 45 minutes, one might think of The Sonny & Cher Comedy
Hour (1971-1974) or Donnie & Marie (1976-1979). These were somewhat nonsensical variety series that uneasily blended scripted, self-referencing comedy with music. The songs in question were typically belted alongside a special guest or two.
The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show accentuates its own artificiality. There’s much cutting to back rooms, where producers mull over the onstage shenanigans as they unfold on little TVs. It’s revealed that the many rooms in which we see Musgraves and her co-stars sing sit atop and next to each other, forming, when the camera pulls back, what looks like a giant dollhouse. There’s a half-baked meta storyline built from Musgraves bantering with her bandmates and the out-of-place “narrator” of the show, comedian Dan Levy, about how she has a Christmas show to plan but isn’t sure what she should do. This all takes place in front of a live audience, too, harkening back to the comforting, synthetic TV conventions of yore.
Ostensibly the show is here in part to promote an album of the same name, which was released the same day. But because of this understanding the effect of the recurring “we don’t have anything planned” gag is that Musgraves spent so much time mapping out her musical ambitions that, aside from whom she wanted to appear in the special and how she wanted it to look, she hadn’t thought very much about how the whole thing would coalesce. It feels cobbled together. Even the guests feel oddly chosen, save for the torch singer Lana Del Rey, who croons beautifully with Musgraves on “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Musgraves has such little chemistry with guests Troye Sivan, Zooey Deschanel, Leon Bridges, Camila Cabello, and others that we cannot tell if their coming together was a choice made by someone else or if Musgraves is in fact buddies with them but didn’t think to rehearse with them all that much before showtime. The opening, which sees Musgraves and talk-show host James Corden sing “Let It Snow” as prop windows continually fly open and bring in an ersatz blizzard, is so ineptly shot that it seems as though the take used for posterity was only the second or third.
The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show flails. It would have fared better if its musical interludes were released orthodoxly as music videos, with of course some more rehearsal. Because musically and visually the thing is a wonder. Musgraves has a bell-pure voice we like to hear revivify old classics, even if she's instrumentally unadventurous. And the tableaux, which have a sort of green room, blue room, red room thing going on, have a cool-looking Barbie-like campiness to them. The sartorial choices remind us of the eye-catching, outré femininity of Dolly Parton or Crystal Gayle.
But because there’s no consistent narrative throughline, the show feels scraped together. I thought, sometimes, of that Marx Brothers joke where Harpo is literally holding a house up with his bare hands and it crashes down when he lets go and walks away. One feels as though someone behind the scenes is doing the same. To watch The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show is like watching a stage musical where we never stop worrying that someone is going to forget their lines and set off a domino effect.
I’m hard on The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show because I sense it might have been more. I see a product that looks and sounds this great, and has a handful of more conversational moments that broaden Musgraves’ well-documented comic timing, and I think that if it had been made less hastily it might have become some kind of minor classic. It’s the almost-ness, finally, that makes it frustrating. Still, even if the show itself falls flat in comparison to the album on which it’s capitalizing, musically it works. One wishes that if an album is to get its own TV show, it felt more invested in. C+