THE SHOW "Showville"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on AMC
America's Got Talent" continues to insist -- but America's an awfully big place, too, and this unscripted series gets down to those towns where show-biz aspirations smolder. Two judges -- Alec Mapa (Suzuki St. Pierre, from "Ugly Betty") and choreographer Lisette Bustamante, visit these places, announce a cash competition ($10,000 award), then hold auditions. Four finalists are chosen, and a winner-take-all competition is held in a local auditorium, where audience members choose the winner. In tomorrow's premiere, Alec and Lisette visit Holland, Mich. -- midstate, a couple of miles due east of Lake Michigan.
Holland, Mich. -- haven't been there since ... well, since never. But I know Holland, or places like Holland, and so do you -- Heartland towns where good people go about their daily lives, except at night, when their noses are pressed against their TVs, watching "American Idol" or "The Voice" or "AGT" while thinking "I could do that." Of course, most of them can't, but there's still an itch to be scratched, and "Showville" helps with the scratching.
This is a charming, slight, irreverent celebration of small-town eccentrics, oddballs and certified fruitcakes. It could easily be mean and cynical, but manages to avoid both fatal pitfalls because the finalists are so genuinely enthusiastic and so blissfully uncomprehending of their shortcomings. Mapa and Bustamante offer them pointers on stagecraft -- common sense stuff like "speak clearly" -- and the audience claps enthusiastically. It's preposterous, but also genuine, and for that reason, "Showville" works.
There are some production misfires. Mapa does double-takes with the camera now and then -- makes him seem like a Hollywood phony who's just in this for an easy payday (and probably is). By contrast, Bustamante treats her would-be talent like they could play Carnegie Hall some day. Moreover, the criteria for selection is mystifying. Holland's finalists, for example, include a magician and a lady handy with whips. Does any of this much matter? Not really. "Showville" is still fun.
BOTTOM LINE This anti-talent show can be more amusing than a real talent show.