There's a pretty much unimpeachable rule in life and in television that if something is called "the best time ever," then -- darn it -- it had better be the best time ever. Busy, noisy, unfocused, hyper-caffeinated, full of network promotional plugs and far, far (far) too many reminders that viewers and host were having the best time ever, "Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris" -- which launched Tuesday -- was not the best time ever.
But instead something else entirely: A prime-time game show hosted by someone with an enormous amount of talent and audience goodwill who squandered a little bit of that stunt by stunt, gimmick by gimmick, plug by plug, squawk by squawk.
Why, Neil. Why, why WHY? (And speaking of "whys": Why DIDN'T you let Reese Witherspoon win?)
Based on a British hit, the live format might theoretically play to Harris's strengths, which are many, but as presented here, seemed to diminish them; he became an amalgam of Ryan Seacrest, Bob Barker, Drew Carey and Howie Mandel -- with hair.
(And speaking of hair, does anyone or did anyone seriously believe that "The Voice" judges did not instantly see through his disguise, accessorized by a rug that clasped to his head like a giant bear claw?)
The beginning of "Best Time Ever" was ominous:
"Tonight, Neil goes undercover at 'The Voice ...'"
"..then on to a karaoke competition ..."
" ... First thing up, learning about my audience ..."
Comprised of segments, the first one was "Best Days of your Life" -- that "b" word again. In taped bits, Harris haunts a couple at a football game, then at their wedding -- spoiling wedding pictures and wedding cake. In recompense, they won a trip to Antigua.
"Antiques?" wondered Reese Witherspoon -- a very good friend of Harris' who was special guest announcer.
"No," said he. "Antigua."
Right, said she. "That's where antiques come from."
Oh for crying out loud.
There was much, much more Tuesday, and as usual, everyone has to draw their own conclusions. Taste is taste. And sometimes there's no accounting for taste. Maybe some viewers loved this -- we await the overnights. But there is another truth that I'm pretty certain is also unimpeachable, and that happens to be on the subject of that Harris talent. He IS immensely talented and has demonstrated over an entire career that he's well suited to just about any form of entertainment, from stage to screen.
But hampered here by a format that might work better on daytime TV than at night, and better in the U.K. than here, and by gimmicks that seem more in step with the Velveeta spirit of "America's Got Talent," and by a show that's almost willfully aggravating, he may have met his match with "Best Time Ever."