We were promised hate-watching. We were told that NBC was “counting on” us to tune into Peter Pan Live! just to complain that Allison Williams wasn’t talented enough, or British enough, or Mary Martin enough. We prepped our Twitter jokes about how the dog (a real dog!) was the most natural actor in the whole cast. We waited for the sets to fall apart, for the wires suspending the actors above the stage to break, for Captain Hook’s hook to fly off stage and break some NBC intern’s glasses. We readied our thinkpieces about the uncomfortable implications of Peter flirting with Wendy and also wanting her to be his mother. And then something incredible happened. Peter Pan Live! wasn’t an epic failure. It was something much more shocking to the American public. It was… fine.
Totally fine. Just as I’d suspected. Nothing spectacular. But nothing so embarrassing as NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music, which drew 22 million viewers, along with complaints that Carrie Underwood had “all the charisma of a UPS truck.” Williams can sing, though her British accent is still up for grabs. Christopher Walken can tap-dance, though he can’t remember all of his lines. And CGI can create a Tinkerbell that looks enough like a “real faerie” to make cats across America claw at TV sets, though the fact that we were asked to “save” her with our #SaveTinkerbell tweets did feel a bit cheap. Will we now send emojis by clapping?
Even the budget appeared to be bigger. True, the opening scene, which takes place inside the Darlings’ house, looked like it was shot on the set of Upstairs Downstairs, but as soon as the windows flung open and everyone sailed to Neverland, there were brightly colored Dr. Seuss trees and a pirate ship that was straight out of Legend of Zelda. It looked great.
And it mostly sounded great, too. As Mrs. Darling, five-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara sang so beautifully, she made everyone forget for a little while that this wasn’t an actual Broadway production. (Her parenting might be easier to question. As someone on Twitter put it, “WHAT A HORRIFYING THING TO SAY TO A CHILD. ‘It’s cool, honey, the nightlights are my eyes. I plucked them out for you.’”) As Wendy, Taylor Louderman was all youth and sweetness. Walken mostly sang-spoke his way through his musical numbers, but his Joan Crawford eyebrows and Dracula-in-velour-pants accent brought out his charm, and the cast of long-haired pirates dancing behind him like Dothraki renegades served as a reminder that the guy is over 70 years old, and he can still scarf-dance with the twentysomethings. Also, Amanda Green—the daughter of one of Peter Pan‘s original lyricists, Adolph Green, and a Broadway veteran herself—adapted the new material well, including a pretty decent, culturally sensitive replacement for the racist ”Ugg-A-Wugg,” although I was personally disappointed that the new song “True Blood Brothers” wasn’t about Jason Stackhouse.
Maybe the most surprising thing about Peter Pan Live! was that it largely wiped the spite off Twitter for a few hours. People actually wanted it to be good. Even the snark was positive. (“I want Allison Williams as a boy to take my gay virginity,” tweeted Zach Braff.) Yes, there were minor complaints with Williams’ weird fishnet sleeves, her crowing, and the visible wires, as if viewers might actually believe that Williams could fly if they couldn’t see her harness. Never grow up is right: Many adult viewers were watching like children, in a wide-eyed way, complaining only when the “magic” of flying was spoiled, or the Lost Boys were too clean, or the three-hour production lasted way past their bedtime. (“Tick-tock!”) Maybe there was a message in there somewhere about how to avoid hate-watching. As Peter would say, it’s easy. You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts, and up you go, way up to that higher ground where Carrie Underwood is glued to her television set with a KFC sadness bowl perched in her lap. And you stay there, just waiting, until some other Broadway hopeful demands your schadenfreude during another live NBC musical next year.