"America's Got Talent" is so cheesy they ought to telecast it from Wisconsin.
C'mon, any show that introduces one of its judges as "the legend that is David Hasselhoff" is obviously more then a bit off-kilter.
(And, no, that's not supposed to be a joke.)
Part "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour," part "American Idol," part "Gong Show," part "Queen for a Day" and part freak show, Hasselhoff and the other two judges Sharon Osbourne and Piers Morgan preside over a parade of people hoping to win a million dollars and a contract to play Las Vegas.
Host Jerry Springer doesn't have much to do at this stage other than stand in the wings.
The judges all have buzzers in front of them, and if all three punch the buzzer during the act, it's over immediately. Two of the three have to vote to send an act on to the next round of the competition.
Oh, and the auditions are held in packed theaters with a crowd shouting its approval or (more often) its disapproval, so there's an element of the Roman coliseum thrown in as well.
There's a serious humiliation factor involved. If that weren't the case, why would the first act in tonight's season premiere (8 p.m., Ch. 5) be so utterly dreadful that two of the three judges hit their buzzers within seconds?
Obviously, some of the talentless people on "America's Got Talent" are only looking to get on TV and know they're awful. But some of them (including this first act) just as clearly think they're good and are crushed when they're booed by the crowd and cut by the judges.
And when dreams aren't being crushed, a lot of false hopes are being raised. Osbourne and Morgan send twin singers who can't sing seriously, they can't carry a tune on to the next round.
That's ridiculous. But there are other acts that do have talent and are genuinely entertaining who have about as much chance of developing a Las Vegas act as the tone-deaf twins.
Would it be kinder to send the 4-year-old singer home now or raise the little girl's hopes by sending her to the next round, where she can't possibly win?
And how do you not feel for the 80-year-old tap dancer who doesn't have much talent but for whom appearing on TV is obviously a big moment?
Not that that keeps two of the three judges from buzzing her which seems nothing short of cruel.
At one point, Hasselhoff says "America's Got Talent" is "whacked." He's referring to the acts, but the same could be said of the judges.
Morgan buzzes one extremely talented troupe of dancers because he didn't like their costumes. Really.
"I thought you weren't bad dancers, but the outfits were just hideous," he says. Really.
Of course, Morgan also has the best line of the night when he comments on a burlesque act that includes some women who appear to have been, um, surgically enhanced.
"Well, I can see that a lot of work's gone into that act quite literally, in some of your cases," he said.
The judges are all weird, and their qualifications are, well, unexplained. And isn't it rather odd that two of the three judges on a show called "America's Got Talent" are not American?
Hasselhoff continues to demonstrate just how strange he is. Morgan revels in being rude and obnoxious.
Osbourne introduced as "rock's first lady" (?!?!?) is the nice one, but she's odd, too. Like when she announces that she's surprised that two violinists are young and handsome because "usually they're bald and old and a bit greasy."
But ... and I hesitate to say this ... there are moments when ... in spite myself ... I got caught up in the excitement of some of the talent. Whether it's a trombone player with a big surprise, brothers who put an amazing new spin on the violin duet, or the insurance salesman who turns out to be an opera singer, it's just amazing.
And ... believe it or not ... the story of that opera singer, who grew up poor and is trying to make his mom proud, is very emotional. And if the teenager who's been tormented by his peers because he's a baton twirler a remarkably talented baton twirler doesn't bring a tear to your eye, you're more hard-hearted than Morgan.
(Even then, Hasselhoff can almost ruin the baton twirler's moment because he's so incredibly inarticulate.)
"America's Got Talent" tries to be all things to all people and fails. The freak-show elements detract from the emotional elements.
And the cheese that's piled on top of everything is often too much to take.
But then there are those sweet moments and displays of genuine talent ... so I can't tell you not to watch.
E-mail: [email protected]