Lee, Simmons hit wrong notes in reality shows

TV Preview

August 16, 2005|By Hal Boedeker | Hal Boedeker,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Beethoven can rest easy this summer. None of television's forays into rock music will make him roll over -- or even take notice.

CBS' Rock Star: INXS is a slacker in the ratings. NBC's Tommy Lee Goes to College, a reality series debuting tonight at 9 (WBAL, Channel 11), is a jaw-dropping disaster. Gene Simmons' Rock School, another reality series premiering Friday on VH1, owes its charm to British schoolchildren and not Kiss' bassist.

Tommy Lee Goes to College dispatches Motley Crue's drummer to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. From the opening, in which Lee's mother tearfully says goodbye to him, the show never seems real. Lee is, after all, 42. A pompous narrator heightens the fakery.

"Clearly the students have embraced Tommy as one of their own," the narrator says. "To them, he's more than a mere rock star. He's a shipmate on the voyage to wisdom."

That blather might work if Dan Aykroyd reprised Leonard Pinth-Garnell, Saturday Night Live's connoisseur of bad culture. Tommy Lee Goes to College deserves such Pinth-Garnell barbs as "stunningly bad" and "monumentally ill-advised."

Lee starts out by saying he's on a mission, but his actions indicate he has no real interest in study. The editing turns the lectures and professors into bores -- so much for promoting the University of Nebraska.

This six-episode show isn't much of a showcase for Lee, either. He comes off as lazy, snide and dumb. He has a Jessica Simpson moment when he reveals his ignorance about the grade-point system, and he stumbles in a drumming audition for the marching band.

Tommy Lee Goes to College tries to find comedy in the awkward pause and offbeat soundtrack music. Lee's tutor is so lovely that the "Hallelujah Chorus" heralds her appearance.

The show deserves no hosannas. The most revealing tidbit is in a card at the end: "Tommy Lee attended classes but was not an enrolled student at UNL." Aha! An utterly meaningless reality show.

Rock School lets Simmons, a former sixth-grade teacher, ham it up as rock instructor to classical musicians who are 13 and 14. In six weeks, he must whip these 10 proper kids into a band that will open for the legendary metal band Motorhead.

Simmons refuses to rein in his overbearing manner, and his idiosyncratic style worries an official at the show's tradition-bound boarding school, south of London. The same premise was more entertaining in the film School of Rock with Jack Black. The opener suggests that the teenagers, who find Simmons arrogant and intimidating, warm to the challenge slowly.

"Rock is not about all being alike," Simmons tells them. "Rock is about finding who you are."

They are natural, frank and charming. As they struggle to adopt a rock superstar's swagger and audition for lead singer, they save the show. Off-key singer Josh Bell, 13, is the standout in a bright bunch.

Putting the children with Simmons in this seven-episode series might be nothing more than a stunt. And you might want to stick out your tongue -- in disgust -- at the contrivances.

But, oh, those kids. Thanks to them, Rock School isn't stunningly bad.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Tommy Lee Goes to College

When: tonight at 9

Where: WBAL, Channel 11

In brief: Fake flunks out.

Gene Simmons' Rock School

When: Friday night at 11

Where: VH1

In brief: Kids steal the show.

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