TV Review: Thanksgiving Pandemic Parade Reminds Of Happier Holidays Past And Yet To Come

Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2020 AP

Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon opened today’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with an energetic rendition of “Dancing In The Streets,” strutting like Jagger on the barricaded, crowd-free New York City block. The comedian isn’t really much of a singer or a dancer, but then this really wasn’t much of a parade. In this pandemic year, we’ve learned to be thankful for what we get.

NBC’s three-hour event, broadcast live starting at 9 a.m. ET and re-aired in the afternoon, worked hard to provide some holiday tradition continuity, if not exactly normalcy, on this day when Americans are rightly being advised to skip the large family get-togethers and avoid travel through the woods, to grandmother’s house or anywhere else. The Macy’s parade typically winds a 2.5-mile course through Manhattan, with more than 3 million New Yorkers and tourists lining the route to get a real-life glimpse of the giant balloons, elaborate floats, marching bands and celebrities.

Today’s valiant effort was a vastly slimmed down affair, with the balloons, floats and bands moving no more than the length from one side of Macy’s block-long Herald Square store to the other side. NBC’s cameras didn’t even capture the big balloons rounding the corner to pass in front of the store; instead, Snoopy and the Sinclair dinosaur and Ronald McDonald just sort of appeared in the sky and on our screens, without the usual, gorgeous long shots of the characters drifting down Manhattan’s concrete canyons. Below his inflated doppelgänger, the human-scale Ronald McDonald waved from a float, his painted face behind a clear, plastic guard.

View of parade from the Empire State Building AP

Doing more than their fair share of providing a link to happier days, NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and, especially, Al Roker seemed genuinely happy to be there, despite what must have looked, from their vantage, to be some very empty sidewalks. NBC cameras remained trained on the action, scrupulously avoiding the vacuum.

A bit less convincing were the celebrity singers perched atop the floats, miming to their hits and pretending, not always with the usual exuberance, to wave and smile at the adoring, screaming fans who weren’t there. Pentatonix, Bebe Rexha, Patti LaBelle, Keke Palmer and others gave it the old holiday try beneath gray, drizzly skies (but of course it rained). Dolly Parton sent a taped, cute and very obviously lip synced performance of “Holly Jolly Christmas” from a Nashville set.

Like Jolly Dolly, the four Broadway shows performing for what’s usually the industry’s highest-profile TV gig that doesn’t involve trophies were pre-taped. Ain’t Too Proud, Jagged Little Pill, Mean Girls and Hamilton were sights for sore eyes, even without the massive crowds whose cheers and excitement can spur Black Friday box office sales. Kirstie Alley, settled deep into late-career priggishness, found fault, tweeting that she hopes to never see “drug songs in future parades,” a comment welcomed and interpreted by some of her followers as a swipe at Jagged Little Pill.

“I know I sound old fashion [sic]…,” she wrote, and did. The Cheers replacement actress, as usual, missed the point. Today’s parade wasn’t too edgy – I can’t believe I even had to write that sentence – but, by necessity and completely understandably and through no fault of its own, too careful, contained and restricted like everything else in these socially distanced days.

In fact, it was another Broadway musical that offered a much better moment for some now-versus-then nostalgia. Netflix premiered the trailer for its flashy, studded-with-big-names film adaptation of The Prom, with most of the footage focused on stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells.

‘The Prom”, Thanksgiving 2018 Screen capture

Broadway fans and parade watchers might have been reminded of two Thanksgivings ago, when the original stage cast of The Prom performed the finale song “It’s Time To Dance,” a buoyant number that ends with a kiss between the show’s two high-school heroines. The song and the moment, wonderfully performed by the mostly unknown actresses Caitlin Kinnunen and Isabelle McCalla, became the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade’s first same-sex kiss, and a Broadway cause célèbre. “This was the most beautiful, inspiring performance on the parade,” tweeted Frozen‘s Patti Murin, one of many Broadway performers to cheer. “I was full on sobbing on my couch…”

The Broadway cast was caught off guard by the reaction – they’d just been performing the musical number as they had eight times a week, no thought given to the impact of its final moment within the context of a 92-year-old holiday tradition.

Surprises like that don’t happen on tape or without the rapturous response of a living, breathing and excited audience. NBC, Macy’s, Fallon and all the other performers and planners deserve thanks for keeping a nearly-century old tradition going through this lousy year, as we remember and look ahead to happier holidays.

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