Two words: Dancing food. "Rosie Live" ended with dancing food. There's nothing else to say, really, except perhaps, Liza Minnelli. "Rosie Live," shot in New York City, opened with a little song and dance from Minnelli, who rose to the stage as if from the grave to sing a duet with O'Donnell, in a luminous white suit, complete with fetching Broadway hat. Liza, we love you, we will always love you, but there is no shame in retirement.
In between we were treated to Harry Connick Jr. in a Santa hat, Conan O'Brien taking a pie in the face and Jane Krakowski singing about all the free stuff audience members would get. Some of the items were pretty swell, but I'm here to tell you it wasn't enough. Rosie made jokes about the slimming-undergarment Spanx, Alec Baldwin appeared in a jacket two sizes too small with weird Einstein hair -- neither of which were part of a gag. Clay Aiken strolled over from his "Spamalot" gig on Broadway to participate in the world's most painfully long gay joke ("What was the other thing we have in common?" Rosie mused. "Oh, yeah, we're both Gaaa . . . briel Byrne fans."), and Alanis Morissette sang a song referencing the 12-step program in front of, I kid you not, an endless loop of geese flying through a sunset.
Flying geese! There are not enough free video cameras or White Castle burgers in the world to make up for that. And what about the viewers at home? Where are our new cellphones and Whitestrips?
Rosie, Rosie, what on Earth were you thinking? Were you thinking camp? Were you thinking this will be big and brassy and so-over-the-top even the dancing cupcakes will be irresistible? For those of us who are Rosie fans, who think "The View" will never quite recover from her departure, who think her desire to resurrect the variety show is a great idea, disappointment does not even begin to describe it. For weeks now, NBC has seduced and tantalized with the promise of a cross between Carol Burnett and "Sonny and Cher." And this is what we get? Rosie in a glitter top having Baldwin speak into her cleavage and making jokes about her weight? Someone get ahold of Tim Conway, stat.
To be fair, not everything on the show fell as flat as a turkey at a Sarah Palin picnic, or whatever the line was -- yes, there was a Palin joke, but Rosie was in a policeman's costume at that point and I had my fingers in my ears. The Argentine Lombard Twins were very good, and never have I been so glad to hear "You Spin Me Round" as when dance performance group Anti-gravity took the stage with its giant teacups and hula hoops. But then we had to endure Kathy Griffin as CNN commentator Nancy Grace, and Gloria Estefan making a joke about the turkey being the only one not hungry on Thanksgiving (because, you know, he's stuffed). Estefan was the final act, but whatever collective relief that fact provided was immediately wiped away by a song about eating and then, of course, the dancing food. Men and women dressed as slices of cake and cookies topped off by Rachael Ray making an appearance with a giant rubber turkey.
"Rosie Live" may enter the realm of unsolved mysteries, along with the fate of Amelia Earhart and the design team of the pyramids. O'Donnell was clearly attempting to recapture the uplifting, unapologetic wonder of the big Broadway musical and the television variety show. But having a bunch of talented guests does not a terrific show make -- you have to give them something interesting to do. Otherwise you're left with, well, a rubber turkey.