Nunsense: The TV Series — A Review
If you have ever attended a production of the 1985 Dan Goggin musical Nunsense (or any of its myriad sequels), you are going to approach a TV series based on the property with certain expectations (or lack of expectations, maybe). Nunsense has always been a bit of a one-joke musical, irreverent behavior and tired religious jokes enacted by a posse of fun and feisty nuns who are trying to raise money for one of their causes. The musical trades in B-grade humor, peppy (if forgettable) melodies, and our delight in feeling slightly naughty for laughing at such serious stuff as the holy spirit and communion wine.
Here we are, thirty-two years later and Goggin has decided that the world is now ready for Nunsense: The TV Series. I won’t say that this is the worst idea in the world, but I’m not exactly sure of it’s a golden idea either. True, we’ve relaxed enough as a society to have a chuckle at the expense of religion, so there is a possibility a show of this ilk can be successful. I’ll admit that I sat down to watch the new sitcom with both curiosity and trepidation. The series is also packed to the hilt with talent from the world of Broadway musicals, so this ups the ante and our expectations. When the likes of Dee Hoty, Mary Stout, Karen Ziemba, and Beth Leavel populate the roster of talent, the mediocre idea of a Nunsense series suddenly becomes an event.
The pilot of the series returns us to the realm of The Little Sisters of Hoboken and their parochial school Mount St. Helen’s (this is the caliber of the jokes). Due to budget cuts, the school finds that it can no longer fund its arts programming. “Divine” intervention gives the school an opportunity to put on a variety show (in competition with other schools), where the winning prize will be enough to keep their classes going. From this point forward, the pilot is entirely about the search for talent and a “heavenly” host for the proceedings. Each nun feels as though she is the perfect candidate to run the show. Each of them has a background that somehow makes them think they should have the job.
As insipid as the premise is, I found myself rooting for this program. I wanted it to be funny. I wanted to get caught up in the musical possibilities of the show. I wanted the timing to be wickedly wonderful. Sadly, I found myself wondering in amazement at the cardboard delivery of almost the entire cast. Was it the writing? Was it the directing? We already know that most of these ladies are top-notch performers, so why does almost every joke feel forced or contrived? The same can be said of the few musical sequences in the episode, most of which are interrupted with dialogue or transitioning back and forth between scenes. The show never finds its momentum or musicality, it just sits there dragging like it needs a jolt of caffeine. This is not particularly encouraging for such a thinly-premised sitcom that might conceal some of its flaws with better pacing.
“God” I want Nunsense to work as a TV series. The pieces are there for it to come together for a plausibly successful run, but it needs the help of the Almighty to come back from such a humdrum pilot. Let’s hope that, with some fine-tuning and handful of “Hail Marys” that it finds its pace and purpose. After all, these characters have delighted for over three decades and there must me something that has kept them relevant. Perhaps a successful TV show can happen? Until then, prayer, I think, is the best course of action.