Apparently, the post that follows, which was written in April of 09, is still causing minor controversy with dedicated Chris Isaak fans, who have leveled some pretty horrendous attacks at TV Swami and in one case even threatened violence against him – violence, though! – for holding an opinion they don’t agree with. They also venture to suggest that he is not competent to offer his views about showbiz because he’s angry, he’s bitter, and he’s jealous about all TV performers on account of his own show being cancelled five years ago.
Wow. That’s quite an indictment. But here’s my counter-argument:
I really do like Chris Isaak. Honestly.
There. That should do it.
As weak as this might seem by way of a defense, it’s all I have. Isaak – again, in my opinion, so please don’t hit me – is an awesome performer, but not a good talk show host. Just as the Swami wasn’t a good travel show host – the viewers were right in both cases.
Luckily, TV Swami recovers fast. Yes, sir. He is not angry or bitter about the cancellation of his show (grrrrr) and will be back writing posts again in 2010 once he completes his book.
In the meantime, I’m really, really sorry, Chris Isaak fans. You will bounce back, I just know it. Chin up.
Here’s the post. Make your own mind up.
I’m still hung over. Not from booze this time, you’ll be pleased to hear, but from watching The Chris Isaak Hour on Bio last night.
Bio used to be the Biography Channel, a go-to place for human interest stories. Then, presumably after someone wrote in and said, “Hey, man, this documentary crap you’re putting out is waaaay too interesting,” they had second thoughts, shortened the name, and filled their schedule with boring shows instead. Let me try to think of an example.
Oh yes – The Chris Isaak Hour.
The idea seems simple enough. Give a popular singer whose star has faded somewhat the opportunity to interview other popular singers whose stars have faded somewhat. Let him do it on a couch, give him a budget to dye his hair and eyebrows if he needs it, and pepper the interview with clips of the guest singing, wherever possible with Chris Isaak plucking at a guitar too, since he’s there already and might as well do something.
It’s basically a lot like any Jools Holland show in the UK. Only, Chris Isaak is no Jools Holland. In fact, I’d say he’s possibly the most boring interviewer I’ve ever seen on TV. In any country. Anywhere. And I’m including Antarctica, where the interviewers on TV are all penguins. Yet even they manage to ask questions without mumbling them.
I only watched it because Isaak wrote a blog for the Huffington Post yesterday, pleading with readers to tune in. And that doesn’t happen often. So, sensing desperation and the whiff of impending cancellation, I thought I’d better grab the opportunity while I had the chance. Now, of course, I wish I hadn’t. Oh my God, what a horrible show.
The star guest was Cat Stevens, one of my all-time faves. If you recall, he became Yusuf Islam for a while, then, when the word Islam acquired a bit of an aftertaste in the West, and songs by an artist with Islam in his name would most likely be box office poison, there was a hasty rethink, I’m guessing, and he settled for just plain Yusuf instead. In any case, Cat – seriously, who’s going to call him Yusuf? – is a brilliant songwriter. Cute and a little chubby in his heyday, he now has a gray beard that goes straight down, and an old man’s voice when he speaks. Remarkably, though, when he sings – jeepers creepers! The magic comes rushing back again, like a tide that’s been out too long, and he sounds exactly like the records. It was quite magical to hear.
But the problem is Isaak. When I made my travel show a couple of years back, a small number of angry, jealous viewers wrote in, saying, “What a terrible host. Replace him immediately with somebody better.” But they were wrong – obviously.
I, on the other hand, am not wrong about Chris Isaak.
He’s low-key to the point of comatose when he speaks. It’s like listening to a generator hum through a wall. Almost as if he’s so intimidated when confronted with staggering (see below) accomplishment and talent that he clams up. At one point, he even brought his dog on and sat it on his lap, which was a sappy and silly moment and I wanted to rush in and confiscate it. Cat doesn’t like dogs, I’m assuming. By the look on his face, I think he’d have smashed it with his guitar if he could, and to hell with his peace-loving image.
Anyway, we learned fascinating snippets of background info about Cat’s old songs. (Moonshadow, for instance, was written after he stood out under a full moon one night and saw his “moon shadow.” His song Lost in Fog, about the time he got lost in fog, can’t be far off, I’m sure.) We also learned that his gift for writing magical tunes that haunt you for a lfetime didn’t extend into later years. His new stuff is a load of cock, quite honestly. Furthermore, last night he tried updating Peace Train, turning it into a laid-back blues number, managing at the same time to render it simultaneously boring and profoundly unlistenableto, which takes some doing.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I was, top to bottom. Ghastly show, boring host, wishy-washy guest. I wanted to love it all, but I didn’t make it to the end. Switched it off, went to bed, and fell asleep oozing rivers of anger and regret at the hour I’d just wasted. Hopefully, Bio will take note and cancel this series before it does any more harm. The perfect example of life simply being too short.
The Chris Isaak Hour gets one magic carpet out of five.
TV Swami – he say NO.
UPDATE 4/14/09: I have amended one word in the above review, changing “real” to “staggering.” This was done, believe it or not, as a gesture of goodwill, to appease critics who’re insisting I was way too negative about the show and unfair to Chris Isaak.
For goodness’ sake! I’m not saying that Isaak is not a good or successful performer. He is very talented – of course – and his long track record proves that. It’s just that Cat Stevens is better. Period. What I am saying is that Isaak is not a good talk show host. He’s not peppy enough or effusive enough. That said, if Bio decides to renew the series, good. The TV Swami won’t be watching it, that’s all.
Now, let’s step over this difficult moment as if it were an injured pedestrian and move on with our lives. I thank you for your attention.