The fates have not given Total Request Live an easy week to navigate.
Las Vegas’ devastating mass-shooting on Monday thrust the hosts into mournful role-model positions, something that its old incarnation had to face with the September 11 attacks but after years of familiar viewership.
Then, on Tuesday, it faced a catch-22 with the death of Tom Petty, an idol whose impact is so large ignoring it would be glaring, but so foreign to fans in TRL’s target audience it would practically serve as an introduction to the iconic rocker.
With a few rocky shows to give them a glimpse of what to tweak, Wednesday (Oct. 4) was a chance to prove that TRL is a good show shaken by severe misfortunes. Here are our five takeaways from what could be a make-or-break show for early TRL adopters:
The host dynamic is still a work in progress. Day three was dominated by laughable non-sequiturs (Dhia: ”What you’ve got cooking over there?” Pham: “That’s right!”) and missed censors before spinning out into a high-volume crosstalk. In fairness, Tamara Dhia is doing some heavy lifting as host, milking as much fun as she can out of the softball questions while staying mindful of pace. DJ Young Fly‘s near-maniacal levels of cartoonish energy could be a nice salvo, but right now their styles are clashing. Whatever charm that was created by Rita Ora stepping in as guest host was negated by the introduction of Instagram personality Gabby Hanna (Hanna: “Weren’t you giving out cash before and the prize is a picture with me? That’s so lame!” Dhia: “Haha, no it’s not!”).
Music videos are called into a supporting role. Three episodes in and music videos, surprisingly, made an appearance, but almost as an afterthought. The two videos featured, Fat Joe and Avicii, were cut to preview lengths, less to promote the song than to balance out air time before the commercial break. Without clips that serve as compelling storytelling and a break between studio banter, there’s very little that’s visually satisfying about new-edition TRL.
Connection to creators and stars continues to be minimal. The types of enterprising people whose talents would be suited for (and benefit from) TRL’s signal-boost are being found, but the exposure almost seems to be working against them. The clip of the “Country Kendrick” parody by FYUTCH, was enjoyably silly, but only half as effective as finding the video through a friend or article that links directly to the video. Instead of helping fans connect with its creator, it is presenting them in passing and at a notable distance.
Two live performances is the magic number. Yesterday’s three-performance schedule, especially with the serious preoccupations that have clouded the week, have made TRL feel like a MTV-ified copy of Later...With Jools Holland. The challenge here is finding two contrasting acts that build off each other. Nick Jonas' -- who was filling in "last minute" for Demi Lovato -- for a performance of his new song “Find You” and polite interview appeared to power the crowd through the middling mini-game portion of the program that could only make a powerful closing-song performance that much more exciting.
Lil Uzi Vert's live presence was lacking. Whether it was the stilted atmosphere or the rapper’s own ambivalence, but Lil Uzi Vert's on-camera charisma was severely lacking. He was noticeably reticent to answer the hosts’ questions about a Playboi Carti collaboration (which could equally be blamed for the hosts’ delivery or the lack of a production assistant double-checking to ensure he was able to give any information on it.) Uzi’s performance of “XO TOUR LIF3” came across as so blatantly phoned in that him stepping through the crowd, climbing onto a table and leading fans in hand gestures felt like tired choreography. To quote Hannibal Buress, “it seemed kind of disrespectful to his fans, but nobody seemed to mind!”