'Peter Pan Live!': How it upended hate-watchers' expectations

'The Sound of Music Live!,' NBC's previous live musical production, received poor reviews but huge ratings. 'Pan' surprised many by being a fairly good show, with even critics who disliked it admitting that it was better than 'Music.'

Virginia Sherwood/NBC/AP
'Peter Pan' stars (from l.) John Allyn, Allison Williams, Jake Lucas, and Taylor Louderman.

Last year, more than 18 million viewers tuned into NBC’s production “The Sound of Music Live!,” making it a ratings hit for the network. But it was a guilty pleasure for many viewers: many critics disliked the production, with Associated Press critic Mark Kennedy writing that “the only real problem was the real reason most people tuned in: Carrie Underwood… [there was] zero chemistry with her love interest and lacked any intensity or shading.” Hank Stuever of the Washington Post called Underwood “as flat as the label on a Swiss Miss package of cocoa.”

This year, however, was a different story. Star Allison Williams insisted before the broadcast of NBC’s newest musical, “Peter Pan Live!,” that “Pan” can’t be “hate-watched” the way “Music” was. “’Peter Pan,’ you cannot watch cynically,” Williams, who portrayed the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, told Us Weekly before the broadcast.

And some critics agree with her post-broadcast, writing that the quality of the “Pan” production was far above last year’s “Music.” “ NBC… acquitted itself worthily, earnestly, sometimes ploddingly and, at a few golden moments, magically,” Deadline writer Jeremy Gerard wrote of the show. “If you were prepared to hoot and howl over the casting of Allison Williams… well, your snark went unrequited. This was a much better production than last year’s Sound Of Music Live!” Gerard praised the rest of the cast as well as Williams.

Entertainment Weekly writer Melissa Maerz agreed, writing, “Something incredible happened. Peter Pan Live! wasn’t an epic failure. It was something much more shocking to the American public. It was… fine. Totally fine. Just as I’d suspected. Nothing spectacular. But nothing so embarrassing as NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music… Maybe the most surprising thing about Peter Pan Live! was that it largely wiped the spite off Twitter for a few hours.” USA Today critic Mark Bianco was also mostly won over, writing, “Thursday's live musical on NBC didn't always soar, but it did generally manage to stay off the ground."

Not all reviewers agreed about the overall quality of the show – Kennedy wrote that “Pan” “needed a lot more fairy dust… [it] was an oddly ponderous, disconnected, disjointed and jerky mess.” However, he noted, “To be sure, the new show lifted the bar technically, making "The Sound of Music Live!" seem like summer stock in comparison.”

If NBC's live productions keep improving, be prepared to be wowed by their next scheduled musical, "The Music Man."

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