Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Motown Revue Starring Smokey Robinson, The (1985) TV series

'Motown Revue' a Reprise Of 60's Variety Shows
By Stephen Holden
Published: August 9, 1985

An eerie sense of time-warp permeates ''The Motown Revue Starring Smokey Robinson,'' NBC's amiable attempt to revive old-time television variety shows. Musically, the hour-long program gambles on the notion that Motown's 1960's song catalogue is a communal touchstone for millions of pop nostalgists who can't get enough of those oldies but goodies.

And the success of ''Motown's 25th Anniversary Special'' certainly suggests that such might be the case.

But ''The Motown Revue,'' which stirs together comedy skits and music into a familiar formula, lacks the explosive energy of a concert special. The Motown veteran Smokey Robinson makes a genial, but somewhat distant, host who doesn't have the vaudevillian razzmatazz of Michael Jackson moon-walking through ''Billie Jean.'' Singing his signature hits ''More Love,'' ''You've Really Got a Hold on Me'' (accompanied by a video of himself being tossed around the ring by a female bodybuilder), and ''Being With You,'' Mr. Robinson comes off as a sweetly genteel Mr. Nice Guy.

Much of the show's humor depends on a familiarity with 60's trivia. One running joke involves a record store clerk answering customers' questions about old Supremes hits. And the performing styles of Motown's 60's vocal groups are amusingly kidded in a mock-advertisement for ''The Detroit Institute of Choreography.'' Steering clear of any sexual suggestiveness, the jokes involve such things as Mr. Robinson's being mistaken for Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder's having been an air-traffic controller. Even guest star Vanity, Prince's explosively sexy former protege, is presented as a soft-focus romantic balladeer.

''The Motown Revue,'' which was produced and directed by Steve Binder, is the first show of a five-part musical-variety series. With its heart planted firmly in 1965, it is as wholesome as granola.

Season 1, Episode 1
9 August 1985

The Motown Revue Starring Smokey Robinson (1985) TV series
Host: Smokey Robinson

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