‘Hairspray’: Not Remotely Shocking

Networks try for ratings over originality

The quirky John Waters film that became a camp classic on video after tanking at the box office — then later became a bonafide hit Broadway musical — is not remotely shocking anymore.

Men in drag playing the mother, the second-tier storyline in which a white Baltimore teen falls for a black one, the central character too plump for national television — what’s so shocking about that? That’s pretty much one episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” right there.

But NBC doesn’t seem to be shooting for shock anyway. With “Hairspray Live,” it’s merely following up the huge ratings it had with “The Sound of Music,” “Peter Pan,” and even “The Wiz” — even if they all took critical drubbings.

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Over on competitor FOX, “Grease Live” got both the numbers and the praise, but didn’t necessarily inspire NBC to pick the types of projects that offer many roles to many stars and where the songs still manage to border on contemporary — like “Grease.”

Yet, maybe “You Can’t Stop The Beat” is just one of those songs. We’ll find out Wednesday night when “Hairspray” airs.

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“Hairspray” brings with it the same message it did in 1988, when movie audiences first met Tracy Turnblad, the plus-size teen whose love of music winds up making her an advocate for all kinds of diversity in 1950s Baltimore. Tracy just wants to dance on “The Corny Collins Show,” but her figure doesn’t make her the classic teen queen. Still, she persists and winds up going from outsider to (albeit controversial) local celebrity.

The TV dance show remains determinedly segregated, with the black kids allowed to dance just once a month. With her newfound popularity, Tracy winds up leading a protest demanding inclusion.

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Unlike FOX, which cast African-American actress/singer Keke Palmer as Frenchie — slipping a black girl into the Pink Ladies without anyone blinking an eye as if “Grease” weren’t set in the still-segregated ’50s — NBC is owning the Waters storyline and reportedly tweaking little. And that’s really all it’s got in its arsenal.

Well, that and Broadway superstar Kristen Chenoweth, powerhouse pop vocalist Ariana Grande, and the ever-hilarious Martin Short.

“Hairspray” the movie introduced Ricki Lake as Tracy. (Yes, she acted before she became a daytime TV host.) Waters’ favorite, Divine, played her mother, Edna, beginning the tradition of a man playing the role.

In 2002, it became a Broadway musical, scoring eight Tony Awards, multiple national tours, and versions performed around the world. Harvey Fierstein played Edna for three of those years. He’ll don the fat suit once again for the NBC live show. This is called a “casting coup.”

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In 2007, the musical became a movie, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Effron, and John Travolta as Edna. Plus, it added some songs.

Much like the “Rocky Horror” redux of a month or so ago, also over at FOX, fans of the stars will likely flock to their TV, only to scratch their heads over the once-groundbreaking fare before them, which is now quirky at best — and in an age where we can watch people react to their “Botched” plastic surgeries on TV, it may just fall flat.

Grande is there to lend her considerable pipes, in a role occupied by Amanda Bynes in the film. Remember her?

“Bye Bye Birdie” is next for NBC — and that’s if the audience hasn’t already said bye-bye by then.

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