TV

This Haunts Me: Shaggy as Sebastian in "The Little Mermaid LIVE!"

Who forgot his claws? Was it you, Shaggy?!

ABC13 Houston

Today's greatest threats to civil society may be climate change, the 2020 presidential election, and live versions of Disney musicals.

Despite the combination of curiosity, nostalgia, and skepticism that keeps viewers tuning in to ABC's live productions of musicals, it's not like we like them. Are we entertained? Surely, but for all the wrong reasons. When The Little Mermaid Live! aired last night, Twitter was interested in how the 1989 beloved classic would be staged before an audience. After all, it's been 30 years since songwriters Alan Menken and Howard Ashman gave the world "Part of Your World," "Kiss the Girl," and "Under the Sea."


What aired was a bogus bastardization of Broadway musical numbers, creepy puppeteering, and a watch party of the original animation, as the "live" musical was a disjointed mix of animated clips and live performances. Even with Queen Latifah breathing life into the production with a sonorous performance as Ursula and a decent, if pitchy, showing from 18-year-old Auli'i Cravahlo (Moana), ABC's constant commercial breaks advertising the upcoming Disney+ streaming platform made it clear that the whole production was just "the most expensive Disney+ ad" made to date.

But above all, what cannot be unseen is Shaggy's role as Sebastian. Yes, the officious, suck-up crab and side kick who represented every nerdy teacher's pet who tried to sit with the popular kids in the cafeteria but ended up a tattle tale by recess. Most notable about his performance as the iconic crab was the fact that Shaggy, rather than matching the staging and rest of the cast's costumes, simply wore red pants and a red, boxy faux leather jacket. Some viewers saw Michael Jackson from Thriller ghost-walking along the bottom of the sea and haunting Ariel, while others saw Shaggy doing a good job playing Sebastian if Sebastian were a 51-year-old philandering reggae singer.

Queen Latifah strutted across the stage with full tentacles, Cravahlo was rendered immobile by Ariel's fish tale for whole scenes, and, oh yeah, children dressed in full red crab costumes scuttled across the stage during John Stamos' harlequin rendition of Chef Louis's "Les Poissons." But Shaggy apparently got a pass.



To be clear, ABC's resident costume guy, Robert Mills, came to his own defense. (Apparently his title is "senior vice president of alternate series, specials, and late-night," but realistically, all we know him as is "the crab costume guy" now). Mills tweeted, "For those wondering, Shaggy wore crab claws in early rehearsals and it looked ridiculous." Then he answered public demand by tweeting a photo of Shaggy wearing the claws behind scenes, closing the loop of the masochism and cartoonish hellscape that is modern entertainment on ABC.

What's worse than Sean Spicer, Trump's former Press Secretary and traitor to the American public, being cast on ABC's Dancing with the Stars? Sean Spicer remaining on Dancing with the Stars because of Trump's encouragement to get his 66.5 million Twitter followers to keep voting for him. And you know what's worse than that? Shaggy cast as Michael Jackson playing Shaggy as Sebastian.

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2020 is on fire.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the racist police epidemic to freaking murder hornets, let's just throw 2020 out. Yes, the entire year.

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The most controversial moment of the third 2020 Democratic debate didn't actually happen during the debate at all. Instead, it centered around one of the commercials: a viscerally violent, targeted attack on Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The ad in question, which aired specifically on ABC's Sinclair affiliate channels during the debates, literally set fire to a picture of Ocasio-Cortez––a woman who has been very vocal about the constant barrage of death threats she gets from conservatives. The spot was funded by New Faces GOP, a right wing political action committee led by failed Republican Congressional hopeful Elizabeth Heng, who lost her bid in California last year by 15% to her Democrat opponent. Heng narrates, "This is the face of socialism and ignorance," as the camera lingers on Ocasio-Cortez's face warping in the flames.

It's the kind of video that wouldn't seem out of place if you found it on a mass shooter's hard drive.

New Faces GOP www.youtube.com

Viewers immediately took to Twitter to express their horror with ABC for airing the ad, with the hashtag #BoycottABC making the trending list in no time. But considering the myriad laws surrounding political advertisements on mainstream broadcasting companies, it's important to ask whether or not ABC even had the option to turn the ad down. After all, it wouldn't be fair to blame ABC for something they didn't actually have any power to stop.

Thankfully, that's not the case here. As it turns out, the only time a broadcast company's hands are really tied when it comes to airing a political ad is when that ad is being put out by a "legally qualified candidate." In other words, Elizabeth Heng is not actively running for election, so the decision to air the ad was up to ABC. In fact, even if we argue that the direct decision to air the ad came down to their Sinclair affiliates, ABC is still responsible for choosing to partner with a notoriously slanted conglomerate. You can sleep easy knowing that ABC deserves every last bit of the wrath it's currently receiving.

Free speech platitudes don't apply here, either, as ABC (and every other major broadcasting company, for that matter) have always been the arbiters of what content they allow on-air. In fact, back in March of 2019, every major network other than FOX refused to promote an ad for an anti-abortion movie due to its sensitive nature. So if they're airing an ad targeting an individual politician with something that could easily be conveyed as threats of violence, you better believe they're doing it solely because they received a good chunk of money in return.

At this point, what's stopping them from showing outright white supremacist propaganda?

Not much, really. As long as the white supremacists don't technically break hate speech laws (so, you know, just make everything thinly veiled), ABC would probably be cool with it if they were paid enough.

Considering profit is really all that matters here, boycotting is the way to go. Hit them where it hurts the most, right in their wallets. #BoycottABC