Will 'The Masked Dancer' Leap to Success?: TV Review

Kristyn Burtt

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Photo credit: Michael Becker/FOX.

"The Masked Singer" kicked off the year in 2019 and became a cultural phenomenon. The South Korean singing competition seemed like a wacky idea for celebrities to even attempt here in the U.S., but now that FOX is four seasons in, it's an honor to join the ranks of winners like Wayne Brady and LeAnn Rimes. The network is now hoping to capitalize on that success with a very American spinoff created by Ellen DeGeneres called "The Masked Dancer."

DeGeneres, who is known for her inspired game segments on her Emmy Award-winning show, regularly joked on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" that they would continue to do their spoof of "The Masked Singer" until "a lawyer from FOX shows up and tells us to stop." But FOX saw that she had an ingenious idea on her hands and approached her to executive produce the nine-week series. Now does the idea have the same magic as "The Masked Singer?"

Well, "Masked Singer" fans might find some elements of the show a little more frustrating on "The Masked Dancer" because you have to pay closer attention to the clues. Viewers aren't listening to singing, they are watching the movement and that doesn't always offer up a ton of clues. You can tell if someone is younger or older based on their agility, and it's pretty easy to tell who probably had some type of dance training in their background.

The producers did realize some of the challenges in doing "The Masked Dancer" because they've added a new element called "Word Up." The competition utters a one-word phrase in their unmasked voice that gives a clue as to who they are. In watching the preview episode, some of the clues probably lead viewers in the right direction while others aren't helpful at all. It's hard to tell whether this will be a valuable clue as we get further into the series, but for now, it's a vaguely developed concept for the show.

In the first episode alone, words like "dramatic" and "accomplished" were thrown around. It doesn't offer up much at first glance and one word doesn't allow the viewer to really hear the voices unless they go back and rewind the episode over and over again. Will this actually help the panel guess who is behind the mask?

Executive producer Craig Plestis did promise that the "Word Up" element would be a major component to "The Masked Dancer" as the season progresses. "[On 'The Masked Singer], we've never heard their voices underneath the mask before. You've heard them sing. So that’s a big clue on 'The Masked Dancer,' in terms of the identity of some people – and the panel picked up on that," he explained at the FOX Entertainment Winter Press Tour. We will have to take his word on that.

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Photo credit: Michael Becker/FOX.

The cast also needs time to find their rhythm on the show. With Craig Robinson hosting the show and Ken Jeong, Paula Abdul, Ashley Tisdale and Brian Austin Green on the panel, together they aren't all a natural fit on the first episode. Jeong looks comfortable in his role on "The Masked Dancer" because he's been a key element to the success of "The Masked Singer." Abdul is an expected choice on the panel, given her expertise in dance and her experience as a judge on "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance."

Green looks like he will settle into the role given the fact that he's a veteran competitor of "The Masked Singer" — hello, Giraffe! As for Tisdale, she looks uncomfortable throughout much of the episode and seems out of her element on the panel. This isn't a surprise after hearing the "High School Musical" star admit it "was so difficult, especially for me" during the FOX Entertainment Winter Press Tour earlier this month.

Robinson does exactly what he's supposed to as the host and move the show along, but given his hilarious history as Darryl Philbin on "The Office," we hope he's given more to do than corny one-liners. Allowing the comedic actor to showcase his naturally funny sense of humor might bring out even more fun elements to "The Masked Dancer."

There are 10 contestants in this nine-episode series — Zebra, Ice Cube, Disco Ball, Tulip, Hammerhead, Moth, Cotton Candy, Exotic Bird, Cricket and Sloth. There are varying degrees of dance levels in this group and choreographer Tucker Barkley and assistant Kayla Radomski do a great job of highlighting each contestant's strength when it comes to movement. Even when a celebrity has less dance experience than the Tulip — watch out, they are a ringer! — they find ways to make them look good. There are plenty of background dancers and props to keep the dance going with the routines they have created.

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Photo credit: Michael Becker/FOX.

Also adding to the overall look of the show is the costumes. In "The Masked Singer," big heads and big feet are the names of the game, but in "The Masked Dancer" the contestants have to be able to move comfortably in the oversized wardrobe. Those adjustments made by Emmy Award-winning costumer designer Marina Toybina and her team don't take away from the larger-than-life and colorful look of the show. It only showcases Toybina's talents even more because you realize how adept she is at creating virtually anything.

The first celeb is unmasked at the end of the first show and no spoilers will be given away here, but it's definitely a well-known name proving that this series is an easy "yes" for stars. "The Masked Singer" franchise is proving that stars can do reality shows that are on-trend and involve showing off their talent yet still enhance their careers as a part of a pop-culture moment. "The Masked Dancer" is only going to add to that relevance in "The Masked Singer" universe.

"The Masked Dancer" will premiere after an NFL doubleheader on Sunday, Dec. 27 at 8 p.m. ET. The second episode will make its time‑period premiere at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6. The series will also be available on Tubi shortly after its linear premiere.

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Kristyn Burtt is a commercial dance journalist, TV host and producer. She was the West Coast correspondent and host of "To the Pointe" on Dance Network for five years. Her coverage of "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing With the Stars" and "World of Dance" is popular with dance fans across the globe. Kristyn's love of dance began early in her life. She trained at the Boston Ballet School, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" and won a dance scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She currently serves on the American Dance Movement’s Marketing & PR Committee and is a member of the Television Academy and SAG-AFTRA.

Los Angeles, CA
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