The airwaves are alive, all right, but this just-arriving BBC production fills them with a tired, tinny chorus. Using the same template as NBC’s “Grease: You’re the One That I Want,” “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?” is primarily distinguished by its title, as producer Andrew Lloyd Webber searches for a fresh-faced Maria to star in his “The Sound of Music” stage revival. Despite some entertaining moments courtesy of the judges, it’s a little late for a theatrical singing competition without fresh wrinkles. This show, which first aired in the U.K. a few years ago, simply doesn’t have them.
Frankly, the whole exercise officially lost me near the premiere’s end, when Webber calls “surprised” contestants, who just happen to have camera crews in their living room. It’s a common reality trick that always makes me think the producers must think the audience is stupid.
The real tension, however, comes from the fact that Webber doesn’t participate directly in screening candidates to find 50 young women to send to “Maria school”; instead, he watches from afar with what we’re supposed to believe is growing agitation over choices made by the three judges: producer David Ian (whom host Graham Norton rather amusingly mocks), actor John Barrowman (“Torchwood”) and vocal coach Zoe Tyler. If you buy that, I suppose, “Maria” possesses a certain level of suspense.
Otherwise, it’s simply “American Idol” auditions all over again — albeit limited to women, most of whom conveniently belt out songs from earlier Webber productions.
The series won an international Emmy two years ago, but in terms of conquering a U.S. market overrun with similar fare (and that, indeed, rejected “Grease” after exhibiting modest initial curiosity), I suspect that’s a mountain “Maria” will be hard-pressed to climb.