Fox’s reality mavens manage to take something as weird and wonderful as flash mobs — a kind of performance art, where what appear to be ordinary folks suddenly burst into choreographed dances or other actions in public settings — and overzealously turn it into a garish, almost vulgar prank show. Given his quirky standup act, it’s not surprising Howie Mandel would be drawn to the phenomenon, serving as a producer and co-creator of this effort. Mostly, though, the producers have missed what makes such mobs perfect little three-minute gems for the Web, resulting in an hourlong special that’s more foreplay than action.
Indeed, the most interesting thing about “Mobbed” is how the first two-thirds of the show pull back the curtain regarding how it’s produced. Yet despite the media-studies aspect of that, the planning simply isn’t compelling enough to sustain the hour until its ostensible payoff.
At the outset, Mandel promises to “harness the force of a flash mob” in the service of personal moments — proposals, apologies, quitting jobs, whatever — pledging that there’s “nothing we won’t do.” Hey, we’ve seen “Deal or No Deal,” no need to remind us.
Still, in practice what that really means is just an elaborate hidden-camera stunt, with a single mark being set up for a wild surprise. In this case, it’s a gal named Nikki, whose boyfriend wants to propose to her. But hey, why not do that with a cast of 800 at the Americana in Glendale? (Given the parking at the Americana, my guess is some of them are just exiting the lot.)
Normally, it’s hard to go wrong with a proposal and impromptu wedding, but “Mobbed” manages to suck the fun out of it through sheer overkill. In the process, the show mangles what makes flash mobs so buoyant — see “The Sound of Music” stunt in Belgium — albeit in bite-sized bits.
Presumably, this trial run behind “American Idol” is testing the waters for future outings, and amid Fox’s history of big concepts, at least this feel-good lark is relatively harmless.
Still, “Mobbed” seems akin to explaining a magic trick — a novelty that quickly wears off. In the case of TV, after all, it’s often easier to assemble a mob than it is to motivate them to stick around.