Calling any show “The World’s Best” is a bold move. Calling a reality competition show “The World’s Best” is a veritable gauntlet throw, challenging countless bombastic rivals.
But CBS’ new series, which debuted Sunday night after Super Bowl LIII, had some solid reasons to feel confident going into the first episode. It’s the brainchild of Mike Darnell, formerly Fox’s in-house reality chief behind such franchises as “American Idol,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” and “The X Factor.” It premiered at a time when a reality show like Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” an aggressively bizarre competition show that almost immediately became a ratings hit, can thrive.
Also, it’s a feel-good program that premiered, as previously mentioned, after the Super Bowl, hosted by the perpetually enthusiastic James Cordon (who is, truth be told, more naturally suited to hosting a game show than a late-night show). It highlights talent from around the world, which is an admirable mission statement in and of itself. “World’s Best” would have to strike out hard not to serve its first and foremost function of being a bright and shiny distraction.
On that front, at least, it gets the job done. But even when the acts are half as stunning as the show manically promises, there’s so much exhaustive (figurative) tap-dancing in between that keeps “The World’s Best” from truly taking off.
A hyperactive talent show that welcomes any skill daring enough to grace its stage, “The World’s Best’s” most obvious analogue is “America’s Got Talent.” But in both a risky and savvy move, its central conceit works to combat that comparison. While it also includes a panel of three blandly positive American judges — singer Faith Hill, iconic host RuPaul Charles, and sunshine personified Drew Barrymore — “The World’s Best” enlists 50 representatives from 38 regions with various skills to help make the final call. If someone votes “yes,” their seat lights up. If enough seats light up, they create a glowing “wall” effect that, if wide enough, will send the performer to the next round. (Ergo: “Wall of the World.”) Together, the panelists’ averaged scores and the global experts’ votes decide an act’s future success, not to mention the ultimate $1 million prize.
If this sounds like an awful lot of explanation for what’s basically a global talent show, well, that’s because it is. So very much of the show boils down to the show explaining itself and stretching out the “judging,” which mostly just consists of the panelists gushing and gasping in awe. Plus, given the way the averages tend to work out, there’s rarely much tension as to whether or not someone will move forward. In fact, even just the first two acts — a choreographed group karate team and a trio of tween boy singers — both moved on with combined scores of 99 out of 100. That doesn’t exactly leave much room for future acts to blow our minds, nor does it make all the emphasis on how this show’s supposedly singular judging is any better or more interesting than any other’s. If “The World’s Best” wants to be “The World’s Best,” it would do better to stop trying to tell us that it’s so mind-blowing and let its acts do the talking.
Reality competition, 60 minutes. Airs Wednesdays at 8 pm on CBS.
Cast: Drew Barrymore, RuPaul Charles, James Corden, Faith HIll.
Crew: Executive producers: Mike Darnell, Mark Burnett, James Corden, Ben Winston, Brooke Karzen, Dan Sacks, Alison Holloway, James Breen and Barry Poznick.