The Gong Show is like the debris America’s Got Talent, and it’s been a wonderful first season—a parade of nonsense so light it floats in and out of my brain before it even leaves the screen. It’s delightful fun.
Its master of ceremonies is British host Tommy Maitland, who is also an executive producer of the show. He’s also not real, but rather a character Mike Myers is playing.
Although ABC and the show aren’t acknowledging that publicly, Myers’ character echoes Austin Powers enough that it’s basically like Austin Powers playing Tommy Maitland.
Before The Gong Show premiered, Myers did some pre-season press as Maitland. That—specifically this appearance—dampened my enthusiasm for the show. It was a garbage disposal of funny, chewing up jokes and spitting them out in even less-appealing chunks.
But that isn’t the character who showed up to host, thankfully. Instead, Maitland was an energetic host who was perfect for the show.
Okay, yes, some of his jokes and one-liners are fall flat, but in The Gong Show context, they’re less noticably egregious and fit in. (There are writers listed in the credits, so I’m curious how much of his lines are written and how many, if any, are improvised. But either way, he doesn’t deliver them as if they were written—they feel organic.)
And yes, there’s a bit too much mugging with props from the side of the stage, which echoes Nick Cannon’s tendency to emulate whatever was happening on stage.
Yet altogether, the work he’s doing elevates The Gong Show, if The Gong show can be elevated.
Most impressively, Myers keeps The Gong Show moving. He’s comfortable and natural and owns the stage without dominating it or pulling all the focus. He introduces contestants, moves through the judges, and sends the contestants on their way efficiently and effortlessly.
As all of the failed American Idol copycats illustrated, it’s not easy to do what Ryan Seacrest does so easily. But Tommy Maitland has it down, with his own shtick that works for the context. And that he’s a movie star in bad makeup performing a transparently fictional character makes the whole thing an even more preposterous affair.
The Gong Show has yet to be officially renewed, but should it return—and I hope it does—Tommy Maitland deserves credit for being a big part of why this revival worked.