If you find the feeling of your skin crawling all over your body exhilarating, or if you like to cringe so hard that your core gets a workout, have I got the show for you. I have been a fan of Disney+’s Encore! since it debuted along with the streaming service in November, but the most recent episode was simply such a stupendous hour of reality TV that I have to share my love for it in this space. The power of the theatre compels me. They couldn’t have created something more awkward if they did it intentionally and had Christopher Guest at the helm. It is simply breathtaking.
Let me first explain in an image, not words, just how awkward the episode that premiered Friday was.
Encore!, for the uninitiated, reunites former classmates to re-perform musicals they put up during high school, years (often decades) later. They have five days to both do this and sort out whatever residual feelings and resentment they’ve been carrying with them in the time since. It is poignant but also hilarious (I’ve cried at least once an episode but guffawed far more frequently), and probably the snarkiest thing Disney has ever produced. The show takes its subjects and their lives—both past and present—seriously, but it’s not not making fun of them at the same time. Exhibit A in this week’s episode is Laine, a server with ’90s bangs who says she is a performer first and foremost. Cut to her rapping in a musical context reminiscent to that of Mohammed’s band Midnight Voices in The Real World: San Francisco. Cut to children peering up at her quizzically from the floor.
“Annie [Oakley] and I are kindred spirits. It’s like an umbilical cord that connects through space and time,” said Laine of the character she played in her youth. Laine and her costars of the week reunited to remount Annie Get Your Gun, which they performed at their high school in 1998 in Satellite Beach, Florida. This cast, in particular, showed up to deliver, as though all these years they’ve been waiting for a high-concept reality show that would allow them to show off their perceived skills and relive their past in the pressurized environment of a quick-turnaround musical.
No one took this opportunity more seriously than Ameigh. That’s pronounced “Amy,” which was how she spelled her name until she was rechristened in a love letter by her high school boyfriend Alfie, who thought this spelling would be “cute and creative.” She agreed and changed her name legally. She showed up to the reunion in a cowboy hat and boots in an attempt to snatch the role from Laine, which: drama. Not just drama, drama drama. Ameigh literally said, “This is my moment.”
Except, no it wasn’t. Despite her efforts, Ameigh did not get the role, which the perpetually frazzled professional stage director Coy Middlebrook (who generally directs the Encore! shows) gave to Laine supposedly because of her familiarity with the role (...which she played 20 years ago). Shot. Down. Not such a quick draw, after all, eh Ameigh?
Ameigh also had a huge bone to pick with the man who gave her the unique spelling of her name, Alfie, who was her boyfriend in high school until he cheated on her with someone in tech. Scandal! Ameigh confronted Al about his past behavior, and when he tried to brush it off as just something that happened in high school, Ameigh tearfully countered with, “I thought we were more than high school.”
If she practiced that line: props. If she came up with it on the spot: more props. These people are so real, they’re unreal. Meanwhile, Chris, a stay-at-home dad of several children, had a meltdown when Coy gently reprimanded him for not having learned his lines. He did it in the most passive aggressive way possible, muttering while turned away from Coy as he stalked out of the room.
He apologized for his outburst almost immediately.
The editing here really makes this show about musicals sing. Here is David, who went on to perform on Broadway (a point way under-discussed on an episode filled with high school drama geeks that remain aspiring performers decades later), getting told to shut up by a woman at a senior center the troupe visited:
Here is a child dunking on Ameigh, who asked a day camp if they knew what collaborating is:
“I can’t read yet.”
It’s just all so good. Each episode ends with what I’m guessing is a rather generously edited depiction of the final performance, which is always a triumph no matter how much 11th-hour this-is-the-day-of-the-show-y’all catastrophes take place. I fell in love with this Encore! almost immediately during its first episode, in which a production of Annie was remounted and the cast’s former drama teacher was given the role of a servant with one line, which she practiced over and over and over again in a way not dissimilar from Valerie Cherish trying to nail, “Note to self: After a long day at work, I don’t need to see that.”
Now, this is me every Friday when a new episode is uploaded:
This show, it gives me life and makes me want to die at the same time. I can’t imagine a more visceral viewing experience.