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TV Review: 'EGG,' new PBS series, does the arts over easy

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

By Caroline Abels, Post-Gazette Cultural Arts Writer

It's quirky, fast-paced, flippant and upbeat.

In short, it ain't "Masterpiece Theatre."

"EGG the arts show"

WHEN: 11 p.m. tomorrow on WQED


Instead, "EGG the arts show" is PBS's attempt to throw open the definition of "the arts" and introduce viewers to people making art across America, people who feel an unsuppressable desire to creatively express their thoughts and emotions so that their lives, and the lives of others, can be more fulfilling.

That, of course, is what the arts are all about. But many Americans mistakenly believe the arts are something they can't understand, can't relate to or can't afford.

"EGG," therefore, has the power to bust stereotypes. It profiles a range of people with a variety of artistic talents -- even some who aren't that talented but who have the will to create. More significantly, it highlights creative pursuits that don't match the traditional perception of the arts: yodeling, Bonsai tree-making, hairstyling, violin bow-making.

"EGG" isn't afraid to make your ears perk up, either. How refreshing it was, for example, to hear the art critic Hilton Kramer describe Jeff Koons' artwork.

"It's crap!" he exclaimed in the middle of a pilot show that aired on WQED in April. That declaration told viewers it's OK to have an intensely personal reaction to art, theater, dance or music, even if it's a negative one.

Each installment of the half-hour show, which premieres tomorrow at 11 p.m. on WQED, is built around a theme -- happiness, flight, science, even hair. In each show, four to five artists or performers are profiled, so "EGG" moves fast enough that if you don't like a particular profile you don't have to wait long for the next.

But the rapid pace, which seems tailored to the short American attention span, left this viewer pining for more information about each artist. Perhaps this is why PBS runs a bountiful Web site that will complement the show: www.pbs.org/wnet/egg/series.html.

"EGG" broadcasts also feature quirky sound effects and amusing graphics interspersed with pithy thoughts and interesting facts flashed on the TV screen. The concept seems borrowed from VH1's "Pop-Up Video," which might be another indicator of the kind of audience the creators were aiming for.

Best of all, there's no narrator. So instead of hearing a disembodied voice deliver scripted lines in somber tones, you hear choreographer David Parsons explain that, as a boy, he would leave for school every morning by jumping out of his bedroom window onto a trampoline. You hear an 85-year-old amateur poet in New York City say, "Poetry makes me feel alive."

Amazingly, statements such as these don't come across as sappy. In "EGG," there's very little hype or manufactured emotion standing between you and the artist, so his or her pursuits don't seem maudlin or desperate.

But therein lies a drawback to the show: It fails to hit on art's power to cut into emotions or to dispel preconceived notions. Hampered by its flippant style and inability -- this is public television, remember -- to show more provocative or disturbing art, it presents a skewed view of the art's possibilities, even as it broadens art's definition.

Naysayers, therefore, will dismiss "EGG" as Arts Lite. True, this is not the forum in which serious issues facing the arts -- censorship, public funding, declining audiences -- will be discussed. But perhaps it makes sense to show people the vastness of the arts in America today before asking them to form an opinion on the arts' future."

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