Obi-Wan and the Diva

Two episodes of the high school a cappella reality series Pitch Slapped have aired so far – in this era of short TV runs, that constitutes 25% of the season! While it maintains many of the structures of the form, Pitch Slapped is perhaps the best yet at focusing its spotlight on the music itself.

It wouldn’t be a basic cable docureality show if we didn’t have personalities front and center, however. Here, we have Deke Sharon and Diana Preisler – both already public figures well-known by the a cappella community. What’s interesting to me is how the show uses editing (and perhaps prompting to Deke and Diana in their “aside” moments) to heighten some of these personality characteristics.

Deke is a good guy who is incredibly knowledgeable about a cappella. In Pitch Slapped, he becomes a form of Obi-Wan, dispensing wisdom and empowering his “Bad News Bears” group. I’m not saying this isn’t based in truth, but it certainly is emphasizing some elements over others to add dramatic tension to the show.

Similarly, Diana is a lovely person, amazingly capable as a performer and coach. Like Deke, she has been generous with her time and support of Acaville. In the show, though, her edginess has been dialed up to 11, showing moments of tough love that emphasize the tough while omitting warmer moments that would give a more balanced look at who she really is.

Now, I’m not writing this from a fainting couch or anything – I get it. Reality TV isn’t quite reality, and engaging TV needs stories with conflict. But it’s not often that I see reality TV featuring people I sort of know in real life, so it hits a bit differently.

What is perhaps more notable about Pitch Slapped, though, is that amidst the somewhat-forced competition drama, there are actual moments of, you know, music. Not only do we hear extended snippets of rehearsals and performances, but we can get at least a fleeting sense of what the coaches are listening for and how the groups evolve over the course of the show.

This marks a difference from one of the other a cappella TV shows, which seemed to focus its energy on interpersonal conflict and the soapy competitive drama. Here, there’s more emphasis on the mutual support that an a cappella group provides – and its putative purpose: singing.

There are other areas for improvement in Pitch Slapped, perhaps – the competitive backdrop feels a little artificial at times, for instance. But on balance, this is a welcome addition to the a cappella scene. Hopefully, its ratings justify another season. So far, at least, it’s reflecting well on the fun, power, and camaraderie of the genre.

What do you think?