Madonna's TV blitz: How'd she do? Her week of sitcom and talk show spots to promote her new album leaves Ken Tucker with mixed emotions
Madonna, Will & Grace
Credit: Madonna and Megan Mullally: Chris Haston

Madonna’s TV blitz: How’d she do?

Until the past week or so, Madonna’s worst sin in releasing her new album, ”American Life,” was revealing an excess of sincerity. The album, full of earnest music from a master ironist, isn’t in keeping with either the brutal realism of a rap act like 50 Cent or the cotton-candy fragility of Kelly Clarkson.

But now comes the past week’s ”American Life: The Promotion.” To push her new product, which is going to need all the pushing it can get, Madonna appeared on ”Will & Grace” Thursday in one of the worst, if most fascinating, celebrity cameos I’ve ever witnessed. Donning a blond wig and alternating between outdated Valley Girl-speak and outdated celebrity-walking-through-a-role demeanor, Madonna played Liz (a nod to her longtime, heroic publicist Liz Rosenberg), a ditz whose ad for a roommate is answered by Megan Mullally’s Karen. NBC touted the appearance as Madonna ”for the first time in prime time!” Madonna-as-TV-actress beat out Madonna-as-movie-actress, primarily because she was paired with a pro like Mullally and had less screen time than she did in her most recent movie dud, ”Swept Away.” Madonna was doing this weird lowered-eyelid thing through many of her line readings, as if she were fending off sleep, and she delivered her punch lines with an emphasis that would have made Milton Berle look like Laurence Olivier.

Much better was the singer’s interview with Mullally on VH1 earlier in the week. Madonna playing Madonna on a music cable channel is much more her home turf, and the two new pals joshed, giggled, and revealed nothing beyond a mutual love of celebrity — that’s the Madonna we know and like. So was the Madonna on display on MTV, where both Carson Daly and John Norris were treated to the star’s thinly veiled contempt. Madonna is, in part, a creation of MTV. Her videos and her performances on MTV’s awards shows were essential to the development of both her mystique and her blunt personality, yet she’s always treated it with witty condescension. On MTV, she sang a few tunes from ”American Life” in front of a roomful of youths who screamed and clapped obligingly but not enthusiastically until she did a more familiar number, ”Like a Prayer.” This couldn’t have boosted Madonna’s faith in MTV as a guaranteed promotional tool.

Best of all was Madonna’s Friday appearance on ”Live With Regis and Kelly,” if only to hear Regis Philbin say that her ”new CD just dropped” and to ask his audience, ”Who else brings you Madonna on TV?” Well, in addition to the places mentioned above, Reege, there were her two spots on the ”Today” show, with Madonna giving clipped answers to an admirably unintimidated Matt Lauer and a performance of the new song ”Mother & Father” that found the superstar hunched over an acoustic guitar, staring ferociously at her own fingerings as though willing them to grip the correct chords. I’m telling ya, this new twist in her image — quiet desperation rather than imperious superciliousness — is growing on me.

What isn’t growing on me is her sudden inescapability. On Tuesday, April 29, Madonna will be on NBC’s ”Dateline.” Watch her explain once again why she pulled her ”controversial” video for the ”American Life” single. It’s getting so the only place you can be sure you won’t see her speaking words of wisdom (”Nothing is what it seems,” she told Regis) is another American item — ”American Idol.” That show’s young stars, who are replacing Madonna in the pop marketplace, probably do not agree for one second that (as Madonna again told Regis — that Reege, he’s a regular Charlie Rose) ”Nothing in the material world…is going to bring you happiness.” Tell it to Kelly, Ruben, and Simon, Madge.

What do you think of Madonna’s latest image makeover?

American Life
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