Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) has suffered multiple humiliating defeats in public on Succession, sweating it out on live television in his attempt to take over the family business. In private, he hasn’t fared much better as he's constantly reminded of his mistakes (and let’s not forget the bed incident a few weeks ago). After last week’s shame shame reminder from his dad, it would make sense for Kendall to keep it low-key at the big celebration in Dundee, but no one on Succession ever plays it safe, which is how we end up witnessing a cringe spiral like no other.
"It is burning my eyes but I cannot look away," Tabitha (Caitlin Fitzgerald) exclaims to Roman (Kieran Culkin) while she films Kendall’s big rap in Logan's honor with a mix of delight and horror on her face. Reactions from the large crowd decked out in their black-tie and ball gown finest, range from amusement (Shiv), to embarrassment (Gerri), to … maybe getting into it (Greg and Kendall’s new love interest Naomi). With each line and gesture, it somehow gets more shame-worthy — "Five-star general, y'all best salute, yo" — and yet at no point is Kendall even vaguely embarassed by his very public gesture.
A romantic declaration often provides the motivation for this type of performance, but as we know, Kendall loves nothing more than to talk about his dad. The line between endearing and embarrassing can be thin, not everyone can be a Patrick Brewer (Noah Reid) sweetly serenading his boyfriend, David Rose (Dan Levy) with an acoustic version of "Simply the Best" on Schitt’s Creek. More often than not, jaws will be on the floor, and we'll all be watching through your fingers.
To celebrate Kendall’s inaugural rendition of "My Dad’s Plan is Better (L to the OG)" — a working title — here are seven other cringe-worthy performances from most to least embarrassing.
What makes something like this truly awkward is when the person with the microphone has zero awareness of just how bad or inappropriate it is. Marnie (Allison Williams) has no idea that performing a sincere cover of Kanye West’s "Stronger" at an office party for her ex-boyfriend Charlie (Christopher Abbott) is a terrible idea. As with Kendall, she throws in some hand gestures that only underscore just how misguided this song choice is. As she continues to perform to a mix of confused and mortified faces, Charlie utters "She’s still going" with a look of horror. You can bury your face in your hands all you want, Charlie, but this won’t stop Marnie. All she wants to do is congratulate his app, Forbid, for hitting 20,000 monthly average users, but next time she should say it with flowers or booze. "This song is really meaningful to me, " she states at the beginning of her performance, which is Peak Marnie, blissfully ignorant while making it all about her. She would later go on to have musical success (getting a song on Grey’s Anatomy!), but this was not her time to shine.
This song is catchy as hell, which is another factor in the ultimate cringe performance (who hasn’t got "L to the OG" playing on a loop in their head?). Megan (Jessica Paré) surprises her new husband Don with a sexy performance of "Zou Bisou Bisou," complete with a provocative dance in front of his business partners and employees. It may be unfair that Megan is second on this list, but this is less about her and more about the reactions. Harry (Rich Sommer) can’t hide his horniness, Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) is intrigued by the whole display, and Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) politely claps. "Why don’t you sing like that?" Roger (John Slattery) asks his wife Jane (Peyton List); "Why don’t you look like him?" she retorts. At the center of it all is the birthday boy, who hates this level of attention. Don does a pretty good job hiding his disdain until everyone has gone, but this only underscores the fundamental differences that will eventually cause their marriage to fall apart.
Credit where credit is due, Skyler White (Anna Gunn) is a reluctant participant in this Marilyn Monroe inspired rendition of "Happy Birthday" for her boss Ted (Christopher Cousins). It's breathy and flirty, ending with a chaste kiss of the cheek. This is before the pair act on their romantic attraction, but from the reactions of some of their co-workers, tongues are already wagging. And even if they weren’t, this birthday request definitely crosses some lines. Even the original version borders on cringeworthy, so any imitation is going to drown in the awkward (and inappropriate power imbalance).
What every biker bar needs is teens doing karaoke, or so Riverdale suggests. Archie (KJ Apa) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) kick off this sad state of affairs with a rendition of "Mad World" that is more depressing than Gary Jules’ version from Donnie Darko, but things take a turn for the "huh" when Betty (Lili Reinhart) takes over. Betty wants to join Jughead’s (Cole Sprouse) gang, the Serpents, but she is told she has to "Do the dance. The serpent dance." After her friends vacate the stage, she finishes the song, complete with the required striptease, while lots of leering men, her mom, and her boyfriend look on. Sometimes a cringy performance elicits laughter, but this is far too problematic (she's only 16-years-old) and sad for anything beyond horror at the return of so-called Dark Betty.
By the laws of television, if a teen girl is considered safe or a goody-two-shoes, she must have an adventurous side waiting to break free. Long before "Dark Betty" showed up on Riverdale, Dawson’s Creek introduced the concept of "Other Joey." Thankfully Joey isn’t stripping to songs from Jake Gyllenhaal movies, and the only garment she enthusiastically ditches is her jacket while Chad Michael Murray strums away. Pacey and Audrey enthusiastically cheer on her rendition of Cheap Trick’s "I Want You to Want Me." Slight desperation in order to be seen as cool by a guy in a band isn’t the worst offense on this list, but the cringe levels are unavoidable.
Not all grand romantic performance gestures are done in public, but it can still be just as awkward when it is one-on-one. In the episode "Girlfriends and Boyfriends," people keep giving Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) advice about how to handle her "first time," but Nick (Jason Segel) has something else up his sleeve in his candlelit basement. "It’s a little corny, but I mean it," he tells her as he starts singing (and miming) along to "Lady" by Styx. It's incredibly sweet and vulnerable, and it wouldn’t be all that mortifying if Lindsay felt as passionately about Nick as he does about her, but you can’t fake feelings, and the look on her face is guilt mixed with horror at what she has just witnessed.
The ultimate cute versus cringe debate of 2019, so your reactions may vary. In order to save Hawkins (and the world), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) has to sing a duet of "Neverending Story" with his camp girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo) over walkie talkies, while everyone else can’t help but listen. Reactions by his friends are also mixed. It's a private moment made public, which is why it ranks so low. Plus, Dustin is very aware he is going to get mocked for this, unlike Kendall and Marnie who sincerely believe in their own talents. Still, it's likely Erica’s (Priah Ferguson) look of wide-eyed horror matched many in the audience.
Emma Fraser has wanted to write about TV since she first watched My So-Called Life in the mid-90s, finally getting her wish over a decade later. Follow her on Twitter at @frazbelina.
TOPICS: Succession, Dawson's Creek, Freaks and Geeks, Girls, Mad Men, Riverdale, Stranger Things, Allison Williams, Anna Gunn, Camila Mendes, Gabriella Pizzolo, Gaten Matarazzo, Jason Segel, Jeremy Strong, Jessica Paré, Katie Holmes, K.J. Apa, Lili Reinhart, Music and TV