Drum (roll) please ... It's time to play NAME … THAT … THEME!
1.) PRIVATE EYE
Letter homophones! EYE, YOU, SEE—
2.) PAY IT FORWARD
Uh … hold on—
3.) HOTEL CALIFORNIA
Whaaa? Wait, I got it! Private + pay + hotel = Donald Trump!
4.) HIDDEN CAMERA
C, I told U it was Donald Trump!
Bzzt bzzt bzzzzzt!!!
I enjoy getting stumped, when there's a reasonable chance I could have figured it out. EYE roll, FORWARD roll, CALIFORNIA roll, CAMERA roll—let's ROLL WITH IT (add ROLL to a word) indeed!
It's not as satisfying as an earlier ROLL puzzle, because this one boils down to "words that can precede X," a theme type that's at the end of its life cycle. There are so many types of rolls — barrel roll, egg roll, jelly roll, crescent roll, rainbow roll, and on they roll — that it's too easy to produce dozens of themer possibilities.
Still, I enjoyed the phrases Erika picked. PRIVATE EYE is great, PAY IT FORWARD is a beautiful sentiment, HOTEL CALIFORNIA such an earworm, HIDDEN CAMERA no doubt laden with imagery.
It's a shame that there's no long bonus fill. Getting rid of the black square between OBIE/SETS and/or EVE/OLAF and/or PLAYA/ANNE is usually a reasonable way to achieve that.
Last time PLAYA appeared in a crossword, I heard much consternation that it "wasn't something I should have to know." I understand how annoying it is when a crossword makes you feel stupid — happens to me all the time (and not just because I am stupid) — but PLAYA is a real word, and it's in place names like PLAYA del Rey. That said, crossing it with two toughies in UPCS and TARO does seem unfair.
I love "clue echoes," when the same clue is used in different ways. [Popular berry] and [Popular Berry] for ACAI and HALLE, that's a winner!
Entertaining debut offering; I enjoy when Name That Theme beats me fair and square. Sigh, I was on such a roll.