Sunday, January 04, 2009

TV: Head Games

Saturday saw a once-in-a-blue moon happening. CBS aired a new program. A non-repeat. The networks have largely abandoned Saturday night. Netlette Fox originally programmed a Saturday night -- years and years ago, featuring a pre-Friends Matthew Perry. It bombed and they ceased but swore, one day, one day soon, they'd be programming seven nights a week. And when that happened, they just knew, Geppetto would pronounce them a real network.


With ABC, CBS and NBC having given up on Saturdays and NBC planning to reduce prime time programming to two hours a night Monday through Friday (the third hour going to Jay Leno doing what he currently does on The Tonight Show), the pressure is really off Fox to ever expand to three hours of week night offerings (something they promised years ago). The Netlette has little reason to mature when the networks seems so damned intent on shrinking.

So we really wanted to like Saturday's program Game Show In My Head. (Disclosure, as noted before, we know Demi Moore. Ashton Kutcher produces the game show.) And after hearing from CBS execs that Chris Kattan had to be fired because he came off like a more mincing Rip Taylor and that Joe Rogan was just what the show needed as a host, we were curious.

Kattan could never have been as awful as CBS suits make out and Rogan is a train wreck.

You realize that as you grasp that, no, one of the fatties from fat-man-skinny-wife 'stardom' is not hosting the show, it's News Radio and Fear Factor's Rogan looking like Larry Love the Human Canary. He's losing even more hair, has packed on a ton and has more wrinkles than anyone his age should have. And, no, all the Max Factor in the world won't distract from that.

If Rogan didn't appear to be squeezed into his clothes (and a stomach girdle), he might not look so uncomfortable. But he looks and acts uncomfortable and did so in both half-hour episodes CBS broadcast last night. It's a bit hard to enjoy a game show when the host looks so damn queasy.

What's the show about?

CBS tries to lure you in with questions: "Do you consider yourself a daredevil, a risk taker, a great salesman? Can you get people to do things that any normal person wouldn't? These contestants think they can."

Each half-hour had one contestant. They go through a series of tasks and -- unlike on most game shows -- when they fail, they are not immediately ejected. That may seem more humane but it's honestly boring.

We'll come back to that. The two contestants were Shalisse and Craig. Shalisse's tasks including finding a woman on the street (all of the challenges take place on the street) who would let her pretend the woman's family was her (Shalisse's) family for photos; to find a woman who would let her put ranch dressing on the woman's face and a cucumber, ending with the woman dipping the cucumber in the dressing and eating it; find a man (with his girlfriend) who will say he knows you; stand people in line; get someone to cross the street faster than everyone else; and get a man to pose as your groom and marry you.

Now if the show had been thought out more clearly, someone would have grasped, it is more entertaining to see multiple contestants. For example, Shalisse failed at the task of getting people to stand in line in front of stairs (going up to a pier). Could someone have succeeded? If so, it would have been interesting to see how he or she did it, how they managed to accomplish what Shalisse couldn't. By the same token, people who find these shows amusing would have been rolling on the floor if, after Shalisse failed, three others had also failed in a row. By having multiple contestants, it comes off like a game show and not just someone desperate to be on TV.

Game Show In My Head's premise is that the people on the street do not know this is part of a game. Only the contestant does. Another plus to having teams of contestants is that the show doesn't have to think up as many stunts. If three or four contestants were doing what Shalisse did, they would have needed less than half the stunts used in the half-hour.

It might also give viewers someone to root for because we doubt most viewers rooted for Shalisse or Craig. If they rooted for the woman, they probably stopped doing so after her whine that, "These people . . . you put your hopes in them and they let you down." Oh, boo-hoo, you damn cry baby. You're humiliating people and they're not in on the joke and you want to whine? Craig -- who self-presented as a good time jester -- ruined any chance of good will by expressing homophobia before he tried to complete his first challenge. (Schedule a "bro date" with a stranger.) It was all so traumatic to alleged life-of-the-party Craig that he had to list as the most traumatic thing at the end of his half-hour. Oh, poor baby.

While this is going on, Joe Rogan is just annoying -- making remarks that are supposed to be funny but just waste time. Rogan declared in the first half-hour, "Now we have Shalisse's family here." Joe's grinning like he's got the most amazing comedic lines in the world but all he's got is the question of whether "it was a little uncomfortable to watch?" "A little bit, being a dad," answers Shalisse's father while Joe grins madly like he and Pops just scored with a roof raising rendition of "2000 Year Old Man." When Craig's seeking his bro-date, Joe will lumber over to Craig's wife in the audience and apparently try to bait her into making homophobic remarks similar to the ones her husband did. Maybe another "that's a little bit [fem voice] woo-hoo!"? Joe's leering as he asks, "What did you think about Craig trying to pick up dudes? Did it make you uncomfortable?" She handled it gracefully and told him "no." Too bad she didn't add, "But the way you're attempting to mince is scaring the hell out of me."

These bits are never going to work with Rogan. Joe Rogan is an attention getter (and the attention frequently gets him banned from comedy clubs) but he's not a laugh getter. Even as Joe on News Radio, he didn't get laughs from funny lines. He got laughs from the moment when Joe would realize he was a doofus and do a slow reaction. The idea that Rogan can handle patter is not one rooted in reality.

If they want patter, they need to get rid of Rogan and replace him with Kathy Griffin (the show is taped, not live), George Lopez or someone known for their comedic timing. If they want to keep Rogan, cut out the patter and use his natural gifts: when a contestant does something crazy, zoom in on Joe's reaction. And if you're keeping Rogan, get him a wardrobe that does not squeeze him in like a tamale casing.

The show could use Rogan's reactions to the various competitions. It could use reactions period.

And this is where the show really fails. In many ways, this is a riff on Candid Camera. The contestant does a goof on unsuspecting people. But it forgets the most important part, for Candid Camera to work, the trick has to be revealed at the end. Then whomever Allen Funt was tricking gets to prove that they're a good sport and the audience is comfortable laughing.

Game Show In Your Head never gives the audience the permission to laugh. The unsuspecting never learn what was going on. In fact, they look perfectly stupid as a result and we wouldn't be at all surprised if audiences found the game show cruel. In one bit, Craig has to find someone on the street whose shoe and sock he can remove. He finally gets a woman to sit down and removes her eye glasses telling her she looks stressed and leaving the impression that he's some sort of a therapist. Joe Rogan's telling Craig (who's wearing an ear piece) that he has only seconds left. Suddenly Craig's dropping to the woman's feet and telling her she'd be less stressed without her shoe and then removing her sock as well. He does that before the buzzer sounds and we watch him step back and start jumping around, excited to have won. This is all supposed to be in real time, so it's a little strange, as he jumps around, to see the woman walking off in the background -- with her shoe on. When did she manage that feat? Not in real time, there wasn't enough time.

So what happened there? Was she ticked and put her own shoe on? Did, as Craig jumped around, she grasp that this was some sort of competition? Or did she assume Craig had some sort of foot fetish and was in the midst of a leaping orgasm?

We don't know. And without knowing her reaction, this woman on the street, we really don't know what to make of it? The audience needs that "Smile, you're on Candid Camera" moment. They need to know that, having been humiliated, the person is okay with it, that the person is brought in on the joke.

Take the guy Shalisse 'marries.' In a wedding dress, she approaches a man who shoots her down, then another man sitting with his friend. She tells this second man that her fiancee just called off the wedding, points across the park to a ceremony waiting to be held with guests, musicians and a member of the clergy. To spare her humiliation, she lies, she needs someone to pose as her fiancee. Her family, she lies, has never seen him, so they won't know. Please, please. The guy's goaded into it by his friend and Shalisse is physically pulling him. He goes through with the wedding. They kiss. And then Shalisse runs off. What is he thinking? Does he realize he's been set-up? Does he feel in on the joke or humiliated?

You need that "Smile, you're on Candid Camera moment." It's surprising that we need to point that out because Ashton hosted and produced Punk'd which was another riff on Candid Camera and that moment when, for instance, Hillary Duff would learn the whole thing was a joke, that her driving instructor was not some bat-wielding terrorist, that she was not prevented from ever getting a license, that moment found the unsuspecting and the audience sharing a needed laugh/release. Without that moment, the tension just continues -- like stress.

Game Show In Your Head isn't a bad show. A few tweaks and it could actually be a gentle entertaining show for CBS that wins viewers each Saturday. And we'll certainly give CBS credit for finally programming something new on Saturdays. We'd also much rather see real game shows than another so-called 'reality' show. But, as is, Game Show In My Head is going to leave many viewers responding, "Yeah, well it should have stayed there!"
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }