Thursday, September 8, 2011

The New Season Is Here!

At last, Labor Day has come and gone. September 5 brought the season premiere of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? - and it doesn't appear that anything has changed from the previous year. That doesn't mean I have nothing to write about, however - September 3 brought the sneak preview episodes of The Game Of Life and Scrabble Showdown on The Hub.

The Game Of Life
"As much as I like Family Game Night and Pictureka, the concept of a kids game show based on The Game Of Life makes me think 'floor sized game board' and 'questions based on life decisions.' That's...well, that's Peer Pressure (sorry if you've been trying to forget that show)." - From my post on June 16, 2011.

Well, it's not like Peer Pressure. An almost unrecognizable Frank Nicotero plays host to two families (one parent and two kids). In round one, each family gets a vaguely defined time period (maybe about a minute?) to get into this goofy-looking Game Of Life car and drive down CGI streets, bouncing in their seats as if they were on a roller coaster. As they "drive", they are asked really basic two-choice trivia questions represented by forks in the road, and lock in their answers by turning the steering wheel left or right. A correct answer is worth life points (hey, it's no weirder than Pictureka's fish points); an incorrect answer causes the car to stall for a few seconds of valuable time. The life points are doubled (or at least increased) in round two, while round three thankfully drops the graphics for a pretty straightforward family versus family stunt. The family with the most life points is then given five free spaces on that famous Game Of Life wheel and can earn three more by correctly guessing each family member's answer to a question asked of them before the show. The wheel is finally spun, and if it lands on one of the spaces the winning family has locked in, the family wins the grand prize.

Now, would my eight-year-old self have liked this? Sure...but seeing it for the first time now, it comes across as very, very "little-kid." I'm sorry, but those computer-generated highways just look dumb. As for Frank, I predicted on June 16 that he would look out of place, and he does. He proved on Street Smarts that he knows how to host a game show, but here his shouted commentary as those CGI sequences roll sounds rather faux enthusiastic. So no, it's not like Peer Pressure...but it's not much better.

Scrabble Showdown
"It is now that I start begging: come on, The Hub! I hate to say this to you, but Pictureka just sounds like a revival of Finders Keepers and Family Game Night...can you honestly think of a lamer idea for a game show than 'Families play mini-games based on various Hasbro games'? Just do Scrabble. I don't care how you do it. It can be like Countdown, it can be like the board game Scrabble, it can be like the game show Scrabble (which was an excellent game show despite having little to do with the board game)...heck, you can make up a messy kids game show and call it Scrabble for all I care." - From my post on July 8, 2010

I got my wish, and thankfully Scrabble Showdown turned out to be a pretty nifty little show. Justin Willman plays host to two families (one parent and one kid). These two families play three of what appears to be a rotating group of vaguely Scrabble-esque word games. They're not really much like Scrabble, and at least one of them appears to have been recycled from Family Game Night, but they're certainly a lot better then those Game Of Life car rides. The family that wins each game gets two bonus letter tiles. Watching the sneak preview, I had no idea what that meant for most of the show, but it became clear in the final round.

The final round begins with each family randomly selecting their bonus letter tiles from a board of sixteen; they are awarded the point value of those tiles as a head start. We then finally get to see a Scrabble board, and Justin reads out clues to the words that are scrambled on it. The first family to buzz in with the correct word gets that word's usual Scrabble point value, and the first family to reach one hundred points wins the grand prize trip.

What I described above is not a perfectly-designed scoring system, but the word games are a lot of fun and Justin, while not great, is at least not faux enthusiastic. I like this. I certainly hope an eight-year-old me would have.

I certainly hope The Hub eventually gives us a game show that isn't based on a Hasbro board game. Still, as I said in my review of Family Game Night and Pictureka "I'm not delusional. These aren't the greatest game shows ever or even the greatest kids game shows ever, and I know they exist mostly to promote Hasbro board games. Still, I thought these shows were fun, and an eight-year-old me would have loved them. As I said, I'm going to try to be realistic. The Hub isn't going to do any of the shows I hoped it would do, but I hope the shows it does succeed." Honestly, that verdict is still about right.

Family Feud next week,


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