Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Review I Am Tired Of Writing

There's nothing wrong with Million Dollar Mind Game. There was nothing wrong with Minute To Win It either...or The Cube...or Million Dollar Money Drop...

Vernon Kay, in a white tuxedo, welcomes a team of six contestants, seated around a table on a set that I guess is supposed to represent a high-end casino. These six contestants are asked very long-winded questions that, at least in theory, combine knowledge and lateral thinking; in practice, they really just sound like questions rejected by Round Britain Quiz. The team is given sixty seconds to discuss the question, during which they shout over each other so much it's amazing they are able to come up with anything; after time runs out, the team captain (a position that rotates around the table after each question) gives an answer. After said answer is given, any member of the team can buzz in and state that they wish to use one of their three methods of help - an additional thirty seconds of thinking time, a replacement question, or overruling the captain with their own answer. A correct answer advances the team on the money ladder towards $1,000,000; once four incorrect answers have been given, the team leaves with nothing. After each step on the money ladder, the team is given the option of quitting, but the decision must be unanimous or the game will continue.

You get the point, right? It's another generic post - Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game show. There's nothing wrong with it. Vernon Kay does just fine. I'm just sick of typing that.

Am I let down? Maybe a little, sure - but I was expecting to be let down. I'm used to being let down by new game shows. Perhaps I've simply become too critical.

If you're reading this, and you ever get the chance to pitch a game show, remember one thing - the reason Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? worked in the first place was because nobody had seen anything like it before...

...then watch as your show gets rejected in favor of Million Dollar Quiz XXVIII.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Well, I Suppose It's Good...

Let me make this clear: I haven't seen much Fort Boyard. The original French show is generally considered to be one of the most astonishing, involving, atmospheric game shows ever produced anywhere, but I've never watched as I don't speak French and episodes are usually two hours long. I have seen the British version, and frankly it's not as good as The Crystal Maze (which genuinely is one of the most astonishing, involving, atmospheric game shows ever produced anywhere). Still, I was looking forward to Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge, if only because a watered-down kids version of Fort Boyard still has to be better than anything else on American kids TV...right?

Geno Segers (who has an astoundingly low voice) and Laura Hamilton (who appears to be more famous for being a "celebrity" on Dancing On Ice then for the British kids TV hosting jobs that qualified her to do such) preside over a tournament in which six teams of four kids compete to be named the best on the Fort. Each half-hour episode features two teams competing against each other. The names of said teams? The Green Jaguars, the Yellow Scorpions, the Blue Sharks, the Silver Dragons, the Red Vipers, and the White Falcons. OK, I'll make the obvious joke - "Which team will go to the Temple today, Olmec? Will it be the Red Jaguars..."

Anyway, the two teams in each episode attempt to earn keys by competing in five challenges. Three of these challenges pit one teams against the other, with the winning team getting a key, while each team also gets one challenge they play by themselves against the clock and get a key if they succeed.  At the end of the show, each team's keys are converted into time grabbing coins in the Fort's Treasure Room (as far as I can tell, each team starts with three minutes in the Treasure Room and is deducted twenty seconds for every key they fail to win). The coins are then converted...somehow...into a numerical result, and the two teams who score the most points over the season will compete in the grand final.

Let me start with the good: these challenges are pretty amazing and it is quite a surprise that they are being shown on American kids TV. I mean, yes, I've seen shows that do much worse things to their contestants, but how often do you get to see people stick their hands in jars of bugs or swing across the platforms of a Napoleonic fortress on Disney XD?

That's the good, now here's the bad: all the incredible atmosphere that Fort Boyard supposedly has is pretty conspicuously absent here. Certainly the Fort provides a backdrop ten times better then the same challenges would have in a studio, but most versions of this show have live tigers guarding the Treasure Room that must be moved out of the way by a wisecracking animal tamer! Laura Hamilton might as well not be there, and while Geno Segers sounds like James Earl Jones, he acts more or less like a stereotypical over-the-top kids game show host, all the way down to shouting "Let's go to the TREASURE ROOM!" in pretty much the same way JD Roth would shout "You're going to the FUN HOUSE!" Remember the classic Fort Boyard theme music? Well, forget it, because generic "adventure game show" music is all you're getting here.

I'm nitpicking, of course. This is far from a bad show and my eight-year-old self would have found it epic and amazing. Still, go on YouTube and watch the opening of Fort Boyard in France, with the classic theme music and the contestants approaching the Fort on boats as viewers get ominous glimpses of the perils within. That tiny bit of footage likely does a better job making you hold your breath than Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge ever will.

Next week: Million Dollar Mind Game! Why do I get the feeling it will be an even bigger letdown.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

My DVR Didn't Record The Whole Show

Said show is On The Spot, however, so there isn't really much to review.

Eric Schwartz, who I'm honestly guessing is a lot better than this format, wanders around public places asking people basic trivia questions. We hear his voiceover asking "Who is on the $20 bill?" and then cut to a bunch of different people giving different answers. The same people keep reappearing throughout the show too. Once the correct answer is revealed, we get the "edutainment" element - Andrew Jackson is on the $20 bill, he was the seventh President Of The United States, he was nicknamed Old Hickory, etc. There appears to be little more to it than this. Assuming Eric doesn't hand over cash at the end of the show, there is no attempt at prizes or scoring of any kind.

It's dumb, of course, but let's not delude ourselves. This is a kids show, in once-a-week syndication, designed for local stations to run when they have absolutely nothing else to show. Nobody, anywhere, will ever watch this - certainly not more than once.

I could use this as an opportunity to launch into a long discussion of the fact that kids TV outside dedicated kids cable channels is more or less a thing of the past. Instead, I will limit myself to one pro and one con.

Pro: As I've mentioned a few times, MGM Domestic Television actually syndicated reruns of Gladiators 2000 in 2008. Can you imagine how confused any kid who saw that must have been?

Con: On the other hand, one of my major guilty pleasures is Power Rangers and similar kids action shows. One of the best shows of this ilk ever produced, Kamen Rider Dragon Knight, premiered in 2008...on CW Saturday mornings. Naturally, it quietly disappeared a year later. I still fully it would have caught on had it been on a channel kids actually watch.

I'll review Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge - which thankfully is on a dedicated kids cable channel - next week.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

This Had Better Be Good

Well, turns out the Fall rush isn't quite over, as we finally have premiere dates for two shows I've been waiting for for a long time. I really, really hope they live up to my expectations.

Fort Boyard
"Finally...this may be just a rumor, but it appears that iconic (in Europe) stunt show Fort Boyard (which is famously taped on an actual 1800s fort on the coast of France) may be coming to America as a kids game show. Well, who knows, maybe this will prove that American kids can handle bizarre European game shows, and we'll finally get an American version of The Slammer...yeah, not going to happen. I would love to know what American kids channel thinks this is a good idea." - From my post on May 13, 2011.

Disney XD, as it turns out - Fort Boyard: Ultimate Challenge (yes, that's the title) premieres on October 17. The hosts are Laura Hamilton and Geno Segers. I can only hope that it is good and clicks with American kids. At least it is on in primetime and thus has a chance at succeeding, unlike...

Million Dollar Mind Game
"Now this has the potential to be amazing, and to genuinely change American game shows. It's an adaptation of the long-running Russian game show What? Where? When?, a show that - in Russia - has no prizes and contestants who take it so seriously that they form the equivalent of chess clubs to play it...much like, dare I say it, Countdown in Britain. Of course, the American producers are promoting huge prizes, as well as Vernon Kay (a man best known for hosting British talent shows) as the host. Still, if this works, it could lead to some genuinely intelligent and tough American game shows; if it doesn't, at least we can't say the Americans didn't take a risk." - From my post on May 20, 2010.

Yeah, that's right - May 20, 2010, and that was months after the show was announced. It's hard to find a more delayed game show than this, but it is finally going to premiere on ABC on October the afternoon. They didn't take a risk; they burned it off against Sunday afternoon football. I'll be watching. I'll likely be the only one.

I'll review On The Spot next week.