PCB TV Review: Hollywood Game Night

Eliot HochbergShow Review, TelevisionLeave a Comment

Wherein we learn that if you bring your own expectations, you’ll be disappointed, but sometimes sticking it out makes it worthwhile.

Welcome to Jane Lynch’s house for game night? Almost…

A friend of mine who loves board games and party games emailed me the promo stills for Hollywood Game Night, hosted by Jane Lynch. With a couple of great web series online now about board games (The Dice Tower, Geek & Sundries TableTop with Wil Wheaton are the ones I have in mind), it seemed plausible that some celebrities might get in on the fun and sit around and play board games. I was excited, although when I realized it was on NBC, I figured there’s no way it could be the mainstream version of TableTop.

If you don’t recognize those stairs, you’re probably under 30.

Still, I willfully held my vision of celebrities having fun with board games. At worst, I thought we’d end up with something like one of my favorite TV game shows, Smush, where it really appeared like a a bunch of folks got a little drunk and pretended the game show was at somebody’s fancy house that appeared to be designed by architect Mike Brady.

You’d expect, therefore, that I’d be bound for some kind of disappointment. You’d be right. Oh, but how right? Very right.

Yes, I’m playing a game show host!

Right off the bat, although I really like Jane Lynch as an actor, and imagine I’d like her as a person as well, I’m not a fan of her version of game show hosting, at least at the start. It isn’t the insult comic-style intros she does – those who know my background know I’m into that – it’s more the sort of over-the-top “I’m sincere, but I’m not” sensibility that I just don’t buy. I think what I mean is – I don’t feel like Jane really enjoys games that much. I fully admit I’m reading into this, but there’s something about the delivery that instead of saying “Oh, great, I get to do the party games I love at home with a bunch of folks in an awesome studio AND I get paid? This is great!”, it’s more like “Why did I sign up for this, this is horrible, but hey, I’m an actor, I can act like a game show host.” That’s not very fun, and as the show progressed to the first segment, I sort of understood why she might feel that way.

Thankfully, there’s no kissing in this show. And no, that’s
not a dig on Jane Lynch.

After the introductions, they go to the first game. The game is played like Family Feud, if only the first part was played. There are two buzzers and the contestants face each other. Then, an image is shown on the screen, and they must identify what’s shown. Ok, that doesn’t sound too bad. The first image is of – a type of snack food. Then… we see the branded bag of the snack food after it’s correctly guessed. Hey, that’s not that weird, let’s see what the next clue is. Oh, hey. Another snack food. From the same company. And then another branded image once the answer is guessed correctly. By the end of the round, it’s clear that all of the clues are Frito-Lay snack foods. Oh.

Now look, I get it. TV shows are expensive, and product placement is important for the bottom line, especially of a new show that we can’t be sure will garner audience. A little judicious advertising can lower the risk to producers and give audiences good content they might not otherwise see. But this? This is just blatant commercialism out of the gate. We aren’t even told at the top of the round that the segment is brought to us by Frito-Lay, in fact I don’t think it’s mentioned at the end, either. And you know that the branding folks had them edit out any guesses that weren’t their brand. Which makes the whole game suspect. Right out of the gate.

If I’m watching a game show, and I’m preparing to enjoy it, I simply can’t if I think that advertisers are “secretly” controlling the outcome that I see. I guess I should have realized the goal was to manipulate me when I saw the word “Hollywood” in the title. “How will people know to like this? We’ll put ‘Hollywood’ in the title. People love things from Hollywood.” Sure they do. If it’s 1956.

I was going to stop there. Because I felt like the show failed me right up top. Then I remembered: it’s my job to watch all the way through, even if I hate it, because that’s what a review is about. I did just that.

The rest of the show is better. Lynch loses the secret dread after that first round, the rest of the games are fun, if simplistic. I did find myself getting into it, though. The show settles into something more like a party game night, with variations on charades and celebrity (a game I’ve enjoyed many a game night), plus some actual surprises – I’m referring to the segment called L’il Picassos. That’s actually the high point of the whole show, I hope they use it and similar games more.

One thing that struck me, and this isn’t good or bad, is that instead of a hot woman sidekick, like many gameshows have, this show has decent looking men in grey shirts and white gloves. And pants, they have pants on. A nice change of pace, that doesn’t add or subtract from the show.

I also think that, in fact, the players, at least some of them, are actually enjoying the chardonnay. Some seem to get a little less focused, shall we say, as the game progresses. Nothing embarrassing. But very much like your friends might get playing games with a few beers.

Overall, then, despite my initial disgust (and I really mean it, the opening “game” is disgusting in my view), the rest of the show is actually fairly entertaining. Here’s hoping they either dump the product placement, make it a bonus prize round, or at least acknowledge that it’s a promo and let Lynch make fun of it like she does the celebrity guests. I think she’ll feel better, and the audience can enjoy it more. Even You Bet Your Life was allowed to do that, and it was the 1950s. We’re at least that sophisticated. Aren’t we?

Hollywood Game Night
NBC Thursdays, 10/9 central
6 out of 10 snack chips

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Eliot HochbergPCB TV Review: Hollywood Game Night