Monday, January 08, 2007


I'm sitting here watching Identity, the dumb NBC game show, not the dumb John Cusack thriller. It's awful, of course, but every awful new game show is fun once, as you're discovering each step of how stupid it is.

This episode's contestant is a little Filipino man who apparently has like five kids, and they're pretty old. It was surprising not only because he acts a little gay, but also because he appears to be no older than 15. Maybe it's because he has way more manic enthusiasm than any straight man over 30 ought to have. Maybe it's just because host Penn Jillette towers over him. Speaking of which, it's also hilarious seeing the supposedly edgy Jillette cashing a paycheck for doing the bland, cheesy game show host thing.

Plus, on TiVo, the show just flies by. Basically, the contestant has to guess which person has which job, and every time he guesses, Penn Jillette throws to commercial. When we come back, you learn the answer, the contestant guesses again, and--you guessed it--time for another break. Every time, every single time, the contestant, shaking with anticipation, is shocked that this has happened yet again.

The best part is the transparent milking of the tension. First of all, the stage is full of 20 people standing dead still on little pedestals for an hour. What a great gig--to stand there in a goofy dramatic pose and wait for someone to guess your job (wait a minute, doesn't that just make this show a new version of What's My Line?). Then, when it is time for the person to reveal whether the contestant is right (with a ridiculous catchphrase--the pilot says "You are cleared for takeoff," the football player says "It's good!" and the preacher's son says "It has been ordained...!" even though he's just the son), they pause for an excruciating, almost parodically contrived length of time. They literally have been instructed to wait around 15 seconds, without changing expression, before answering. On the final guess, the person waits nearly 30 seconds. How fast could game shows get played, I wonder, if you just did the parts that actually mattered, and cut out all the phony suspense bullshit? Ten minutes? Five minutes?

I'm waiting someone to answer, "Yeah, that's what I do, but I like to think I'm more than that, you know? It doesn't define my identity or anything..." The game seems pretty easy, at least for this contestant. Everyone pretty much is dressed exactly as you expect they would be, so you can totally judge people by their appearances and it will be reliable. Of course, if you couldn't, the show would be completely unfair.

The Filipino guy says that he will use his winnings to build a boarding school for poor children in the Philippines. Wow. That's hard to believe. But he won $500,000, so now those kids are set, I guess.



Anonymous said...

Kenny, be careful, your jealousy is oozing.

Steve said...

I think that the current genre of "dumb game shows," which started with Millionaire and was taken to a new level with Deal or No Deal, and then taken a slight step back with Identity, is popular for two reasons.

1. Dumb people watch it and think, "Hey, that could be me!"
2. Smart people watch it to laugh at the stupid people, and hope they lose in some stupid way.

I watched an episode where one of the identities was "created Spider-Man." Now, I don't expect everyone to recognize Stan Lee by sight, and not knowing anything about comics didn't make that woman dumb. But he was clearly the only one on the stage over 40. I got a lot more enjoyment out of watching her struggle than I would have if she had just realized how obvious it was.

Simon said...

My sister came up with a pretty good sketch about Identity.

She posits that they must have to cut out reams of footage from every episode along the lines of:

"An erotic dancer - well, definitely not you, you're ugly. And you're Indian so that's out..."

"Hmmmm, a banker, a banker. Well, let's see, that guy does look like a kike..."

The amusing part would probably be Penn Jilette's reactions. Sadly I don't foresee the show staying on the air long enough for the sketch idea to be useful anywhere.