It seems like forever ago that The WB promoted "Beauty and the Geek" as being "from the daring mind of Ashton Kutcher," a tagline that provided me and my colleagues with much mirth.
It's been a while, though, since that daring mind produced anything of any real quality on the small screen. Yes, "Punk'd" was a true cultural phenomenon of a sort, while "Beauty and the Geek" enjoyed at least a couple seasons of moderate ratings before it was jettisoned to cable for its next installment. But subsequent Ashton Kutcher joints have included "The Real Wedding Crashers," "Opportunity Knocks" and "Miss Guided," which wasn't bad, but didn't last very long.
The latest line on Kutcher's producing resume is the British transplant "Game Show in My Head," which was actually ordered in 2007 and is only making it to the screen now. CBS' confidence in "Game Show" is so great that the network is airing it on Saturday nights (one bad sign), starting in early January (possibly a worse sign) and premiering it against an NFL playoff game on NBC (three strikes and you're dumped).
The reason why CBS is airing the show at all is, from what I can best tell, that it has to be the cheapest thing to air on a major network since "America's Funniest Home Videos" premiered. While watching parents get hit in the groin with baseball bats and watching bears jump on trampolines will always deliver a certain perverse humor, "Game Show in My Head" has less appeal.
The premise is simple: Host Joe Rogan, standing in a very small studio in front of a very small audience, is communicating via earpiece with a contestant on the streets of Los Angeles. Rogan gives the contestant certain tasks to perform under the watchful eye of several hidden cameras. For each task, the contestant gets $5,000. The top possible prize is $50,000. Rogan, if you'll recall, used to give people much more money for eating worms and defecating on each other, so you know the tasks will probably be silly rather than challenging.
In the first episode airing Saturday (Jan. 3) night, Shalisse Pekarcik, an attractive "personal trainer" from "Salt Lake City" won cash by borrowing a family for some vacation photos, making a woman smear ranch dressing on her face and getting a stoned burn-out to pretend to marry her. In the second episode, Craig Scime, an "entrepreneur" from "Buffalo," had to try to set himself up on a bro-date and make Hollywood locals tell stories about being abducted and probed by aliens. Pekarcik's episode had moments of mirth, while I stopped watching Scime's after only five unfunny minutes.
"Game Show in My Head" is part game show, part hidden-camera show and part improv comedy exercise, but it doesn't have the gonads to admit that last part.
At the start of each episode, Rogan boasts at how he's in the ear of "ordinary people."
Ordinary? It took me two seconds of Googling to find that the very fetching Shalisse Pekarcik, in addition to being an ace high school pole-vaulter, also put in some time acting in Los Angeles as recently as five years ago. She mostly relied on cuteness to accomplish her tasks and looked positively uncoached compared to Scime. Described only as an entrepreneur, Scime's hosting test reel is the first thing that comes up on Google, followed very closely by his IMDB page and his voice-acting resume. Buffalo has the best of Niagara Falls, tasty wings, several sports teams and Charles Barkley's choice for coach of the Auburn Tigers, but the reason Scime's still there and the reason I stopped watching his episode are the same: He's not really all that funny or personable. No offense, Buffalo. This isn't they guy you want representing you.
At a certain point, once the contestants were just fame whores to begin with, surely "Game Show in my Head" would have been more entertaining if they'd just used acknowledged improv comics as their contestants, plucking people from the Groundlings? Comedians always need a few extra bucks and maybe the casting department could have unearthed a few good ones to go out into the streets and bring hilarity to the masses. This week's contestants weren't ordinary enough to be authentic nor clever enough to generate laughter. The early episodes also didn't quite strike the right balance between contestants humiliating themselves for money verse humiliating random people for money, plus the first two episodes only used Los Angeles locations where people assume they're constantly on camera anyway.
"Game Show in My Head" isn't horrible, but the actual show won't do anything to change the fact that when I hear the title, I can only think of one thing:
Not that scene, per se, but more the scene where John Malkovich confronts John Cusack, who's been giving tours of his brain, by the side of the freeway and bellows, as only Malkovich can, "It's my head! It's my HEAD!" Then he promptly gets whacked in the gourd with a beer can.
Now that's entertaining.