CULVER CITY - Does anybody have positive memories of a game of Musical Chairs?
As childhood party pastimes go, few are barer bones: All you need is "X" number of people, "X-1" number of chairs and music. Then everybody walks in a circle. Occasionally, the music stops and you elbow the person next to you for a seat. It prepared us all poorly for that time later in life when it's explained that in actual social circumstances in which the number of people is "X" and the number of chairs is "X-1," chivalry dictates less elbowing and more gracious yielding.
Musical Chairs was a game most frequently played at parties where the parents of the birthday boy/girl were unable or unwilling to procure a clown, a bouncy house, a lane at the bowling alley, use of the roller rink or, in the Midwest, cornhole boards.
I can't say for sure if The CW
investigated reality competition versions of Bouncy House, Roller Derby or Cornhole, but on Wednesday (August 15) night, The CW raises the ante on Musical Chairs with the series "Oh Sit!
Back in May, on what was officially the last day of the 2011-2012 TV season, I went to the "Oh Sit!" set on the Sony Lot and watched a couple rounds of the competition and joined another reporter in a brief conversation with hosts Jamie Kennedy
and Jessi Cruickshank, as well as sideline reporter Tanika Ray.
The key takeaway?
This is not Your Mother's Musical Chairs. And if your mother didn't have her own particular version of Musical Chairs, this is simply not the version of Musical Chairs that you recall from childhood.
In fact, if you didn't know that "Oh Sit!" had its roots in that traditional game, you might not necessarily associate it with Musical Chairs at all. Yes, there are heavily padded contestants running in circles around what is called Chair Island. They're sprinting and climbing up and down hills. And yes, there's music playing, with Katreese Barnes serving as musical director and an assortment of vaguely recognizable acts popping up to provide accompaniment. And yes, at some point the music stops and the contestants all rush over to Chair Island, going either across conventional bridges or via a spinning double-helix. After a number of circuits of the track and a number of eliminations, winning contestants receive money, with amounts determined by the seats they occupied.
The rules are enforced by referees, the male refs seemingly designed to provide eye candy and the female refs to provide authority.
The action is commented on by Kennedy and Cruickshank in a booth above the melee, with Ray standing to the side of the track doing interviews and the like. Very few of Kennedy's interjections in the laps I saw seemed network TV friendly, so either The CW will be pushing some double-entendre limits with this one, or redubbing will be done.
And while the basic DNA is Musical Chairs, the overall fracas has the splashing and padded human-bouncing familiar to "Wipeout" fans, spinning chairs meant to induce Pavlovian response from "The Voice" fans and confrontations and lapping of Roller Derby, only without the rolling. It's finally less Musical Chairs and more the strangest "American Gladiators" competition you've ever seen.
"You know what? Really the musical chairs is just a gimmick to get the show, but really it's much more than that. Great bands, a crazy course, crazy competition, great contestants, a lot of drama, a lot of off the cuff comedy, a lot of unscripted nuts. It's just TV that you kind of watch and just... I don't know," Kennedy tells us.
Yup, the initial reservations went all around.
"When they first told me what the show was, it was musical chair-inspired game show—my first thought was 'Um...'" Cruickshank says.
"Get me there!" interrupts Kennedy.
"But I think what really sold me was that we'd just get to be funny and have a lot of fun," Cruickshank insists. "And that's what's different about this show: you can't take yourselves too seriously when you're watching people in Spandex pants and helmets fall into a pool on national television. So, it's not a serious game show. It's fun and light and kind of stupid, and it's really funny."
Ray admits, "I've been happily surprised doing it because my initial reaction was 'A frickin' musical chairs show? How sad is TV today!?' But it's on a whole other level, and I think people are going to get jazzed watching it, honestly. It's 'Wipeout.' It's a little bit of a concert. And the humiliation aspect really works."
There's that "Wipeout" comparison, while Kennedy compares "Oh Sit!" to a Japanese game show, which also seems fair.
"Jamie Kennedy says some very inappropriate things on live television," promises Cruickshank. [The interview came before the test runs. While she's wrong about the "live" aspect, she's not wrong about the inappropriate things.]
She continues, "He's no Ryan Seacrest, I'll tell you that. In a good way."
Kennedy takes that and runs with it.
"I'd love your bank account, Ryan. But here's what I'll say is this, is that you know what the show is? I came to it last night. This is adult inappropriate entertainment wrapped up in cotton candy. It is! You think 'Aw, it's just a musical chairs game show' and all that, but it's not. What we say... you're looking at the bright, shiny colors and look... happy people! But there's a lot going on."
Adds Cruickshank, "I think we were all wondering what we had gotten ourselves into, but then the first round of the first show, a police officer took a tiny little girl and threw her seven feet off of a ladder into the pool, and all three of us looked at each other and said ‘This is going to be a hit television show.'"
All of this raised one key question for me: The original Musical Chairs game doesn't really reward any particular skill other than "shoving," but very rarely is money at stake. So what skills does "Oh Sit!" reward?
"Oh, so do we!" Cruickshank says of rewarding shoving. "So do we! I mean, there are certain things that are not legal, but almost everything is allowed. We encourage these guys to get ruthless because they are... it's that old timey musical chairs element."
Kennedy clarifies, "You can't clip, but you can do everything else. Clipping is from behind."
Reaching a little, Kennedy explains, "Really, it's kind of a metaphor from America: Get out of my way or I'll push you."
One thing that's clear is that "Oh Sit!" is going to reward skills that perhaps haven't been rewarded on the dozens of singing or dancing or singing-and-dancing reality shows glutting the landscape.
"God bless all of the singers we have in America, but I mean, how are we going to play them all? We need more people who can sit in chairs," Kennedy says.
"Oh Sit!" premieres on Wednesday, August 15 at 8 p.m. on The CW.