With one quality show after another being ignored by the people or ripped off the air by the network it feels wrong to publicize, and worse, praise the kind of cheap, effortless shows that are so mindlessly hogging that airtime. While "Hit Me Baby, One More Time" and "Deal or No Deal" are not fit to polish the shoes of "Arrested Development" or "Rescue Me", the unfortunate truth is that it is apples and oranges.
From everything I read and hear it seems that is a huge gap in the audience between people who don't care about anything they watch (watching what's easy or popular) and those that do care, the "TV snobs" that demand everything be "The Sopranos". Here comes a lesson in simply meeting a show on its own terms. That not everything on TV needs to be taken seriously, and not every bit of criticism needs to take it seriously, for a show to achieve its purpose; to be entertaining.
The success of both of these shows goes, in large part, to NBC's pitch-perfect scheduling. As much as I'd decried NBC in the past, I will say they know where to put their reality shows - out of the way, in the summer or during a week-long winter break as in both these cases.
"Hit Me Baby One More Time" is not quite as embarrassing as its Britiney Spears inspired title may indicate, but it is camp in its highest form. The show gives washed-up, one-hit-wonder performers another chance in the spotlight, competing against each other for well, nothing. Not another record contract, just a donation to their favorite charity and the opportunity to get one last minute in the sun. The show consists of 5 or so of these performers. We get a brief history of their time in the spotlight and then they rise up from the bottom of the stage to perform their hit once again and hold onto your hat: they're old!
Ah yes, the ravages of age are a source of laughs for the audience, but it is refreshing to see that the show itself actually treats its celebrities with a respect that you don't see on game shows like "The Surreal Life" that are based on a cynical hope for audience rubber-necking. "Baby" is a boisterous, infectiously fun and tuneful celebration of nostalgic music, that reminds us for a brief moment why we liked these goofy songs in the time that we did. It is a blast watching people from Tommy Tune to Vanilla Ice getting a chance to take the stage and rock the house one last time.
* * ½ / 4
"Deal or No Deal" has got to be the most mindless game show since "Card Sharks". Hosted by an unrecognizably bald Howie Mandel, contestants choose a suitcase and then pick numbers of the remaining suitcases hoping the highest amount of money is in the one they choose. As the amounts in the suitcases are revealed "the banker" - a mysterious shadowy figure sitting in a sky box in the studio rafters - calls Mandle and makes an offer that the contestant can take or pass to get what is in her suitcase. "Deal or No Deal", Mandel says as steely-eyed and dramatic as possible. In a particularly dramatic moment, Mandel will pause at great length, then spit out "Open the case" and shimmy backward off the stage. It is all done with such straight-faced over-seriousness that you'll be hard pressed not to laugh at it.
The thumping dramatic music. The every day scheduling. The over-the-top design of the set and lighting that is 10 times the spectacle then anything on the show warrants. "Deal" comes straight out of the "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" vein. Apparently, it has been long enough since "Millionaire's" cancellation that networks think it is safe to go back to this well.
* * / 4
Both of these shows are overseas imports of show which are, themselves, of questionable quality. Both include an audience going completely nuts over the action. Family members on "Deal" scream advice like overzealous umpires calling the World Series and a crowd camera in "Baby" plants itself on a cute girl dancing around in the front row and doesn't move the entire hour. Both shows have hosts perfectly suited to the tone of their series. Vernon Kay's heavy English accent may be overpowering for some American viewers, but fits right in with every other odd thing going on. Both are ridiculous shows that are best enjoyed on their own level, without a hint of seriousness, and manage to be fun in spite of themselves.
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