In the present era where there's a dearth of first-run game shows, it's a shame we have to lose this one. This was a nice remake of a classic, tweaked a little to fit into the 75-channel world, but solid in its format. Still, there were a few things that departed from the classic a bit too much, and that may have caused its demise:
*No returning champions. Bringing back returning champs gives the viewers a sense of continuity, and it makes things more interesting when there's a champion to be dethroned. Instead, Pyramid opted for the cheap way out, which is taping the programs at will and showing them in any order they want.
*Winners circle judging. If the category were "Cities in Europe," and the contestant said "Places/Things in Europe," the contestant would get credit under the old rules of the '80s. The important thing was the KEY WORD(S) of the category. The most frustrating thing about the latest Pyramid was that the entire category had to be said VERBATIM to get credit. This really turned me off, and I turned the show off often, as it wasn't in the spirit of the game.
*No real theme music. A minor detail, you say? The melody of the Pyramid themes of the '70s and '80s were recognizable and identified themselves well with the show. While the 2002-04 Pyramid music fit in well with the modern, purple & scaffolding set, it still sounded like background music and no one would recognize it if it were on its own.
*No true $100,000 tournament. Sure, they had such tournaments, but 2002-04 big money format was such that it was possible that there would be no $100K winner (and it even happened once). The spirit of the $100K tournament in its original, successful format was: We're going to throw tough categories at you, make you earn the big money, and this tournament won't end until SOMEONE wins the big prize, no matter how long it takes. This format had some of the best drama in game show lore, and the new version again opted the cheap way out, risking a fall-flat conclusion. That's what they got, too, and it hurt the show badly.
That's not to say there weren't some improvements this time around. Flat screens have replaced outdated trilons on the finely-tuned set, and the nice effect with the six coming into view in the winners circle was a sweet, dramatic touch. Having different celebrities every day, instead of every week, was also proven experiment. Finally, Donny Osmond also did a solid job as host. He was there to present the game, move it along, add a little personality to it, but not get it the way. That's what the best hosts do.
I'm sure this show will be back in another life form. The format is too strong not to rekindle. Still, I hope producers learn from this version's mistakes, and create a better version one day of the show we knew and enjoyed well.
The most notable is the addition of the Big Bank. All of the loot lost to the Whammy goes into the Big Bank, and he who hits the Big Bank space on the board must answer one question correctly to claim the cash & prizes within. This adds an element of excitement and an increased chance -- albeit small -- of hitting some really "big bucks."
Thankfully, the producers eliminated the GEM electric car (top speed: 25 mph) in favor of a more necessary internal combustion engine variety. The whammies themselves are far more easier to see on the board with the yellow background than the blue they had in season one. Also, it seems the producers have cut back a bit on the Double Whammies. They did creep across the overkill line a bit.
Todd Newton took a heap of criticism for shouting in season one, and overemphasizing a bit ("one thousand, one hundred dollars!" instead of "eleven hundred dollars"). Usually, such things come from producers instructions. I have to suspect that was the case, as Todd has dialed it down in season two.
I'm still not a fan of the oval-board (the rectangular board is more visually pleasing), and the elimination of the first question round. I also wish W! would bring back defending champions. (GSN discourages this, so they can mix up the episodes.) Still, Whammy! addressed its season one flaws and made up for them. It's not GSN's best original show, but I hope it sticks around nonetheless.
Only one flaw: devoting time to "Wheel of Fortune." That show actually got its start on NBC in 1976 with Chuck Woolery as host, but it went into syndication with Pat Sajak in the mid '80s, and continues still today. I consider WoF a timeless classic, not an '80s fad.
As one who graduated high school in 1985, I always feel that the 80s was "my" decade. I'm glad VH1 put something together that remembers it like I do.
Best line, Michael Ian Black on Debbie Gibson vs. Tiffany: "Please don't make me choose .... that's like asking me to choose between my kids."
Tom Bergeron as host. Whoopi Goldberg made the perfect call for Bergeron to take the reigns. His amicable and occasionally sarcastic style blends well with the straight man that one needs to be as a Squares host. He should be around for more shows to come.
The new end game. Facts about stars climaxing with a one-in-x chance to win a car/trip/cash jackpot. It moves well and stays entertaining to the end.
The question writing. It's a nice mix of pop culture, truly ridiculous facts (that might be false), and historical references. In the end, it's all about the questions.
Audience input. The producers actually ask for it. Granted, some of the recorded calls are used as amusement more than advice, but at least these are producers that listen.
Nice array of celebrities. The center square has had a decent mix of leading entertainers, such as Alec Baldwin, Ted Danson, Reba McIntyre and even Gloria Estefan. The remaining eight squares are filled with entertainers from all different facets and age groups. It's an eclectic mix where contemporary actors mixed in with comedy legends such as Rich Little, David Brenner, and Buddy Hackett. This edition is not afraid to honor squares of the past, and even granted Peter Marshall a December week as center square (hosting one show).
Audience direction. Does the audience need to applaud EVERY SINGLE TIME a contestant calls upon a star? This is over the top, and slows down the game.
Teena Marie (yes, the 1980's one-hit wonder) on theme song vocals. The music itself is quite good, but her vocals are a little screechy and annoying.
Ellen DeGeneres as center square. Mixing up the center square from week to week is a decent idea, but Ellen chooses to slow down the game by trying too hard to be funny. H2 would be wise to edit out her comments (quips?) and go straight to her answer.
H2 is guaranteed to run though 2003-04, but it's uncertain if the show will be shelved after that.
The premise: 1961: Susan is from California; Sharon is from Boston. The two take an instant dislike to each other when each has "the nerve" to wear each other's face. 1998: Hallie is from California; Annie is from London. Their faces are hidden in a friendly fencing contest, though it turns ugly when both Annie's touche lands Hallie over a railing and into a large water bucket. Annie tries to help her out, but Hallie pulls her in. The disdain starts seconds before they even see each other's faces. A little more believable.
The realization: 1961: Still not getting along in the isolation cabin, one yells at the other over the theory that they indeed are sisters, even though the evidence overwhelmingly proves it. No comments after the "I'm sorry" hug. 1998: Far more warm and fuzzy -- without crossing the sappy line -- in the isolation cabin. After finding common ground in Oreos and peanut butter, the two become weepy and astonished after repairing a ripped photo of their parents. Shot very well.
Sign of the times: 1961: Not only do the twins slap each other before the realization, but the father's fiancee also slaps one of the twins. No way you'd see the latter today. 1998: Mother and daughter both agree the arrangement "sucks." No way you'd see that in 1961, nor the 11-year-old girlish "Oh my God"s from Hallie. (I can't think of any other reason why this got a PG and not a G rating.)
Music: 1961: Musical numbers that were part of 1960s Disney. 1998: Short, quick music videos that are accepted in a lot of movies.
The performances are pretty much a dead heat, and hard to compare considering the times. However, there are differences.
The parents: 1961: The characters of Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith (Maggie and Mitch) seem more jaded and angry, both at each other and themselves for unnecessarily throwing something away. 1998: The characters of Natasha Richardson and Dennis Quaid (Elizabeth and Nick) had simply moved on, and had difficulty remembering what broke them up. There was little evidence of any bad blood, though Elizabeth was too reluctant to believe in their love.
The fiancee: 1961: Joanna Barnes as Vicky was a young and attractive shrew. 1998: Elaine Hendrix as Meredith was a young, beautiful, sexy, manipulative, and two-faced. It took more time to root against her. (Nice touch with Barnes as Meredith's mother.)
The twins: 1961: There's a good reason why the cute blonde was working steadily for many years after The Parent Trap. Hayley Mills had the two characters down to a T, and that Pollyanna quality from her previous film still comes through. That's what Disney wanted in the 1960s. 1998: All the more reason we'll be seeing a lot of Lindsay Lohan. In her movie debut, the auburn-haired, freckle-faced newcomer nailed two characters and two accents, and added some comic touches to her roles. You could see a little more range in Lohan's portrayals. As believable as this story could possibly be, Lohan's performance is the glue to this movie.