NBC's new "Hollywood Game Night" had me at Jane Lynch.
At this point it's easier to name the projects she hasn't starred or guest-starred on ("Game of Thrones"? "The Real Housewives of Orange County"?), but as far as I know, she's never done a game show. And that just seems wrong. Trained in improv, which is the closest anyone gets to live television these days, Lynch could have absolutely held her own against Paul Lynde and Carol Burnett in the halcyon days of the original "Hollywood Squares" and "Password."
Which is another reason to cheer for "Hollywood Game Night." The sight of beloved stars cracking wise in between attempts to win cash money for ordinary-folk contestants was once as ubiquitous as the variety show, and just as culturally influential. Show me a person over the age of 40 who claims to have never played along with "Password," "Pyramid" or "Family Feud" and I'll bet my chance to go to the lightning round that person is lying.
"Jeopardy!" was, and is, for smarty-pants showing off. Star-studded game shows, however, were to children of the '70s and '80s what YouTube and Instagram is to this generation -- watching them is what you did when you weren't at school.
Of course things have changed in the ensuing years and "Hollywood Game Night" reflects that. More is now more and so two "real" contestants are each assigned a team comprised of three celebrities. Not surprisingly the premiere episode is fairly high wattage. Team 1 includes Martin Short, Lisa Kudrow and Alyson Hannigan; Team 2 features Kristen Bell, Matthew Perry and Daniel Dae.
Created by Sean Hayes who apparently hosts cocktail-fueled game nights himself, the conceit is that they've all come to Jane's house to play a few games, four plus a final round for the winning team. All the games are Hollywood-themed -- one involves putting photos of celebs in chronological order -- offering the meta-entertainment moment of watching one set of stars attempt to display their knowledge of another set.
Fast-paced, with a certain "learn-as-you-go" air, the premiere episode, which airs tonight, supplied a nice number of laughs and the inevitable angsty moments of group competition. The number of games could prove a problem, however, especially since many of them involve team members getting up and down from their seats, which is a time waster and visually distracting.
The real trick of the celebrity game show is finding the right balance between hilarious interaction and actual game playing, and the shifting nature of the competition put a lot of the burden on the host, who had to explain each one as well as keeping things lively.
In the first episode, Lynch was aided by Short, who understood the showcase nature of the game a bit better than he did the competition, and the always resilient Perry, who good-naturedly allowed himself to be the butt of several jokes. Future episodes promise the likes of Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph, though consistency is just as important as the new faces -- it's impossible to imagine "Hollywood Squares" without Lynde in or Rose Marie as regulars.
But then "Hollywood Game Night" does have Jane Lynch, and that will certainly do.
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