Ahhh, summer television! Reruns, reality shows, weird series that couldn't make it on the regular lineup… and sometimes, some executive randomly decides "GAME SHOWS ARE BACK!" (Yes, that's a Futurama reference). This summer, we're inundated on ABC's Wednesday nights with the revival of three classic game shows and despite my initial reluctance, I admit I'm hooked: Press Your Luck, Card Sharks, and Match Game all scratch some sort of primal summer itch and are far more entertaining than they deserve to be. Add it in to the tour de force that is game show/sports show hybrid Holey Moley (and perennial reality winners like The Bachelorette) and ABC is poised to dominate the entertainment zeitgeist for the Summer of 2019.
Let me flash back from a few weeks ago. Feeling depressed and distressed by Chernobyl and When They See Us, I found myself on a business trip flipping through the channels in a hotel room on Jack London Square in Oakland on a random Wednesday night. What do I happen upon but Elizabeth Banks and my beloved Whammy board from my childhood? Immediately cynical and decrying the creatively bankrupt nature of our media landscape (is there nothing that won't get a reboot or remake?), I somehow found myself hooked. Three hours later, I had somehow watched all of these game shows– and it was the pop culture comfort food I had been craving.
I logged in to Hulu and over the next few days watched all of the back episodes. I tuned in the next week and watched them live. What was I doing? Was I really watching these rebooted game shows unironically? You bet your sweet bippy. They had become my new must-see tv.
"Press Your Luck"
So much of what makes the Press Your Luck reboot work has to do with host Banks and the energy she brings to the show. Unlike the smarmy but energetic persona we expect from a game show host, Banks is warm and makes a connection with her contestants. You get the feeling she's actually emotionally invested in whether they win and lose, and she's more like their cheerleader rather than just telling them the stakes they face.
In Episode 4, where Mellanie from San Marcos, CA makes it to the final round, Banks offers advice, hugs, empathy, and gets excited when they score big bucks. In a particularly emotional moment, she even wipes the tears from Mellanie's face. I feel a little bit emotionally manipulated. I also love it.
Plus, you just can't beat having the person who announced "May the odds be ever in your favor" as Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games movies be the one offering you good luck as you face the almighty Whammy. You get the sense that Banks is better than this. It's because she is. She's an amazing talent and we're lucky to have her. Because she brings it every night, and her excitement is infectious. It's what sells this reboot.
The game has also undergone some rule changes, all of which are for the better. The winner of the first round now goes on to a showdown against the Big Board itself. Each round they choose to compete in, each time they choose to get extra spins, the prizes get bigger. They also get personalized prizes based on their own interests that range from Michael Bolton concert tickets to pizza to maid service to personalized dream vacations, which raise the personal stakes even more.
This is the ultimate alchemy of why Press Your Luck works. You get incredibly invested in these contestants and root for them. It's also been great to notice how the contestants this time around very much look like America. There isn't stunt diversity, but it's clear that the producers (which include Banks) wanted to make sure as wide an audience as possible could see themselves facing off against the whammy. Press Your Luck is an A+ and must-see summer tv.
Then there's Card Sharks. It is the secret sauce in this game show sandwich because everyone, especially host Joel McHale, seems to be in on the joke of how ridiculous this show is. It's essentially a game of high/low, so while the game itself is somewhat by the numbers, the host and guests more than make up for it.
McHale is in his best form here. He's cracking jokes, most of which hit. And like Banks, he seems to build a real rapport with his contestants, who often get in on the jokes and crack back at him. They've done a great job at finding people with huge personalities to mix it up.
Also like Banks, McHale is better than this material but brings his best regardless. He is more of the archetypal game show host – but he's perfect for this.
Another welcome update is that card-turners on the show have gender equity. Hear that, Men's Rights Activists? Dudes get to turn the cards on this show, too. On the third episode, our winner Haydee seems to have a bond with card-turner, George, begging him every time, "Show me an Ace, George!" "Come on George, show me a 2!"
Finally, the game show feels personal again. And we let the cynical scales fall from our eyes and allow for a few moments of elation as we, too, get drawn into whether the next card will be higher or lower than an 8. Bravo, Card Sharks.
Now we get to the old gray battleship of gameshows, Match Game. Not at all updated from its 70's heydey (except for its host and celebrities), it retains that goofy charm that always made it fun. This iteration with Alec Baldwin as its host has existed for awhile now, but it's good to get new episodes in.
Past episodes have always soared or flopped based mostly on the charm on the celebrity panel themselves and this is no exception. The show wins with funny and talented stars like Michael Che, Jason Alexander, Jane Krakowski, and Whitney Cummings. It flops when it's a Jenner or Kardashian or other such person. (Call me old-fashioned, but I want celebrities from movies and scripted television, not reality "stars") So far this summer, the talent has been top-notch and a lot of fun.
Baldwin does an ok job holding it all together. Unlike Banks and McHale, you get a vibe like while he's having a good time, he's a little bit put upon to be here. Still, grumpy works for Baldwin, and he leans into it.
The show's contestants aren't quite as fun as those from Press Your Luck or Card Sharks, but they're doing just fine. I haven't yet gotten the feeling that any of these folks really want to be on Match Game or have strategized about it. That's who I want to see, and I'd also love to see contestants willing to mix it up a little bit with the celebrities.
But at the end of the day, Match Game is great. (YOU: How great is it?) It's so great, that I found myself watching old episodes on Hulu simply because I was out of current episodes from this season. It's so great, I've turned it on while dealing with stress-induced insomnia and it's an immediate dopamine and seratonin rush that makes me feel better.
Thank you for rebooting these shows, ABC. I didn't know I needed this in my life, but I really truly do. You'll find me parked in front of the TV, yelling at contestants like an idiot every Wednesday this summer that you have these on.