After playing it for years with his guests on The Tonight Show, it's no surprise that Jimmy Fallon is part of NBC's new revival of Password. But even without him, it would still have a place as one of the most iconic game shows in TV history. That's not only because the show itself is so entertaining, but also because it keeps popping up in movies and television series.
It makes sense that screenwriters would be interested. Password's format is built around two people with limited communication trying to solve a problem together, and that kind of set-up is great for comedy. Plus, it's always fun for an audience to know something a character doesn't, which Password makes possible by letting the viewer know the secret word right away.
Here are five times that Password's baked-in excitement gave a jolt to a movie or TV show.
This scene is a great example of the formula that made The Odd Couple work in general. Felix (Tony Randall) is stuffy and erudite, so he gives "Aristophanes" as a clue, driving his schlubby roommate Oscar (Jack Klugman) crazy. But eventually Oscar figures out how to use Felix's quirkiness to their advantage. When they turn their differences into a strength, they win, and as the sitcom proved over its five-season run, you can recycle that truism for hundreds of funny moments.
When the sadistic cable guy Chip (Jim Carrey) wants to torment his buddy Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick), he ropes him into playing "porno Password" with the entire Kovacs family. It's a brilliant use of the game's inherent stakes, because every time Steven learns which inappropriate word he has to prompt his mother to say, the scene gets funnier and darker at the same time. But maybe Steven should lighten up, because porno Password sounds pretty fun.
Back to the idea of the audience having knowledge a character doesn't: Password can be funny when the viewer knows where a clue is coming from, even though the person guessing doesn't understand what their partner is trying to communicate. That's what Family Guy is going for with this cutaway gag to Peter Griffin playing with Tony Randall. Unfortunately, the gag itself is homphobic, but as a comedy concept, it's instructive.
SNL has been having fun with Password for decades, starting with Billy Crystal pulling out his Sammy Davis, Jr impression for a fake version of the game. (The skit is funny, but the blackface has aged terribly.) More recently, Kristen Wiig headlined a series of sketches about a Password-esque game called Secret Word. Like most of SNL's game show parodies, the gag is about wacky contestants taking things off the rails, but when you've got someone as funny as Wiig or guest star Emma Stone in the mix, the set-up feels fresh.
In Season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge's rival Sophie Lennon gets a gig hosting a Password-ish game called Seconds Count!, and the set is basically a replica of the one Password used in the 1970s. The episode climaxes when Sophie (Jane Lynch) and Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) engage in an impromptu cut contest in front of the show's studio audience, and it's telling that they're doing on the set of a game show that's supposed to be about communication. That's Password for you: Iconic enough to work on subtle metaphorical levels.
Password premieres on NBC August 9th at 10:00 PM ET and streams the next day on Peacock.
Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.
TOPICS: Password, The Cable Guy, Family Guy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Odd Couple, Saturday Night Live, Emma Stone, Jack Klugman, Jane Lynch, Jim Carrey, Kristen Wiig, Matthew Broderick, Rachel Brosnahan, Tony Randall