Every summer, after nine months of Grey’s Anatomy trauma and sitcom mishaps, ABC lightens the mood with its Summer Fun & Games lineup, a collection of throwback game shows and goofy originals that includes The Celebrity Family Feud, Press Your Luck, and Holey Moley. Last night saw the premiere of the network's newest addition to that lineup, The Celebrity Dating Game.
Hosted by Zooey Deschanel and Michael Bolton, this celebrity-themed reboot of the classic TV game show The Dating Game sees a celebrity separated by a wall from a panel of three contestants, and tasked with choosing one to take on a date based soley on their responses to a series of questions. The celebrity can't see the contestants, and the contestants can't see the celebrity, although Bolton parodies well-known songs to provide clues about the star’s identity.
If this description left you scratching your head, you’re not alone. As someone born in late 1994, my idea of a “classic" game show is Double Dare or Legends of the Hidden Temple, both of which favored hazardous (and sometimes slime-filled) obstacle courses over innuendo-laden question-and-answer sessions. And yet, regardless of how ridiculous the game shows of my youth were, they pale in comparison to The Celebrity Dating Game, which is what I imagine doing acid and then alternating between Love Is Blind and Michael Bolton concert videos must feel like.
For my fellow young millennials — or “zillennials,” if you prefer the cringe term for our micro-generation — some background. In 1965, game show legend Chuck Barris debuted The Dating Game, in which a bachelor or bachelorette questioned three anonymous suitors and then chose one to accompany them on a date. The show was dropped and revived multiple times from the 1970s to 1990s, with Jim Lange serving as the show’s first host, followed by Elaine Joyce, Brad Sherwood, and Chuck Woolery. While there had not been a celebrity-themed version until now, The Dating Game did famously feature a number of stars before they were famous, including Farrah Fawcett, Suzanne Somers, Tom Selleck, Steve Martin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and serial killer Rodney Alcala, who won a date with Cheryl Bradshaw in a 1978 episode (she refused to go because she found him “creepy,” CNN reported in 2010).
The last iteration of The Dating Game concluded in 1999, but now more than 20 years later, ABC has brought it back. The Celebrity Dating Game follows a similar format to the original, albeit with a twist: a mystery star peppers three, equally-anonymous contestants with questions about their interests, dating histories, and family goals, and then asks one on a date. In between Q&A rounds, Michael Bolton revamps famous songs to provide clues about the celebrity in the hot seat for their suitors to try to decode. Sample tracks include: “I Found Someone (She’s From Tuscaloosa)” for former Bachelorette and Alabama native Hannah Brown, and “You Nailed! the Wind Beneath My Wings” for Nailed It! host Nicole Byer.
Apart from these performances, it’s not clear why Michael Bolton is there. For prolonged stretches of time, save for a one-liner or two, Bolton sits on his stool looking bored and slightly confused, as if he himself isn't sure why he agreed to participate in this tomfoolery. Bolton is billed as a co-host with Deschanel, who leans into her “adorkable” reputation in what I can only imagine is an attempt to cut through the inherent awkwardness of the show.
The WTF-ery continues on the other side of the wall, where the contestants range from caricature investment bros to men who have learned absolutely nothing from years of reality television. In what is undoubtedly one of the most harrowing TV moments of the year (and yes, I am still voluntarily watching The Handmaid’s Tale), a contestant compared love to the “refreshing feeling” you get after taking “that first morning dump” and then taking a shower. Needless to say, he did not earn a date with Byer.
And about those dates. Having never seen the original Dating Game, I was surprised to learn that after all the questions to determine which lucky contestant gets to go on a date with the celebrity, the show didn’t actually show the date! With its ‘60s explosion of a set and its aggressively corny writing, The Celebrity Dating Game confounded me in a variety of ways, but this is by far the show’s most egregious sin. How can you present a celebrity dating show and then… not show the date? Isn’t this what viewers are most interested in, and doesn’t it lower the (already minimal) stakes if the star doesn’t actually have to go on a date with a wee commoner?
For its many faults, Netflix’s Love Is Blind at least knows that the big reveal is just the beginning of the story, not the end. Viewers deserve to know if The Celebrity Dating Game’s stars found love, or if someone got a drink thrown in their face (going by Love Is Blind, it seems there are very few alternatives). Even just a quick cutaway to the eventual date would suffice, as it would be both informative and a good way to pre-empt Deschanel’s embarrassing outtros.
These are simple fixes, ABC. Show us the dates, give Michael Bolton more to do, and — for the love of god — please find contestants who will not use the phrase “dump” repeatedly on-air. Or, you know... don’t. Now that my brain is already broken, I’ll probably tune in again next week anyway.
The Celebrity Dating Game airs Monday nights at 10:00 PM ET on ABC.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the TV Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.