Back in December, I used this space to argue that The Masked Dancer was the nadir for Fox's pandemic game shows. Unfortunately, like so many other aspects of our lives this past year, the passage of time has once again made fools of us all. We thought we were suffering before, but that was only because we had no concept of how much worse things could get.
Anyone of us who watched The Masked Dancer were treated to multiple production numbers complete with often complex choreography and backup dancers, showmanship, and money spent securing the rights for pop songs we've actually heard before. Functionally there's no difference between The Masked Dancer and Cher's Las Vegas residency! Or maybe I just feel that way looking back because since then I've given myself brain damage with two more Fox game shows: Cherries Wild and, now, Game Of Talents.
Though the title sounds like a half-assed placeholder, it does forego cleverness to tell you exactly what's going on. After host Wayne Brady banters with the contestant teams, he reveals a list of seven occupations they'll be tasked with matching to the six performers they're about to meet: in the first episode, the professions are Fire Thrower, Bonebreaker, 3D Dancer, Stand-Up Comedian, World Champion Jump Roper, Levitator, and Gospel Singer. (One occupation is a decoy.) Each performer comes out alone, dressed in street clothes in order to avoid indicating anything about their talent, and offers up a couple of anodyne biographical facts.
"And then the contestants ask them questions, like on To Tell The Truth?" Of course not, that might be interesting. Instead, the performer stands there while the giant screen displays an idiotic "clue" package. For example: the first is a Photoshop of Cinderella Dressed in Yella Candy Store, featuring a jar of "Jaw Destroyers," some "Red Hot Jelly Beans," licorice whips coiled on a hook, a box of Testa-Mints, and a plate of ... some kind of round candies wrapped in globe-print foil, with a "#1 Seller" card sticking out of them. Based on this image alone, the team that's in control of the round must guess the performer's talent; then the scrim lifts to reveal the performer, showing off their gifts either alone or with colleagues. If the contestants guessed right, they bank $10,000. If they're wrong, that money goes to their opponents. This continues over several rounds, with the dollar amount rising, until there are just three possible talents left on the board: then it becomes a winner-take-all situation. When just one contestant team remains, they may either walk away with their winnings, or play a double-or-nothing final round with a possible jackpot of $200,000.
Is there anything good to say about Game Of Talents? Well, unlike Cherries Wild's Jason Biggs, Brady is a natural host; he'd already hosted his own daytime talk show before getting tapped to MC the revival of Let's Make A Deal in 2009, a job he still holds. Moving the action along and interacting personably with civilian contestants looks effortless when Brady does it, but is actually a highly specialized skill. And speaking of skill, it's also cool to see the performers showing off their talents after they've just finished trying to stand as still as possible in order to betray nothing about the incredible gifts they possess. Given how the pandemic has shut down stages and performance venues, they've probably been denied the chance to perform in public for months, and their obvious pleasure at displaying their mastery is infectious.
The problem is that their talents aren't really the point of the show; the guessing game is. Seeing each performer doing their thing for about 60 seconds feels like a tease; they spend far more time standing on stage, patiently letting the contestants gawk at them and try to figure out what their deal is based upon their walk or posture. These are people who have trained for years to develop the talents they've been tapped to display; the fact that the show mostly uses them as living props is kind of gross.
In terms of the show's value proposition for the home viewer: it all comes down to the clues, which are as goofy as any you've seen on the shows of the (god help me) Masked universe. As with the candy shop, each package contains elements that allude to more than one talent, and on the evidence of the pilot, the contestants are supposed to discern which ones are misdirects and which ones point to the truth based on ... volume? I was already out on the show by the time Brady made things even worse by asking contestant Monica, playing with her brother-in-law Mikel, what she would do with her share of the bank if they won. "My mom doesn't have the best insurance," she says, "so I just want to make sure that I take care of any of the financial burden." Oh cool, a reminder that we live in a country that charges its residents for the privilege of living in a human body, where even a game show windfall might just be used to keep an aging baby boomer from losing everything due to a medical bankruptcy. What fun!!!
So here's what you ultimately need to know about Game Of Talents: the play is slow and frustrating. The talent showcases are insultingly brief. And the pilot, at least, doesn't even function as escapism. Love yourself enough not to watch it.
Game of Talents premieres on FOX March 10th at 9:00 PM ET.
Writer, editor, and snack enthusiast Tara Ariano is the co-founder of Television Without Pity and Fametracker (RIP). She co-hosts the podcasts Extra Hot Great and Again With This (a compulsively detailed episode-by-episode breakdown of Beverly Hills, 90210), and has contributed to New York, the New York Times magazine, Vulture, Decider, Salon, and Slate, among many others. She lives in Austin.