If you're old enough to remember when Who Wants To Be A Millionaire first made the leap from the U.K. to the U.S., you may recall what an unlikely cultural reset it brought with it. Not only did it usher in a new era of primetime game shows — The Weakest Link, Deal Or No Deal, and 1 Vs. 100 were just a few that followed — but they all aped Millionaire's look, too: black studio, blue lights. Even today, other than ABC's throwback shows — your Match Game, your Family Feud — pretty much all primetime game shows still have the same look, even when, unlike Millionaire, the game being played does not require sepulchral lighting for the sake of the player's concentration and is, in fact, extremely inane (looking at you, The Wall and Beat Shazam). I've never been more keenly aware of the gap between a game show set's pretensions and the idiocy it exists to frame than when I saw Jason Biggs bring a very nice couple to stand in front of a three-story-high slot machine. Cherries Wild, why are you?
I mean, I know why. We all do. It's the same reason we have The Masked Dancer: we're in a boom time for TV programming that's unscripted, cheap, and dumb. Cherries Wild doesn't just hit the jackpot by lining up all three of those dials: it's a co-production with Pepsi, from Wes Kauble, a prodigy of product placement who's also responsible for last year's revival of Supermarket Sweep, and for the aforementioned Beat Shazam. The Pepsi connection explains the title, which is meant to subliminally remind you of the brand's Wild Cherry varietal; and the waist-high podiums which house the buzzers the contestants use to lock in their answers, which are shaped like soda cans and covered in Pepsi blue glitter. There's also a mobile game component that lets you play along from home, and I'm sure the app you have to download to do it is nothing you or your data need to worry about.
The gameplay itself barely matters, but each episode features one two-person team, previously known to each other; in the premiere it's a married couple, Sha’Tarra and Javier. They play two rounds of extremely easy pop culture trivia (e.g. a multiple choice question on what fans of Beyoncé are called) to try to build the cash in their bank and to win spins with the ultimate goal of collecting cherries on all five reels and thus a cash prize of $250,000; at various points they have the option to cash out their bank, or to use that money to buy more spins.
The witless game play and the way it pays off in all the overly complicated business surrounding the slot machine are, collectively, a big problem with Cherries Wild. The utterly shameless product placement is another. But Jason Biggs might be the worst problem of all. Network executives hiring comedians rather than professional broadcast hosts for their primetime game shows is one thing: if the thinking is to put someone in the role who's known to the audience and can improvise with the regular people who come on to play the games, a comic is a fine choice. I'm generally not on board when they cast actors (Elizabeth Banks, why do you even want to do this? Alec Baldwin: famously not charming!), but I still get it: attaching an A-list celebrity gives a project that is, by its nature, kind of lowbrow a little bit of cachet. What I would like to know is how many people turned down the job before producers ended up with Biggs.
Maybe people who aren't extremely online don't know Biggs's history of oversharing on such topics as the time his wife, Jenny Mollen, hired a sex worker for what was to have been a birthday threesome, or when he tweeted a tasteless joke about a 2014 Malaysia Airlines crash; it's very likely that most viewers still only remember him as the kid who violated a dessert in American Pie — and yes, that does come up in the Cherries Wild pilot. But the issue with the current wave of actors-turned-hosts is that they don't really understand what the job is. Rusty put it best in Ocean's Eleven: "Be specific but not memorable, be funny but don't make him laugh. He's got to like you then forget you the moment you've left his side." Actors are so needy that they can't resist inserting themselves into the proceedings, and this is especially true of Biggs. The first round of the game is Fact or Fiction — yes, literally just True or False. Was Matthew McConaughey originally cast as the lead in Fifty Shades Of Grey? After the correct answer, Biggs adds, "And then they offered it to me, and then I turned it down." So the contestants — who are already nervous about being on TV, and anxious about trying to win money — now also have to perform empathy at his self-deprecating joke? When the time comes for the players to take their final, pivotal spin, Biggs asks if he may put his hand on the lever with them, in what seems calculated to become his "Final answer?" or "Come on down!!!" But dude: none of this is about you!
Truthfully, it makes little difference to me if Biggs gets out of the way of Cherries Wild, except that he's being inconsiderate to the civilians to whom he should be ceding the spotlight as much as he can. But what the spotlight is shining down on is barely a show. Cherries Wild is not the choice of a new generation; crush it and take it out to the curb.
Cherries Wild premieres on FOX February 14th at 7:00 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.
TOPICS: Cherries Wild, FOX, Jason Biggs