Bet On Your Baby

Bet On Your Baby debuts tonight at 8 p.m. on ABC.

A few weeks ago, the Los Angles Times dug up an old 1988 issue of their defunct magazine, devoted to predicting what life would be like in 25 years. The answer, more or less, involved the whimsical misbehavior of talking robots. Sure, in the featured piece, future The Killing co-executive producer Nicole Yorkin basically predicts on-demand television, online shopping, and Skype. But she also writes an awful lot about Billy Rae, a talking Southern robot butler that cooks enchiladas off a recipe stored on a floppy disk.

Billy Rae is more recognizable than most of what happens on Bet On Your Baby, ABC’s newest game show.

The aptly titled show revolves around parents betting on the ability of their toddlers to follow instructions. (Sample: “For $5,000, will your husband get baby Derrick to spin at least seven times in 30 seconds?”) But Bet On Your Baby doesn’t even get the wickedness of its concept right: It’s boring and schlocky.

For starters, we only very briefly meet the couples and their children (presented kind of like athletes) before they’re each hustled through a singular task, none of them particularly original or fun to watch. This is probably because the contestants are toddlers, who are, say, stacking Oreos. 

The game works like this: A mother and father are presented with a challenge for their toddler, while the child is sequestered in the “baby green room.” One half of the couple elects to coach the child through the challenge in the “baby dome,” while the other stays behind to bet on the child’s ability to complete the task. Audience members then chant like hagglers at a market, which is weird because it’s not like they know Dez or Evan and their ability to stack Oreos or hold a beach ball. Anyway, if the bettor parent correctly sizes up the adequacy or inadequacy of child and spouse relative to the task, the family wins $5,000 in college scholarship money. A showcase showdown of sorts ensues, for up to a $50,000 scholarship.

Bet on Your Baby is the latest effort from the team that brought America Fashion Star, and it features the same choppy editing and weirdo sets of that series. For instance, the parents appear in a small, Roman-esque arena, except if the arena looked like that neon building from Skyfall.

Beyond that, Bet On Your Baby has whatever the opposite of a light touch is—stepping up on a piano bench and kicking the keys? Host Melissa Peterman (of ABC Family’s Baby Daddy) feels forced and nervous if things aren’t moving quickly enough. “ANSWER HER! YOU’RE ON TELEVISION,” Peterman commands one parent, joking, but intense all the same. The scripting is bizarre, too, like relying on the Google translation of a local news story. In the screener I watched, a commercial break question was: “What do you miss most about being pregnant?” I don't think I've ever heard that question posed in real life before.

Bet On Your Baby also makes frequent reference to that titular “bet.” In theory, the show’s concept is not much different from those radio contests where people vote on the cutest baby in the D.C. area (or wherever) and the parents win money. But isn’t it different, actually? Cuteness is at once subjective and trifling, but also immutable. Yet even Bet On Your Baby’s boringness cannot displace the off-putting nature of the setting, which delineates winners and losers based on the behavior of children not yet 3 years old.

“Life is always unpredictable,” Peterman notes in her sign off, “but you can always bet on your baby.”

Literally. You can literally bet on your toddler, because now that’s happening on ABC for the next several weeks.

Stray observations:

  • “I want to go home,” young Evan tells Peterman at one commercial break, in sort of a “Sloop John B” moment for the 21st century. 
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