Perfect Score

No one expects a dating game show to involve a search for true love, but few examples of the genre have stripped the love match concept to its ugly roots more than does Perfect Match, the CW’s demoralizingly dumb new game show which makes overt the commodification of its contestants in the form of a shrill, frantic, over-complicated stampede to the lowest possible level. Toss in a soupçon of queasy racial politicking, and Perfect Score sinks even lower.

Hosted by the blankly unpleasant Arielle Kebbel (American Pie Presents: Band Camp, Vampires Suck), Perfect Score stumbles out of the gate, taking up way too much time explaining the show’s rules. Not that it’s not needed—each of the first two episodes’ 20 minutes are overstuffed with contests and contestants, turning the viewing experience into a frantic babble of “high concept” exposition. Kebbel herself seems bored with the task already, but here goes:

Two “best friends” play against each other, choosing from 10 opposite-sex potential love connections. In a no-doubt exhaustive compatibility test administered to all prior to the show, each of the 10 is assigned a monetary value based on their measured compatibility with each contestant (from $1 up to the grand prize value of $50,000). The two players then eliminate the contestants one by one through a series of three contests designed to reveal said compatibility. After one of the 10 is eliminated in turn, they press a button which reveals how much they would have been worth to their prospective dates had they been chosen.

Wait, there’s more. In the first contest, which I’ve dubbed the “douchebag lightning round,” five of the contestants have five seconds each to lay their best pick up lines on the players. In the second, a straight-up Dating Game rip-off, the players ask chosen pairs of the remaining contestants questions and eliminate one of the two. In the third, the remaining four suitors are given a physical challenge (we’ll get to those later). Then the last two hopefuls are chosen by each player, the dollar values/compatibility of each is revealed, and the player whose choice is worth most gets the money. Oh, and a date with the lucky guy/gal. In the case of a tie, they let the chosen contestant pick. Whew.

Like I said, this is far too much game show for the time and number of players allotted. There is no time for viewers to grow attached to any player or to assess that oft-mentioned “compatibility” in any meaningful way. While there’s the potential for some gamesmanship between the players (since they could eliminate a contestant they think their “friend” might be more compatible with), the show’s breathless gait, combined with, it must be said, the fact that these people do not seem to be operating on such a strategic level, precludes any such complexity. And while the pace of the show is blessedly brisk, this breakneck gabble of rulesmanship, cheesy come-on lines, and objectification rushes by like a car speeding past while playing vapid music at full volume. (Fill this simile with your own least favorite artist.)

And while there are serious structural problems with Perfect Score, they’re hardly the real issue. The gender issues underlying all dating shows are never less than problematic, but Perfect Score, assigning an actual dollar value to each person in the game and forcing the players to gauge their response to each elimination based solely on that dollar value turns the “people as commodities” subtext into all-too distastefully overt text. When one male contestant, in advance of finding out one eliminated woman’s “value” blurts out, “If she’s worth $50,000, I’ll kill myself,” with the woman standing right there, the unthinking avarice at the heart of the game is all too apparent. Perfect Score isn’t just a bad game—it’s a dim, sexist, cruel one.

Oh, and racist. At least according to the first two episodes, Perfect Score subscribes to the depressing idea that the sight of white women competing for the affections of black men (or indeed any men of color) would be distasteful to a white viewing audience. The suitors to the first episodes’ female contestants are all white, a fact that only became glaring when, in the second episode, the two white male players’ gallery of potential dates is fully integrated. Am I being overly critical of such a small viewing sample? I sure hope so—not that I imagine Perfect Score will be around long enough to tell one way or the other.

The question is whether Perfect Score provides enough entertainment value to attract an audience and, sadly (or thankfully, depending on your point of view), the evidence suggests that this show isn’t going to last. Part of the problem is Kebbel who, as ringmaster to the proceedings, has an unpleasant voice and no entertainment skills to speak of. (Think “less charismatic Jessica Biel.”) With the pace of the show too frantic and overstuffed—with 12 players, viewers simply don’t have enough time care about any one contestant over another—Perfect Score’s compatibility with the viewing public just doesn’t rate.

Stray observations:

  • Arielle Kebbel’s bantering skills won’t make anyone forget Richard Dawson: Within 30 seconds of the first show, she clunkily intimates that the two roommate players share a bed as well. Cue awkward giggling denials.
  • You can tell the first female players are good friends by the way they snipe at each other with such chirpy passive-aggressiveness.
  • I’d have more empathy for the eliminated guys being sent to what Kebbel calls the “Losers’ Lounge” if they didn’t make the title seem so appropriate.
  • When the first episode’s “losers” head to the “lounge,” they wrestle around with playful bro abandon. Like guys do.
  • The physical challenges thus far seem designed to make the contestants look as ungainly as possible: The men have to burst through a paper wall in cheap, generic superhero costumes, while the women are made to wobble uncertainly on spring-mounted surfboards in skimpy bathing suits.
  • They’re not especially endearing, but it’s hard not to feel bad for the first episode’s female players, as their potential dates employ lines like, “This is my rose belt buckle—if you like it, I’ll show you my stem,” “Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to spread your sheets” (he does spreadsheets for a living), and then there’s the guy who talks about his penis being a sword he wants to bring to bed with them. At least one guy forgoes the creepy sex talk and just bobbles his pecs at them for a while.
  • In their lighting round, the female contestants largely eschew the metaphors in favor of intimating how quickly they’ll have sex with the players.
  • Emblematic of the shallowness of the winnowing process, one guy is eliminated because his name’s Nate, and the player has already dated three Nates. Poor Nate.
  • One female contestant is a softball player and was allowed to bring her ball. Not to overthink it, but if she’s allowed to bring props, everyone should be allowed to bring props.
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