It's Worth What?

Look, there are certain shows that we cover here that defy true critical analysis. It’s just how it goes. But even with some of the quote-unquote “lighter” fare, there’s usually at least an entry point, an angle, a way in to put the particular piece of entertainment into a broader context. But It’s Worth What? isn’t really even worth contextualizing within the grand scope of American game shows. NBC either figures that people have been dying to see 1) the love child of The Price is Right and bar trivia, 2) Cedric the Entertainer plead for help with his eyes for an hour once a week, or 3) if the latest prime-time game show might help where various narcoleptic drugs have failed.

I’m all for the occasional non-redeeming game show. I watch Wipeout far more than I would like to admit. There’s nothing redeeming about that show at all, but at least it’s in on its own joke. That, plus a fair amount of amusing pratfalls, and you’ve got me hooked when my DVR is empty. But It’s Worth What? commits the cardinal sin of actually taking its proceedings seriously, even as everything around it screams camp. I’d love to think that the show’s harrowing floor design took inspiration from the pentagram in Alan Moore’s From Hell, because random flights of fancy such as that were far more entertaining than anything that actually transpired on tonight’s premiere episode.

The set-up, for the four of you that actually care: a pair of players spend an episode climbing a money ladder, a la Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Each round takes the form of a game that takes longer to explain than to actually play. These rounds have names like “What’s Worth More?” “Truth Be Sold” “Are You Buying It?”, and “I’m Getting Paid In Cash, Correct?” (Whoops, the last one isn’t a category so much as Cedric’s question to his agent during commercial breaks.) It’s not that the rounds get progressively more difficult so much as progressively more obtuse. There’s probably a fine version of this show that could air on The History Channel, in which professors could team up and nerd out over pricing valuable artifacts. Instead, we have two morons placed inside a kitschy version of the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark assigning value to priceless objects in an awkward, abstract, and completely random manner.

As a host, poor Cedric puts on a game face but clearly regrets agreeing to do the show. Over on Minute to Win It, Guy Fieri still acts like he’s the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet for the privilege of hosting it. But by the time the show photoshopped an outfit once worn by Cindy Brady onto his hefty frame, any schadenfreude towards Cedric turned into sympathy in my eyes. Cedric had to make lame jokes comparing skeletons to Joan Rivers in addition to other groaners designed to be inoffensive to the largely Caucasian audience watching the show. “Time to make a putti call!” sums up most of his attempts at humor during tonight’s premiere. To be fair, at least Community actor Danny Pudi didn’t pop in to help sell the pun even further. So, bright side and all.

This level of humor doesn’t suggest that he isn’t funny, per se. But it does suggest that as bad as these jokes were, they were still the best that arose during the show’s taping. It’s Worth What? is edited within an inch of its life, and if you were bored watching it at home, you probably needed an adrenaline injection directly into your heart to stay awake during the live taping. Given how much of the show involves wheeling items both pricey AND bulky into play surely took a lot of time, time that featured a thunderous lack of applause. Stitched back together with actual game play, and you get the odd sensation that the audience collectively got the wrong meds dosed to them just before the show started. What’s their mood swing worth, Cedric?

Then again, if I were to ever watch an hour of this show again (either because my remote control broke, or I lost a bet, or because someone pinned me under a 16th-century dressoir and forced me to watch Clockwork Orange-style), I’d focus more on mood of Cedric than the audience. There’s something remarkable about watching him repeat the show’s title before each commercial break. Each one is slightly more unhinged than the previous one, with the phrasing rising in pitch, intensity, and insanity with each one. At some point this summer, he’s going to straight up lose it, stab someone with a knife once owned by Al Capone, and sneer, “WHY….SO….SERIOUS?” right into the camera. THAT I might watch. This? Not so much.

Random observations:

  • How on earth this show stretches what should be 15 minutes into 60 is both remarkable and awful. I know networks need programming in the summer time, but honestly: 2 groups of contestants per show would still feel like filler. This hour asymptotically approached the end in a way that was staggering.
  • If this is a hit, look for Missy Elliot to host Is It Worth It? next summer on NBC. In Round One, the players will put their thang down. In Round 2, those left then flip said thang. In Round 3, the finalists attempt to reverse it.
  • Kudos to It’s Worth What? for finding a way to make product integration not only a part of the show, but essentially the show itself. Car brands, auction houses, and other companies get shout-outs throughout the hour. There aren’t commercial breaks here so much as “pauses for better produced promos.”
  • I liked that trick suitcase better when Peter Gabriel used it in his “Secret World” tour back in the early 1990’s. (Like I said: my mind had time to wander during this show.)
  • Just when you thought the show couldn’t get any more gob-smackingly bad, along came the celebrity impersonators! At least Cedric awoke from his stupor long enough to note that the man playing JFK couldn’t have looked less like JFK than if Cedric himself had portrayed our former president.
  • “Are you sure sure?” is this show’s "Do you LIKE him like him?"