Take The Money And Run

Take The Money And Run

 Take The Money And Run debuts tonight on ABC at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Plenty of game shows make you worry about the general state of humanity. But often that worry is directed at “crushing stupidity” or something else that is annoying but overall unlikely to topple society as a whole as we know it. But ABC’s Take The Money And Run might be the first game show that rewards criminal ingenuity. It’s one thing to game people on Big Brother: after all, that’s a self-contained show that doesn’t affect anything outside the house except the audience’s sense of self-loathing. However, Take The Money and Run has larceny built into its very DNA. Not only that, but for people currently on the fence about turning to a life of crime, this show could provide a reason to indulge their inner Tony Montana.

So here’s the premise, briefly: each episode features three couples. The first couple is given a briefcase containing $100,000. They have to hide it within 60 minutes somewhere in a major city. (In the screener made available, it's set in Miami.) The second couple is a pair of detectives, who are tasked on finding the briefcase within 48 hours. They can track the first couple’s GPS, cell phone use, and track any receipts obtained within that hour. The third couple is a pair of professional interrogators, who aid the detectives in finding the briefcase. If the detectives find the case, they win the money. If they don’t, the first couple does.

What follows can only be described as LARP&Order. The newly felonious couple have to figure out how to 1) trick the cops into following a false trail, and 2) keep lying to the interrogators during their two-day “incarceration” inside a makeshift cell. So while that couple is fully pretending to be something they are not, the other two pairs have to essentially dumb down their approach, and essentially unlearn a lot of their instincts in order to play the game. All this while attempting to find what one of the detectives calls “a grain of sand on a mile-long beach.” While there’s certainly plenty of distance between what cops on the venerable L&O franchise do and cops in the real world do, there’s still a nagging sense that this would be an open-and-shut case were it not, you know, a freakin’ game show.

But it doesn’t really play like a game show: there’s not a host overseeing things, there are no rounds that help march us towards the finish line, and there’s no other teams competing that can be eliminated as the deadline approaches. After the initial rush of the pair stashing the briefcase, the couple that stashed the briefcase simply engage in a whole lot of misdirection, lies, and refusals to answer direct questions. Where ABC made its biggest mistake tonight is making a married couple with several children as the centerpiece of its inaugural episode: with no incentive to turn on each other, and little fear of legal recrimination for lying to the Miami Police Department, the legal pairs have almost no shot of actually finding the briefcase in question.

This inability to effectively do their job means that for nearly the entire hour, the detectives and interrogators are looking in the entirely wrong area. This might play well were this Dora the Explorer and you scream at her to turn around and see Swiper the Fox looting stuff. (I have young nephews. Don’t judge.) But it’s somewhat disheartening to see Miami’s finest consistently incorrectly assess the methodology of the crime. Take The Money And Run seems to be saying to viewers at home, “Look, all those police procedurals you watch? Totally fabricated! You too can be a freakin’ criminal mastermind! It’s easy! Just follow these easy steps.”

Too often, both the detectives and interrogators correctly deduce how the pair hid the briefcase…only to immediately dismiss the theory as implausible due to its “complexity.” Now, I’m not saying this show is going to directly contribute to a massive crime wave in the sweltering month of August. But I’m sure more than a few people will catch themselves looking at the national credit rating, looking at their checking accounts, looking at this show, and then being tempted to join the dark side.

Is there anything actually of value in this Jerry Bruckheimer-produced six-week experiment? Not as presently constituted, sadly. There's potential in a show that strips the veneer away from other Bruckheimer fictional procedurals and shows how things might really play out in the real world. Sadly, this means much less musical accompaniment by The Who. (Unless you count my soundtrack while writing this review. YEEEEAAAAHHHH!) But there's certainly plenty of fascinating material that can be mined from in real-life crime solving. At one point in tonight’s episode, the interrogators break down the specific points during the hour in which the crime could and could not have occurred. This helps gives the detectives certain areas to instantly eliminate from their search. It was a neat little bit of insight into the ways a case such as this might actually go down. Too bad these scenes were too few and far between.

Where future law enforcement officials could truly put their obvious skills to work would be with people that are thrown together specifically for the game, as opposed to people who have long-term bonds with each other. The game would be INFINITELY more interesting if, say, there was a chance each half of the newly-formed duo stealing the briefcase were a) guaranteed $50K if both made it through without giving up the location, OR b) told they could receive $100K if they managed to trick the investigators into thinking the other half had committed the “crime.” That would certainly complicate the work for the interrogators, but it would also give them added leverage in the one-on-one interrogations to actually obtain useful information to help the detectives crack the (literal) case. Then again, I’m pretty sure I just put more thought into this show than any of the producers. Oh well. Some people are born with minds that help them fool law enforcement. Others are born with minds that help them improve crappy mid-summer game shows. Looks like I lose again. And that’s no lie.

Random observations:

This game show might have set a new world’s record for “Contestant that Cries The Quickest,” as Jimmy, the male member of the would-be thieves, breaks down almost instantly when talking about how the prize money might help his father’s cancer treatment.
His wife, Zuly, might one day rule the Miami underworld. Man, she’s scary. If Michael Weston has to take her down on a future episode of Burn Notice, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Another twist for helping break contestants down more easily: more horrible conditions while in confinement. Solitary isolation and slop is bad, sure. But I’m talking about being in actual prison with a roommate that makes Michael Clarke Duncan look like Jaden Smith.
"You're a snarky little bitch. Be one."
"When things align, they ALIGN!"
"That's what their job is: Find! The! Truths!"

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