Tailored to our Powerball-playing, lottery-loving times, this gameshow import almost proudly boasts at the outset that there’s no skill or trivia involved, just greed and all the hyper-kinetic flourishes that seemed so fresh when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and even “The Weakest Link” made their debuts. First episode of this weeklong experiment does a creditable job building suspense, but it’s hard to imagine the premise — basically a simple-minded “Let’s Make a Deal,” minus bedroom sets and Monty Hall — possessing much staying power.
Howie Mandel tones down his manic hidden-camera shtick to assume the posture of a pretty conventional gameshow host. The game itself, meanwhile, really isn’t much of a game at all, but more like an uneducated guess: A contestant chooses one of 26 cases, each containing a dollar value ranging from a penny to $1 million. Gradually, cases are opened, with each big-dollar figure exposed, reducing the chances that the contestant’s case hides big bucks.
The twist, such as it is, is the unseen “banker,” who, in periodic intervals, calculates the shifting odds and offers the player a cash buyout to quit. Whether the contestant takes the certain money or presses onward provides the oft-repeated title, “Deal or No Deal.”
Although probabilities are re-calibrated based on what values remain in play, the contestants aren’t exactly MIT grads. So we get their gut response on whether to keep going, complete with family members urging them on.
There are some other modern and not-so-modern wrinkles, including 26 scantily clad models (who open the cases) in identical minidresses and resemble the smiling version of a Robert Palmer video. There’s also an obligatory “play at home” element, complete with fine print about NBC not being responsible for any screw-ups.
More than anything, “Deal or No Deal” reminded me of a decades-old George Carlin routine in which gameshow contestants become so avaricious that even winning doesn’t satisfy them. “Oh God, we have a small car,” he quoted one as groaning.
Along those lines, it’s terribly hard not to think that any rational person would cash out early, pocketing the sure score instead of taking the chance of walking away with a pittance. Problem is, that kind of logic would be boring, especially when the studio audience rewards each “No deal” answer with whoops of approval.
NBC deserves some kudos for trotting out a weekday game strip during the low-risk window leading up to Christmas, seeking to create a little excitement and maybe even catch lightning in a bottle. Other than the prizes and model makeup, overhead is surely low, and perhaps this could become a utility player for a net with several timeslots that could use a boost.
Certainly, stranger things have happened; still, with apologies to the “banker,” the odds say, “No deal.”