Less a game than an intentionally provocative social experiment, this British import seeks to rouse viewer passions by being the antithesis of its title — asking an arbitrarily assembled “panel” of five ordinary citizens (OK, probably out-of-work actors) to decide which of five equally ordinary folks should walk away with (drum roll, please) $25,000! Premiering at an expanded 90-minute length, the show proves modestly engaging in slowly peeling back layers of information about the candidates, but ultimately it’s a less illuminating version of “I’ve Got a Secret” recalibrated for the modern age.
Clearly, the judges are well schooled in the ways of modern reality TV and stirring the pot, with one announcing at the outset that he doesn’t like black people, to the understandable exasperation of his African-American colleague. TV psychotherapist Robi Ludwig (also the host of TLC’s “One Week to Save Your Marriage”) guides this half-assed jury through the various rounds as they gradually eliminate contestants, starting with nothing more than their name, age and where they live.
The idea, of course, is to unveil preconceived notions and how misguided they can be, whether it’s an assumption about the pretty 36-year-old Latina who, one juror concludes, must have collagen-enhanced lips or the comment that a 74-year-old woman doesn’t deserve the cash because she has “one foot in the grave.”
Subsequent rounds gradually drizzle out information about the contenders’ backgrounds, personal lives and income levels, as well as their views on matters such as gun control and violence in the media. There’s even a hidden-camera test of their morality, and without giving away too much, let’s just say it would have been a huge surprise if porn hadn’t somehow figured in the “shocking revelation” portion of the proceedings.
Beyond entertaining, the show is meant to convey a message about pre-judging, but it’s at best the kind of self-conscious, heavy-handed demonstration that doesn’t do much to win hearts and minds. That leaves, in essence, a “Queen for a Day”-type concept in which somebody is going to walk away with enough money to purchase a new car and maybe fill it with gas once or twice — hardly a dramatic, life-changing sum in the bigger scheme of things.
“Without Prejudice?” does continue GSN’s ongoing attempts to be a little bit hipper than “Match Game” reruns, and issues of race and bigotry remain thorny enough politically to create an impression that this series has a bit of an edge, which by itself represents a minor victory.
It’s hard to believe that in 2007, however, there’s an overriding need for a regular exercise that basically reinforces the adage “You can’t judge a book by its cover” — or, for that matter, a TV program by its title.