Producers have spent years trying to decipher how to do a reality-based crime/caper show, and leave it to the team responsible for “The Amazing Race” to come close to cracking the code. “Take the Money and Run” requires a lot of arcane and convoluted rules, but the bottom line — giving two people an hour to hide $100,000, then unleashing a pair of detectives to find it — ought to hold an audience’s attention in the same undemanding way many procedurals do. Think of it as “CSI: Low-Budget Investigation.”
The setup initially appears goofier than the Woody Allen movie of the same name: A very grave-looking actor hands a couple (in the premiere, a pair of brothers; in episode two, a husband and wife) a briefcase containing the cash, then directs them to a car with a GPS locator. They’re given an hour to find a hiding place, and a cell phone, which they use mostly in an effort to throw detectives off the scent by placing calls, a log of which is accessible to the investigators.
After that, the two are held in separate confinement and questioned by interrogators Mary Hanlon Stone and Paul Bishop, who are the only recurring characters in the formula. This gives the players an opportunity to experience a cops-and-robbers scenario, including the psychological tools used to “break” a suspect.
Oh, and as Columbo would say, one more thing: The rotating detectives split the $100,000 if they find the cash before the 48-hour deadline (public employees are underpaid, after all), providing both sides with a financial incentive.
Both sets of participants also discuss their high-minded plans for the money (an ailing parent, a kid’s wedding), creating a mild rooting interest. But the fun largely stems from the interrogation sequences and imagining how one would fare under similar pressure, up against a detective schooled in the art of tripping up suspects.
Of course, in true Bruckheimer-esque fashion, everything works overtime production-wise — the music, the editing — to foster suspense. Given the inherent limits (it’s not like the cops can open a can of whup-ass on them) and modest stakes, “Homicide” this isn’t.
Still, the show (slated for a six-episode summer flight) represents a breezy diversion, with obvious potential to return and plug a gap left by a canceled series come fall.
In short, don’t be surprised if ABC takes the idea and runs with it.