Given that TBS has been raking in viewers with reruns of “The Big Bang Theory,” “King of the Nerds” sounds like the ultimate no-brainer. Indeed, it took a lot of doing to take a great idea and — through a numbing lack of imagination — make it an underachiever. In essence, the producers have taken pop-culture/videogame/comicbook geekdom and used it as the basis for yet another “Survivor”-like elimination game, whittling down 11 contestants to designate a you-know-what over eight weeks. Even the inspired casting of Robert Carradine and Curtis Armstrong as hosts can’t make this more than a bored game of groans.
That’s too bad, really, since nerd culture seems so ripe for such a showcase. As is, the show assembles a bunch of twentysomethings, puts them through all the usual scheming and game-playing and, in the premiere, culminates with a single elimination contest, involving chess on visual steroids.
At least initially, almost none of the weird/obsessive knowledge generally associated with the work-all-year-on-Comic-Con-costume crowd comes out. And while there are cheeky references to existing franchises (winners sit on a “throne of games,” for example), most of the fun has been leeched out by the general familiarity of the trappings, down to the $100,000 prize.
A lower-tech quizshow, frankly, might have been a more enduring use of the title. Former “Revenge of the Nerds” stars Carradine and Armstrong (who helped develop the concept) do appear to have fun, but after the opening kick of seeing them reunited in this fashion, even that begins to yield diminishing returns.
Granted, such quibbling could be moot if TBS can get a decent share of its “Big Bang” fans to buy in, but creatively speaking, this still feels like a missed opportunity — or at least, a couple of parsecs short of a Kessel Run. (Consult your “Star Wars” dictionary.)
Much has been written about the ascent of nerd culture, and how smart has become fashionable. Still, when math whizzes, fanboys (and girls) and tech wizards are forced to mouth “Survivor”-like “Outwit. Outlast. Outplay” platitudes, even a show about the brainiest among us can start to look kinda dumb.