If “The Real Cancun” convinced few people that reality programming was ready to graduate from small screen to large, “Games People Play: New York” will sway even fewer. First in a trilogy of location-specific pilots designed as one-hour series samplers, this artless, unpolished venture adds a heavy sex-and-skin factor to a poorly defined game show, lurching awkwardly between exploitative voyeurism, maudlin confessions and self-consciously risque titillation. City-by-city rollout started in Gotham March 12 and while the unrated release’s ample full-frontal nudity may spark curiosity, reality junkies appear more inclined to keep getting their fix from TV.
Plucking liberally from “Candid Camera,” “The Real World,” “Road Rules,” “Temptation Island” and any number of other reality skeins, writer-director James Ronald Whitney assembles a team of six actors in their early 20s –three buff, gym-sculpted lads and three ethnically assorted babes — with not an intriguing personality among them. The sextet is culled from an open-call audition, during which aspiring contestants reveal all, emotionally and physically.
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As they vie for the $10,000 prize money, the final team’s missions scrape new depths of undergraduate idiocy: Boys must collect urine samples from strangers and coax actresses to uninhibited heights in a casting couch session; girls must engage women in neighboring bathroom stalls in elaborate dialogues and seduce delivery boys in record time. Split into teams of two, the couples must enlist a man off the street to sing in a naked trio act, all recorded on invisible mini-cams.
The confessional segments involve the attractive but unfortunate contestants spilling their guts on experiences including bulimia, parental loss and abandonment, turning tricks and sexual molestation during intimate interviews with the judges, singer-performer Jim Caruso and psychotherapist Dr. Gilda Carle. Arguably the most entertainment value comes from studying the rigidly frozen features of Carle — perhaps the least sympathetic shrink on the planet — as she spouts compassionate lines like, “But you were a male prostitute before this guy got cancer, right?”
Unable to make a virtue of its ugly kamikaze-style camerawork (no-budget lark was shot in 72 hours), the game plods along at inordinate length, making even the extended season finales of TV reality staples seem pacey by comparison. Segments are framed by campy pageant-style presentation and cheesy on-screen graphics and accompanied by an audio-assault of songs that sound like refugees from some nightmarish 1970s high school musical revue.
While the idea of any cable network investing in such a lame-brained conceit seems unlikely, the final twist, revealing just how much of a game the contestants are playing, would seem to kill any element of surprise for upcoming installments, including the uncensored series’ next release, “Games People Play: Hollywood.”