Was it really just last year that NBC launched “Deal or No Deal” with a five-night trial around Christmastime, thus implanting the term “Open the case” into the pop-culture lexicon? Well, the net’s back with another lame-brained gameshow, which will air Tuesday through Friday at 8 (take that, scripted programming) after a post-“Deal” debut. Given recent history, it would be foolish to dismiss the concept — essentially “What’s My Line,” minus the questions, set to the kind of music generally associated with the D-Day landing — but NBC might be dipping into this well a few times too often.
“Is that your identity?” becomes the oft-repeated catchphrase-in-waiting here, with host Penn Jillette (now if Teller was saying it, that would be something) guiding those preternaturally enthusiastic gameshow contestants through the elimination process, building toward a possible $500,000 prize.
Each player begins facing a dozen strangers perched statue-like on pedestals, trying to match them with various descriptions based solely on their appearance. As conceived, there are some little cheats here (“youngest” is a category?), and a few surprisingly recognizable names in the episode previewed, which won’t be the first to air (yes, for example, that is Stan Lee who “Created Spider-Man”). Otherwise, most candidates represent distinct if somewhat unusual occupations like bouncer, alligator hunter, fitness model and opera singer.
The real suspense: Will “adult film star” wait for sweeps or get exhausted this week?
The game itself incorporates relatively few wrinkles to assist the contestants, among them a trio of not-especially-helpful “experts” and “tridentity,” allowing players to narrow a potential identity down to three choices. Frankly, it’s hard not to feel a little sorry for those poor souls, who must stand there mum until Jillette hits them with the “Is that your identity?” question, inevitably followed by a very, very pregnant pause while the music builds to a crescendo.
By milking that process, it can take an entire episode before the player gets close to a serious windfall, and with family members standing nearby observing, there’s always that pressure to take the money and run. But will she? Huh, huh? Wait until after the commercial.
Jillette is a natural at this sort of hucksterism, but “Identity” suffers from the sheer weight of “Deal” wannabes — from NBC’s “1 vs. 100” to ABC’s “Show Me the Money” to Fox’s blink-and-you-missed-it “The Rich List” — which all seem to share the same production and lighting designers. Simplicity, too, is clearly viewed as a guiding virtue in the new game culture, as if the IQ necessary to win “Wheel of Fortune” were far too demanding.
That said, why one show would become a hit and others tank remains a mystery, though it could provide a useful clue should the “Identity” category of “TV development executive” arise: He or she ought to be easily recognizable as the one missing big, torn-out clumps of hair.