In hard economic times there’s something appealing about seeing a family walk away with a new refrigerator and TV, which is the uplifting, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” feel that this latest contest show seeks to provide. The peculiar format, however — mounting the show in the street outside the family’s home, with a rabid crowd of friends and family looking on — isn’t particularly engaging, with a retro flair that recalls “Truth or Consequences” and “Queen for a Day.” Ultimately, it’s harmless but pretty stupid, which generally describes most of actor-producer Ashton Kutcher’s forays into primetime.
Leaping right into the game without much explanation (the premiere episode is actually the fourth one shot), “Knocks” makes an increasingly common mistake in the crowded reality marketplace, quizzing family members about personal aspects of their and relatives’ lives. That’s cute and all, except for the little matter that viewers have no clue what the answers are to “What’s your husband weigh?” or “Which Jonas brother does your daughter like best?” As brain-teasers go, “Jeopardy!” this ain’t.
The Gutierrez family, featured in the debut, is certainly excited every time members pocket a few bucks — chasing a possible $250,000 prize that requires forfeiting everything already won — but such enthusiasm goes only so far. And with each member of the quartet answering four questions, the net effect by the time the hour’s over is more numbing than suspenseful.
Host and producer JD Roth tries to milk each game within the game for all it’s worth, but with virtually no introduction of the players, there’s relatively little emotional investment in how well they fare. Frankly, I was expecting a dazzling sob story of some kind to ratchet up the stakes, which certainly would have taken a page out of “Queen’s” playbook. If the series is fortunate enough to enjoy a sustained run (and opposite “House,” ABC’s expectations should be modest), one suspects that’s an oversight that will be addressed.
Timing is probably the best thing ABC has going for it, inasmuch as the network is pushing feel-good reality and wish fulfillment at a juncture where both look to be in short supply. In this instance, though, what the network is billing as “National Stay at Home Week” might be more out of financial necessity than a burning desire to watch another tired giveaway.