Sunday, October 7, 2012

What's in a joke or five?

Five Jokes With Which Drew Carey Is Ruining “The Price Is Right”

No question about it: The Price Is Right is one of the greatest, arguably THE greatest, and most enduring game shows of all time.  A lot of this has been due to the fun of playing along at home with the games, a lot of it has been allure of the models over the years, but undeniably, the greatest factor was the show’s host who will forever be directly associated with the program, Bob Barker.  And a lot of good people were dismayed when the reins were handed over to comedian and star of two retired shows on ABC, Drew Carey. 

In all fairness to Drew, Bob Barker is irreplaceable, and Carey was a better choice than some of the other ones the rumor mill was predicting, such as Rosie O’Donnell.  It’s never fun to be the man to have to fill a legend’s shoes, knowing you’ll always be in his shadow.  Drew realizes that, even taking it as a compliment for the first couple years, when people kept calling him “Bob.”  It places you in an instant catch-twenty-two.  If you try to carry the torch by imitating the master, then you’re ridiculed for just being a copycat; if you try to add your own twist to the job, you’re reviled for taking away from the show and not honoring the master’s legacy.  To that end, Drew Carey’s had the good sense to bite the bullet and make the job his own, trying to maintain a balance between the tradition and the reality that Bob’s not coming back, which to his credit, he actually does a good job of.

One of the ways he does this is in the jokes he makes.  Bob made jokes on the show, but as a professional comedian, Drew has a different style that makes the job his.  However, as any professional comedian will also tell you, making your stuff translate to network TV is no small task.  Drew Carey has found this out the hard way, and thankfully he has adjusted the jokes, and has even stopped telling ones that were just bombing (“Ezekiel Barker” when playing the old Barker’s Bargain Bar before that game got a makeover; joking about two completely unrelated products going together).  Here are five more that desperately need to go:

#5: “The ol’ Price Is Right clock on the wall”

When you hear it: before they call the final contestant down to Contestants’ Row.

Why he does it exposition really.  For those just tuning in who aren’t sure where in the program they are.  It also calls attention to the fact that there’s one pricing game left, trying to instill a sense of urgency in the one who’s called down and the three still there.

Why it needs to go: for starters, there’s no clock that we see.  When he does that joke, they cut to George Gray at the announcer’s podium, and they show a computer image of a clock with the hands going round.  Maybe I’m alone in this, but I kinda miss the less-computerized things they did: from the giant backdrops depicting a prize trip, which have been replaced with LCD screens; to the old lights on the Temptation game that now show scrolling numbers.  This display of a clock just irritates me further.  I’d rather they have a prop clock with the cuckoo bird holding a sign that reads “One More Contestant!” than see that digital display.  But more importantly, The Price Is Right is too well established as a television institution for this joke.  People who are just tuning in know that the show is winding down by this point.  We know it by heart now: three games, showcase showdown, three more games, another showcase showdown, and the final showcase.  This joke is more of an insult to the audience than a bit of humor.  Lastly, this joke ruins the illusion of relaxed pacing that we’ve all enjoyed.  It’s about fun, not making the show run on time.  With a few exceptions, like urging a contestant who doesn’t know what to bid and takes awhile to decide or the games that run on a timer, the show has always had the illusion of a Jack Benny kind of “We get there when we get there” pace to it, even incorporating the timer games into that pace so it never seems rushed.  This joke erodes that tent pole in the festival of fun.

#4: “One of our luckiest models!”

When you hear it: when playing a game that involves one of the models doing something functional in the gameplay and/or one of the games with a higher chance factor involved than other games.

Why he does it: to give the contestants more confidence, to create and nurture an atmosphere of well-wishing that includes not just him, but everyone, including the models.

Why it needs to stop: in all fairness, this joke really isn’t supposed to be all that funny, so the fact that it’s not funny really isn’t a strike against him.  What is a strike though is the execution of the joke, as quite often he’ll engage said model in baiting banter, asking her if she’s feeling lucky.  Right on cue, she says, “I feel lucky!”  This is irritating because we know what she’ll say.  I mean, what else is she gonna say?  This is just unnecessary dialogue.  I’m not against having the models speak or anything chauvinistic like that—I actually like it when Drew pauses for a sec to ask the model what song she’s pretending to sing when the item up for bids is a karaoke machine.  But the fake enthusiasm the model is expected to exhibit makes high school cheerleaders look like Flavor Flav-league hype-people.  And also, of all the ways luck comes into play, the involvement on the part of the model is really the least of them.  Not to mention that there are some people who will take that joke seriously and attempt to calculate the Model’s Luck Coefficient. .  Lastly, making the models out to be little more than good luck charms is more objectifying than pure chauvinism, as they’re no longer eye candy, but bracelets on the wrist.

#3: “The greatest game in the world!”

When you hear it: when they play Rat Race.

Why he does it: it’s a game that he helped create and develop.

Why it needs to stop: for starters the game pretty much sucks.  It’s one of the most chance-determined games they have.  You can do everything right and still end up with the least of the three possible prizes.  It’s not the most popular game; that would be Plinko, which ironically enough is even more chance-riddled than Rat Race.  True you can win three prizes, including a car, but you can also do that with Master Key, Ten Chances, and even better than that with Switcheroo.  For anticipation, there have been better ways to do it than watching wind up mechanical rats, such as watching the mountain climber ascend during Cliff Hangers.  The joke’s not funny because it’s obvious the humor comes from his pride of ownership.  Also, claiming one game as the best of all is insinuation that there are games that aren’t fun.

#2: “Look out!  Try not to collide!”

When you hear it: when the models have to switch sides in the game Switch?

Why he does it: the thought of two models possibly colliding seems somehow funny to him.

Why it needs to stop: where do I start with this one?  Is it the assumption that on a 2-D television screen, the viewer will forget that life happens in a three-dimensional world?  Is it the thought that the models aren’t smart enough to walk and carry a sign at the same time?  Is it the fact that it’s a completely unnecessary gag during the filler music that plays while they switch places?  Is it the fact that if the contestant doesn’t wish to switch, Drew jokes about a potential crisis averted?  You guessed it, all of the above.  This joke is a failure on just about every level.  It was even funny the first time he did it, it’s still not funny now.

#1: “Oh, mighty sound effects lady…”

When you hear it: when they play One Away

Why he does it: it builds anticipation and tension, and Bob Barker did this joke, too…sort of.

Why it needs to stop: let’s start with the fact that this takes Bob’s original bit to ridiculous proportions.  Bob made the contestant ask nicely using “Ladies” or “Gentlemen”, and say please, or say a specific phrase.  And that’s fair.  The sound effects people are union, work-a-day people, and when Bob asks on their behalf that the contestant address them politely, that’s just looking out for the little guy.  By contrast, Drew makes the contestants flat-out grovel, to the point of deifying the sound effects lady.  The sound effects person does not have THAT much control.  The sound effects person just lets you know how many numbers you got right.  That’s it.  They’ve got higher-ups to answer to if they don’t do their damn job.  There’s no need to humiliate the contestant (any further than they embarrass themselves that is).  Also, it drags the game on forever.  Remember the clock on the wall that tampered with pacing by instilling a false rush?  This is the joke that drags the pace of the show down by Drew actually slowing it down.  He demonstrates how the contestant needs to ask with slow enunciation, and as expected, the contestant emulates the very slow beseeching of the sound effects lady’s favor.  This bit is so annoying that it has wrecked the game for me.  One Away used to be one of my favorite games on The Price Is Right, now I mute the TV when they play the game, and sometimes change the channel, because even without sound, it’s painful to watch.  If the mighty sound effects lady had as much control as Drew makes her out to have, she’d play some goofy sound effects over Drew Carey’s demonstration so the rest of us could get a genuine laugh, for a change. 

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