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Review: Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard's Sweaty, Desperate 'Family Game Fight'

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2021 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | August 11, 2021 |


Yesterday, I dialed up the Hulu dot com to watch the first two episodes of Reservation Dogs (James’ review to come), but got sidetracked by the streaming service’s featured program, NBC’s Family Game Fight, a new game show hosted by Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell. It was 20 minutes long, I was morbidly curious, and I thought, “What’s the harm?” Never watch something where your first question is, “What’s the harm?”

Look: Summer is the season for bad network game shows, but in our desperation to feel alive (and find inspiration for #content), we will occasionally resort to watching and reviewing them. A couple of summers ago, I reviewed a new one about once a week, including Elizabeth Banks’ Press Your Luck, Alec Baldwin’s Match Game, Joel McHale’s Card Sharks, and even Dax Shepard’s Spin the Wheel.

Even relative to those insipid game shows, KBell and Dax’s Family Game Fight manages to find a new low in manufactured cheeriness. It’s one thing to watch legitimately excited people participate in a game show (players being called to contestants’ row on The Price is Right is a solid source of joy), but it’s quite another when the two married hosts are overcompensating for their extraordinarily lame premise by running around like lab mice on Adderal benders. They’re like overly enthusiastic cheerleaders trying to white-knuckle a winless team to victory with forced merriment, antidepressants, and spittle, but their dead eyes betray them, especially that of Dax Shepard, who looks like a man trying to find the soul that left him right around the time he and Kristen Bell commodified their relationship for Samsung commercials.

The premise is this: There are two teams of four “family members.” In the first episode, it was four sisters facing off against four UCLA frat bros, all of whom were virtually indistinguishable from one another and apparently injected with enough speed before the show to move around the stage like faceless blurs so as not to distract from the real stars of the show. Bell and Shepard, meanwhile, play on opposing teams because, you see, their marriage is built on a foundation of barely concealed hostility. The games themselves were apparently designed by malicious network executives to maximize luck, low stakes, and modest levels of physical torture. In the first game, Bell and Shepard are blindfolded and in bed and are given a series of strange objects (a paddle, a saddle, etc.) and are tasked with getting the other person to guess what that object is without saying the name of the object. Whichever team is the closest to guessing how many of the objects the couple can identify wins. It’s random stupid luck.

In the second game, one team member is put inside of a freezer while the others name as many objects in a particular place (a grocery store, an office) as they can in 20 seconds. When the team member comes out of the freezer, he or she tries to identify all of the objects their teammates named. After each miss, the teammates are covered in some sort of slushy ice, and the team that identifies the most objects wins. In the third game, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard play a game of “Name That Tune” with words. If Shepard, for instance, says that he can get a teammate to identify a word using only three clues, Bell might counter that she can do it with only two clues. The teammate who loses gets a pie in the face and an insincere apology from the voice of Anna in Frozen.

They’re all basically variations of Taboo, while the final speed round, which we are overenthusiastically told no less than 17 times that $100,000 is at stake, is basically a combination of Taboo, Pictionary, and Charades conducted on two opposing stages that rotate. Each correct guess merits $10,000. It mostly involves the frantic shouting of people yearning to find meaning beneath $10,000 stacks of bills and a stage that looks like the Double Dare set tripped and fell on its face.

Family Game Fight has all the sweat and desperation of a couple trying to fill the hollowness in their marriage with gobs of money that will instantly vanish the moment they forget to share their latest marital temper tantrum with their fawning fans and one of them runs off with Monica. Alas, whatever genuine spark they had when Kristen Bell appeared on Ellen years ago with a video of Dax Shepard gifting her a sloth is gone and has been replaced by a despairing Jeb Bush “Please Clap” sign.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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