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Review: Nickelodeon's 'Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?' Hosted by John Cena

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 11, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 11, 2019 |


It’s a very slow part of the year where it concerns television. Outside of what Netflix is pushing on us, there are, like, four worthy television shows on right now, and most air on Sundays, which means much of the rest of the week is a TV wasteland. Ergo, this week we’re going to review several game shows, beginning with Nickelodeon’s reboot of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?.

I never watched the original run on Fox back in the aughts, because if I were handcuffed to a television set while Jeff Foxworthy was on the screen, I would gnaw through the bone of my own arm and slice tendons with my incisors to escape. But John Cena hosts this version, and it’s on Nickelodeon, which means that I am in no way the target audience for this show.

But I do have kids, and I know what my kids like, and I have to concede that I think they’d dig this game show. It’s cute, and while I suspect that the original version of the show was designed to gently mock the adults for failing to answer general knowledge questions suitable for elementary students — like Jay Leno’s Man on the Street segments — this one seems more designed to illustrate that the kids can be as smart as the adults. It’s a subtle but important distinction, and one designed to empower the kids on the show and encourage kids watching at home, rather than humiliate the adults and condescend to the children.

And you know what? I’d get a kick out of watching this at home with my own kids, who would also probably feel very good about themselves for being able to answer questions that I could not or even questions that we both could. It’s not that the questions are hard, either. They really are suitable for 5th graders, but some of the general knowledge we had as grade-schoolers has escaped us over the years, although in the case of the first contestant — a third-grade teacher — I thought she should, at the very least, understand that copper is a conductor of electricity and not an insulator. Also, you probably shouldn’t have to ask a fifth grader for help in naming only two of the four states that border Texas. Also, JESUS CHRIST lady, how do you not know in what war the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were allies before their Cold War rivalry?

Ahem. I suspect, also, those producers aren’t exactly choosing the James Holzhauers of the world to play the game. If they did, it wouldn’t be all that fun for the kid players, who help the adults out with the “tougher” questions, and a Ken Jennings type wouldn’t give them a lot to do.

In any respect, Cena makes for a very enthusiastic and kid-friendly host, who remains encouraging throughout and never embarrasses his contestant. Rocking a polo shirt, he works that Fun Dad schtick in only the way a guy who has never actually had kids can, which is to say: Without an ounce of weariness or impatience (see also one of Cinema’s Best Dads, Steve Martin, who also had no kids). He’s quick on his feet, stretches 12 questions into 20 minutes without making it feel like he’s stretching, and he gets suitably pumped when the contestant gets the right answer. It’s quick and fun and colorful, and honestly, despite what the original Foxworthy premise might suggest, there are worse things than rewarding both kids and adults for being able to answer basic science and history questions.

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.

Header Image Source: Nickelodeon