Though his directing (and feature film) career mostly flamed out after the failure of CHIPs, Dax Shepard picked himself up, dusted himself off, and has managed to quietly resurrect and transform his career. He now hosts a thriving podcast (of which I am a fan), he has a recurring role on Netflix’s The Ranch, he co-stars in the fantastic sitcom Bless this Mess, which was recently renewed for a second season, and now he’s hosting a primetime network game show co-created by Justin Timberlake.
I know that last week was gameshow week here on Pajiba, with reviews of Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader, Press Your Luck, Card Sharks and Match Game, but this week presented a couple of opportunities I couldn’t resist, including the Black Mirror-esque Awake on Netflix, and now Shepard’s Spin the Wheel, which I begrudgingly admit (because I do not like game shows) is the best of the bunch.
Here, the stakes are higher, but there’s also a cruel/fun twist in the end. The gameplay is pretty simple. There is one contestant — in the first episode, it’s a local hero who helped a bunch of people off a derailed train — and he gets 16 spins of a giant wheel, which has various money amounts on it. With the first four spins, he answers a question and if he gets it right, they add the amount that he spins to his overall total. If he gets it wrong, he loses that amount of money. In the second round of spins, there’s a co-player, who is a family member or loved one. It operates like the first round, except that the co-player can secretly decide whether to double the amount, based on the question (so, if he gets the question right, he gets double the spin, but if he gets it wrong, he loses twice the amount of money).
In the third round, things get a little bit more interesting. The contestant is asked a question, and before he spins the wheel, if he gets the question right, big money values are added to the wheel. If he gets it wrong, “Back to Zero” slots are added to the wheel, and if he lands on them, he loses all his money and has to start all over.
The fourth round is legitimately tense because, after each spin, another big dollar amount slot ($1 million) is added to the wheel, but so is another “Back to Zero” slot. In the final four spins, if the contestant lands on “Back to Zero,” he loses all his money and the game is over. But the cruel fun twist is this: After each spin, the game offers the contestant a buyout amount, but only the co-player is allowed to take the bail-out amount or continue.
So, for instance, in this game, the contestant enters the fourth round with, like, $2 million. If he lands on Back to Zero, he loses it all and goes home. Before the first spin, the game offers him, like, $150,000 to go home, and after each subsequent spin, the buyout amount is increased by around $100,0000. But neither we nor the contestant knows until the very end of the game whether or after which round the co-player took the buyout. And by the final spin, there’s a 25 percent chance of losing everything.
In the first episode, the contestant manages to avoid all the “Back to Zero” slots but hits some negative money slots. By the end of the game, he’s got $1.3 million. Unfortunately, the co-player has to tell him that he actually took the bailout money after two rounds, so they’re only going home with $200,000, which is not a bad way to go home. It’s very much a test of greed: Yes, you could add $2 million in one spin, but you could also go home with nothing, and it’s up to the co-player to measure the risks.
Dax is a great host, with a combination of Alec Baldwin’s playful banter and Elizabeth Banks’ warmth and investment in the outcome. There’s a lot of hugging and celebrating, and Dax is completely game. The questions are fairly easy and of the pop culture variety, although apparently, some people have never seen True Detective nor do they know that The Office was based on a British show. The stakes are also high — theoretically, a contestant could go home with $23 million — but unlike in Awake, it wouldn’t feel cruel to completely dash a contestant’s hopes, mostly because the game shifts that responsibility to the co-player, who will either be the GOAT or a goat, depending on whether he or she bails and when. There’s not much skill to the game, besides the ability to answer whether Game of Thrones was written by George R.R. Martin or Tolkien, but the social component elevates the tension. In short: It’s good (although, not actually good enough to watch regularly, because it’s still a game show).
Header Image Source: Fox