The Nostalgia Factor Of Hollywood Game Night (And Why It’s Good For TV)

Once upon a time, the TV landscape was populated with cowboys, variety numbers and game shows. Sometimes those game shows featured celebrities, not bargain bin celebrities who were most notable for their stints on Celebrity Rehab or Celebrities Try Not To Kill Themselves While Diving Into Pools For Our Amusement, but actual funny people a television viewer might enjoy watching getting really drunk and making jokes while helping a “normal” person win money. The most notable of these shows was Match Game, a glorious game show that featured people like Richard Dawson, a man notorious for kissing every woman he ever met, and Brett Somers who got away with some of the best innuendo ever uttered on national TV.

Sadly, raucous game shows like Match Game gave way to reality shows and the occasional primetime hit like Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which was fun until ABC decided to make us watch it every night of the week. Things were looking bleak on the primetime game show front until seemingly out of nowhere, NBC offered up Hollywood Game Night like a gift from the gods of summer TV.

Hollywood Game Night could have gone wrong in so many ways. It could taken itself too seriously or tried too hard to be squeaky clean to gain the largest audience possible. NBC could have raided the celebrity bargain bin for contestants instead of convincing entertaining actors like Matthew Perry, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Chenoweth to spend an evening playing silly games like “Snack Round” (forcing participants to admit they too eat junk food) and “How Do You Doo? (a singing game where the participant is reduced to using only the word “doo” to get their teammates to recognize a famous song). In the end, one normal team captain walks away with some money in their pocket and a great story to tell their friends, while one celebrity earns money for the charity of their choice. Everyone wins, including the viewers at home because even if it pains us to admit it in these whip-smart sitcoms and prestige drama times, we missed having a show like Hollywood Game Night on TV.

It’s fun. That alone is a great reason for a show to exist because sometimes we need something that’s just entertaining. But it’s also the kind of fun that doesn’t make us feel bad about ourselves in the morning. Most reality television has a definite ick factor. It feels exploitative or depressing. As a rule, game shows almost always pander nothing more than happiness. I grew up on Double Dare, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Jeopardy and, later when The Game Show Network came on the scene, reruns of the ’70s era Match Game and the Dawson hosted Family Feud. They were all fantastic, focusing on either physical challenges or adults behaving badly in a good way.

Hollywood Game Night is a throwback to this bygone era. It offers its celebrities drinks and then it lets them loose to be as silly and competitive as they wish. The groups are carefully chosen, often pairing real celebrity friends, like in the Saturday Night Live episode, so the chemistry is there before the cameras start rolling. Meanwhile, host Jane Lynch guides the proceedings with charm and wit that even Dawson would applaud before trying to attack her with kisses. Hollywood Game Night stands out in a landscape where primetime game shows–particularly those with a touch of variety show blood running through their veins–no longer exist. For older viewers and younger viewers nurturing a Game Show Network addiction, the series plays on our nostalgia, for everyone else it must look like a wonderful new invention.

Either way, it’s good for TV, reviving a genre that is actually worth breathing new life into, and good for viewers craving something different to watch during these hot summer nights. It’s good for NBC too– as long as they don’t start programming it every night and inviting tabloid bait to the party. As it is right now, Hollywood Game Night is about as close to perfect as a game show can get without having Ms. Brett Somers involved.

Hollywood Game Night airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.

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