Wacky new Canadian game show tame by modern standards

Why is the only new Comedy Channel show this year a remake of the Match Game?


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Comedian Seán Cullen, one of many hilarious panelists on Match Game

­All the talk at the recent Canadian Comedy Awards revolved around the new remake of the game show Match Game on the Comedy Channel. Most of the talk wasn’t pleasant, at least by those who weren’t booked on the series.

“It isn’t even a comedy show!” I heard one wag sniff, which seemed a little harsh. I doubt anyone would tune into the show for the suspense of seeing who might win or to learn anything about cold fusion. It’s mainly for the laughs, like most game shows of its type.

If you remember, Match Game was a successful American game show, often hosted by Gene Rayburn, that had various runs between the years 1963 and 1982 and even later remakes right up into the ’90s.

It was a groundbreaker, allowing double entendre answers from a celebrity panel, which led to other, smuttier shows like The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game.

It’s the job of the celebrity panelists to match the missing word of the sentence the contestants are given — barring that, to come up with something outrageously funny.

So why, I kept hearing, was the Comedy Network doing a remake of an American game show with wafer-thin relevance in the midst of a Canadian comedy explosion of stand-up, sketch and improv? And why was it the only show being funded and produced this year?

Part of the answer must be that a similar French version, running on V channel in Quebec, has been a big hit since 2010. Every network wants a hit, especially a network with new corporate owners: Bell Media. And it isn’t as if hipper shows produced under the old regime, like Hotbox or Picnicface, had strong ratings.

You can understand the frustration of the comedy community, though. Match Game isn’t going to create stars or show the world of comedy the genius of Canadian innovation. This isn’t SCTV by a long shot.

The retro-futuristic look of the show is pleasing to the eye. The host, Darrin Rose, is suave and engaging and wears beautifully cut suits. One of the regular panelists, Seán Cullen, always manages to squeeze in an extra joke or two. The other celebrities are sometimes strangely obscure, but I was pleased to see Janeane Garofalo on one episode, Tom Green on another.

Unfortunately, they aren’t given much to do. There are so many panelists that there just isn’t much time for anyone to register properly with the audience. Plus, the light smuttiness of their answers seems way out of date in a Howard Stern/Louis C.K. world.

But the real issue may be whether a game show can ever be truly funny.

I remember back in the ’80s when a prominent comedian friend of mine expressed his outrage that he had been offered, of all things, a game show to host — a lowly game show! But I reminded him of when one of the greatest comedians of all time hosted a game show and was brilliant at it.

The show was You Bet Your Life, and the comedian was Groucho Marx.

Canada has a bit of a tradition of indigenous game shows. A lot of them were serious and news-oriented, but there was also Party Game — a silly charades show that everyone seemed to loathe that featured minor Canadian celebrities. It ran for 11 years.

Match Game needs to turn it up if it wants to make its mark.

Post City Magazines’ humour columnist, Mark Breslin, is the founder of Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs and the author of several books, including Control Freaked.

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