Loog Lambastes: Identity

I finally got a chance to watch an episode of the show tonight, and I’m now ready to opine about it.

I, personally, am starting to grow very concerned about the future of this genre. Ever since Deal or No Deal, game shows have been less about playing a game as it’s been about exploiting excitable, sob-story contestants, and shoveling money in front of their faces as they play a nominal game that’s more filler and pregnant pause than it is actual gameplay. It works for Deal or No Deal, simply because that’s a show that places its sole premise on gut decisions and suspense. It works less effectively on 1 vs. 100, because of the flaw in the format in which 101 people answer the same questions but only one person has any real control over the game, not to mention that in order for the audience to root for the hero, they have to root against 100 other people whose only crime has been not having a missing relative or charity organization to whore out to the viewers. And on Identity, it doesn’t work at all.

Never has one hour of gameplay felt so laborious to watch.

The premise is quite simple: 12 strangers stand up on numbered pedestals. The contestant is then shown 12 identities (pro football player, belly dancer, preschool teacher, etc.). All the player has to do is match each identity to each person one at a time. Each correct identification moves the player one step up the money ladder; the top prize is $500,000 for 11 correct identities (as the twelfth would be obvious). To aid the player along, he’s given three helps: “Mistaken Identity”, meaning the player can make one mistake before his money’s in danger (more on this in a bit); “Tri-dentity”, which narrows a chosen identity down to three candidates; and “Ask the Experts”, in which three experts (a body language expert, a psychologist, and an FBI officer) advise the player on their most likely candidate for a given identity.

The sad thing about this is that the concept itself is pretty neat. But the execution of both the format and the show itself is a disaster.

First off, I think we’ve hit our saturation point for dramatic pauses and breaking before a reveal. The purpose of sitting on an outcome is to build suspense, not kill time. But in the case of Identity, it seemed pretty obvious to me that the 15 seconds of ominous music between every guess and the reveal was nothing more than a strategy to push the action closer to the next commercial break, especially since the music pretty much gave away the timing of the reveal. I would much rather see three quick games with a smaller top prize (say, $100K) than one long, drawn-out, half-million-dollar campaign, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Also, this may be nit-picky, but I’m getting rather tired of all of these shows looking the same. Every show seems to have the same opening sequence, the same graphics, the same supplemental information popping up on the bottom of the screen, the same overbaked editing (the identity choices would glisten as the contestant mentioned them. Is this really necessary?), and the same family holding pen. When three shows on the same network have the exact same elements, that just reeks of laziness on the producers’ part. Again, it lends itself to my argument that these prime-time shows nowadays are more about watching people jump around and scream in front of a light show than actually playing a game.

But either of those things would not make this a show that I would feel malevolent towards. True, I probably wasn’t planning on watching the rest of the show’s run, but that’s more out of indifference than antipathy. However, when the game has a format that’s so flawed that the rules have to change in the middle of the game to accomodate it, that’s when I have a serious problem.

As mentioned above, one of the aids a player has is the “Mistaken Identity”. Basically you can get one guess wrong for free, and only afterwards do you have to decide at each level whether to continue or stop and take the money. I will bet you dollars to donuts that the only reason why that help is there at all was to prevent the inevitable: players chickening out before the end because they didn’t want to risk all their winnings on a situation that’s supposed to grow more and more difficult as they progress.

In the episode I watched, the contestant had little trouble in identifying 10 of the 12 strangers without making a mistake. That means he’s got the half million locked up, right? I mean, if there are only two players left and two identities left, and he can get one wrong with no penalty, then he’s pretty much guaranteed to win the top prize, right? Wrong. If you still have the Mistaken Identity when you get to the end, it gets taken away for the last identity, for no better reason than to manufacture some extra drama as the player decides to take the money or go for it one more time.

I don’t say this word often, but now’s a good time for it. That’s bullshit.

A player should not be penalized for playing the game well, and that’s exactly what this rule does. Sure, it would be a bit silly to have a money ladder in place and give the contestant a way to vault past the penultimate rung, but you know what? That’s not the contestant’s fault, and it shouldn’t be his problem. When Super Millionaire offered its two extra Lifelines for the upper tier, everyone knew that if a player could hand on to his 50:50 that far, that it in conjunction with the Double Dip would essentially grant the player one free right answer. But the producers didn’t respond by taking away the 50:50 after question 10 to prevent that from happening. And the other quarrel I have is the reason why the Mistaken Identity gets taken away – to provoke the contestant into making an all-or-nothing decision that otherwise wouldn’t come up, when I don’t really see a need for that sort of risk at all, seeing as it’s not pertinent to the game itself. Why not let the player play the game from the start, give him $5000 for each correct identity, and bump it up to $100K if he goes 11 for 11? Or why not give him some amount to fall back on, like 1/2 or 1/4 of the money he’s earned to that point, if he is wrong? I’ve said it before (once already in this article) and I’ll say it again – if you force people to risk everything they’ve earned, few people are going to take that risk. If you give people the choice to risk most of what they’ve earned, but still give them something if they lose, you’ll see your players get much more aggressive.

As for host Penn Jillette, it was obvious that the people who cast this show were looking for someone who didn’t fit the mold of a game show host, and Penn certainly passes that test. But as the show wore on, something about him just didn’t sit right with me. Maybe it was the way he kept repeating the dollar figures over and over when asking the strangers if they were correctly identified. Maybe it was the hand gestures that made it look like he was flashing gang signs during the show. Maybe it was the staccato delivery he used. But as entertaining as Penn is outside of Identity, he was an overall negative influence on the show.

So, to wrap it up:

Gameplay: 1/3 (Neat idea, but the yanking of the Mistaken Identity at the end is an absolute sham.)
Host: 0/3 (Towards the end of the show, I couldn’t stand to hear his voice.)
Presentation: 1/2 (The same glitz and graphics as all the other NBC shows.)
Execution: 0/2 (This game should take 15 minutes, not one hour.)

Total Score: 2/10
Notice to Endemol, Scott St. John, or whoever else is going to make the next one of these shows: Speed things up, focus on the gameplay, and stop making everything an all-or-nothing gamble. You’re killing the game show with this shlock.

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11 thoughts on “Loog Lambastes: Identity

  1. Anonymous

    2nd only to Peer Pressure

    So now this is the 2nd worst show in your mind only to Peer Pressure.

    What are your scores on DonD, 1vs100 and Show me the money?

    Reply
  2. 2ndavemusic

    There’s a lot I agree with, here, but I don’t think you can lay everything at the producers’ feet. I’d betcha NBC said something to the effect of, “But you have to have a group of family or friends. We love that. You have to.”

    The family bullpen is, of course, the logical extension of Millionaire‘s relationship seat. The fun and pressure there was that the player can’t interact with the person s/he brought along.

    I don’t even mind the idea of taking away “Mistaken Identity” at the end of a perfect game. But take it away and double the prize: halve all the other money amounts such that the only way to win the $500K (or whatever your grand prize is) is to get to the top of the tree without making ANY mistakes.

    Reply
  3. usasatsui

    I was thinking that exact same thing. Taking away the Mistaken Identity at the end was absolutely stupid.

    It really was a whole bunch of manufactured “drama”, too. They dragged it out for 15 minutes when everyone in the damn universe knew that the woman with the big breasts, skimpy outfit, and a three-expert identification was the belly dancer.

    Penn really got on my nerves at the end too.

    One thing that really bugs me about the show’s premise: Aren’t we, as a society, trying to get away from judging people on appearance?

    Reply
  4. nangbaby

    I concur with that opinion.

    I watched Identity both Monday night and last night. Monday night I thought it was a rather bad show made in the style of Deal or No Deal. Last night was just sickening.

    I know you don’t like swearing, but I have to agree. Changing the rules in the middle of the game is utter bullshit. It would be different if the contestant were warned on camera from the beginning of play that this would happen, but this was too much for me to take. What if the contestant lost his or her phone-a-friend and 50-50 lifelines in Who Wants to be a Millionaire once he or she got to the million dollar question? What’s the point of playing the game if the rules change in the middle of the stream? Also, what’s the point of watching something so blatantly rigged against the contestant?

    This smells like the XFL, except Identity only waited two days to change the rules.

    Reply
  5. tleberle

    Re: I concur with that opinion.

    But they don’t change the rules midstream. Those rules are given to the players well before they ever set foot on stage. If you think these people are seeing the rulesheet any time other than that, you’re not thinking. The problem is that the Mistaken Identity becomes unwieldy if you don’t make a mistake. Rather than having it as a lifeline, it would make more sense to say “You’re allowed to goof one time for free, if you miss again, you go home with nothing. To help you out, you have two bits of assistance.”

    But as I’ve said, there’s no reason they should be doing beta testing while on the air.

    Reply
  6. loogaroo

    Re: 2nd only to Peer Pressure

    DoND would be a 2/3/2/1 = 8. That’s a bit of an overrating, but the gameplay is simple, Howie is a perfect fit, and when the show first came on I liked the way it harkened back to the old days with 26 suitcase-bearing models.

    1 vs. 100 is a 1/2/1/1 = 5. The one thing that I dislike the most about the game is the way that the one player is given all the advantages, when you could argue that the mob has to work harder to win the money.

    Reply
  7. loogaroo

    There’s a lot I agree with, here, but I don’t think you can lay everything at the producers’ feet. I’d betcha NBC said something to the effect of, “But you have to have a group of family or friends. We love that. You have to.”

    I would reply to NBC something to the effect of, “Is this a game show or Oprah? Are people going to tune in to watch someone play a game, or would you rather just show someone hug their family for an hour? I’ve got 40 minutes of show time – I’d rather not waste it on filler that adds absolutely nothing to the gameplay.”

    Also, it really bugged me that the family was helping the contestant out last night. It’s one thing to suggest case numbers on DoND, because they’re all unknown quantities anyway. But to give the family members a chance to say “I remember #4 from Gastineau Girls!” is altering the outcome of the game, and I don’t like it.

    Reply
  8. loogaroo

    Re: I concur with that opinion.

    Just to be clear – I’m sure the player knew ahead of time that the Mistaken Identity would be unavailable if he made it to the end without using it. I don’t think the producers were in the control room saying, “Crap, he’s going to win it all – quick, someone figure out a way to make it harder!”

    Even so, it is changing the rules in mid-game, because the game has specific rules, and they change at the end to cover up a contingency. Consider the following:

    1) There is no reason at all that this game needs an Absolute Gamble. This is not DoND, where the dollar amounts are an element of the game. This is not 1 vs. 100, where the mob profits from the single player’s loss. You could have a completely different payout format and the game wouldn’t change.
    2) The only reason why the Mistaken Identity is in place is to make sure that every contestant doesn’t bail out with $100K. By not having an Absolute Gamble, there would be no need for the Mistaken Identity, because a player would be able to play the entire game without having to worry about losing everything for one mistake.
    3) By taking away the Mistaken Identity at the end, you just make the flaw in the gameplay worse. There’s an artificial element of risk (the unnecessary gamble), then an artificial protection from that risk (to prevent players from stopping when you don’t want them to), then you artificially remove that protection when stakes are at their highest, just so you can force them to gamble at that point. It’s flat-out manipulation.

    Reply
  9. mmxfan

    Re: I concur with that opinion.

    After watching the first two shows, I just find the show barely average. You’re right about yanking the Mistaken Identity help when you’re at that level. It’s not only manipulative, but it just feels plain wrong to do that to someone who’s played a perfect game up to that point, like what the contestant did last night.

    The game drags on for so long, and becomes so tedious and boring after watching the same contestant for 30 minutes pining over which one is .

    I find Penn Jillette extremely entertaining, yet sounding forced in this game. It’s not the same Penn that we love from their shows at the Rio or on Bullshit! on Showtime. It’s kinda disheartening that the genre now looks for a name rather than someone with actual hosting talent.

    While the presentation looks slick and current, it feels like we’ve seen this before.

    The game is somewhat unique, but gets really old after a while.

    Prediction: One run and done.

    Reply

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