October 23, 2017

Review: The Joker’s Wild

A treasured classic is revived at the hands at the person anyone least expected.

Jack Barry’s big return to television after his career was ruined by the quiz show scandals of the 1950 was The Joker’s Wild for CBS. The show’s centerpiece was a massive slot machine, featuring the eponymous Jokers. At the time, the reception to the show was positive, and the show was on the air, on and off, into the 90s. Long since dormant except in reruns on GSN (and even in that regards, it’s been a while since the show’s been on TV), the show’s revival on TBS comes at a point in the game show timeline where the perfect storm of “classic shows are being revived” and “Snoop Dogg Can Put Anything on Television” clash together.

Snoop Dogg has said repeatedly that The Joker’s Wild was one of his favorite game shows growing up, having watched it as a child with his grandmother. For most game show fans, it’s not hard to imagine that we have similar stories with a variety of shows. (Mine is Press Your Luck.) Snoop is no stranger to game shows, with him having well-received appearances on both The Price is Right and The $100,000 Pyramid. Low key, Snoop has the credibility to say that he’s a real game show fan, and I think with him as the driving force for this show, it shows.

At the end of the day, Snoop is still Snoop, and the brand that Snoop’s built up over the last three decades is a very specific one. Anything Snoop Dogg attaches his name to, from something as small as rolling papers to as big as a lifestyle variety show with Martha Stewart, always has a signature patina of Snoop’s laid-back, relaxed, baked demeanor. And his version of The Joker’s Wild is absolutely no exception.

If you were a fan of The Joker’s Wild, then the gameplay in Snoop’s version shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Two players compete in a trivia competition. Five categories are loaded into the giant slot machine, along with Jokers. Whatever appears on the board during your spin is potentially in play. In the first round of play, a single category on the board is worth $100, a double is $200, a triple is $300. A Joker counts as a wild supplementing what’s on the board, but JOKER JOKER JOKER (and everyone chants along, which is great) in one spin is $500 (and, in an interesting twist, has its own set of trivia questions). Each player has four spins in round one. The dollar amounts are doubled in round two, and each player has three spins. The player with the most money after round 2 goes to Beat the Devil for $25,000. The Beat the Devil bonus round is played with rules similar to the CBS version: spin the wheels and add up the money that shows up. Jokers on the board are worth $2,000, and a player just needs to get to $10,000 without spinning a Devil to win the jackpot.

Categories in the main game lean heavy toward pop culture, but most are interesting. Each category has a You Don’t Know Jack-style category name that hints at the content inside. Even questions that aren’t specifically pop culture-based are usually presented with a unique twist, like Gin and Jews, an entire category about Jewish customs that Snoop invariably has a hard time pronouncing.  Celebrity guests pepper categories, with celebs like Wiz Khalifa, Seth Rogen, Kelly Osbourne and Regis Philbin delivering video clues. Some questions will have players rolling a dice in the middle of the stage, with a higher roll giving the contestant more clues to the correct answer. The variety of different questions, how they’re asked, and what they’re about are mostly good, with a few exceptions. In one category, contestants must suss out which Canadian of three presented would Seth Rogen most like to smoke weed with, without any clues at all. It’s basically a shell game when it comes to questions like that, in a game where knowledge used to be king, it’s like taking a bad hit.

The hosting combination of Snoop Dogg and Jeannie Mai are effective of keeping the game moving and entertaining. Between the two of them, questions get answered, rules get explained and they provide enough commentary to be amusing without ruining the flow of the proceedings. I think Snoop will surprise people with his hosting style, which feels very genuine. He will sometimes have humorous asides to the audience if he flubs a question, or ad-lib with the contestants really well. The boot camp he went through to learn the game (chronicled in a 6-part YouTube documentary) looks like it paid dividends. The set is absolutely beautiful; the slot machine’s windows are three giant curved displays, flanked on all sides by even more monitors. In motion, the board is stunning. The set is red and dark and feels like a casino but manages to still pay tribute to Jack Barry’s original in its staging and layout. The format of the game, now self-contained into one episode, is a marked improvement to the original Joker’s Wild, and is probably the best format the series has ever had.

Read our interview with Lady Luck, co-host Jeannie Mai and get a behind-the-scenes look at The Joker’s Wild! 

This show, as a thought exercise, is weird. Snoop is a media mogul and hip hop star with a broad but well-defined audience. The Joker’s Wild is a show last hosted by Pat Finn in 1990. The two should have never met. But we’re here now, and out of from this strange blending of pop culture comes a show which is very entertaining. The things that the world collectively enjoyed from The Joker’s Wild is here: a big-ass slot machine, people chanting Joker, and the excitement of the Beat the Devil bonus round. The weaknesses of the format continue to show up: the randomness of the slot machine means that one player could get a Triple Joker twice in a game and the other, none at all. The Beat the Devil round could be done in one spin or ten. For viewers who’ve got tree trunks up their asses, the constant references to hip hop, sex and weed will probably grow tiresome. If you like Snoop, or if you like The Joker’s Wild, you’ll like what Snoop Dogg has rolled up.