Some creaky game play elements are more than made up for by the superb style, production, and Craig Ferguson's hosting.
Review: The Hustler
One of the great white whales of game show formats has been the concept that someone on a team knows all the answers beforehand and has to make it through the show without being caught. Many shows have tried but couldn’t pull it off (Dirty Rotten Cheater, The Enemy Within, The Great Pretender, etc). It took a while but we’ve finally got a winner in ABC’s The Hustler.
The Hustler sees a team of five answering ten questions for $10,000 a piece (except the last question which will either double or halve the team’s bank if they’re right or wrong). The catch is The Hustler knows all the answers already. To help out the team, all the questions are themed around the Hustler’s life and interests, and the team is given clues to the Hustler’s personality as the game progresses. Throughout the show two honest players are eliminated by the Hustler. At the end the three remaining players have time to debate who the Hustler is and convince the others. If the honest players correctly choose the Hustler they split the bank. However, if the Hustler gets away with it, he or she takes it all.
The biggest thing The Hustler has going for it is the production. It’s easily the most stylish game on television right now. From the set that looks like the study out of Clue to small details like Craig Ferguson’s wardrobe and the graphics package, great care was put into creating a cohesive and interesting package unlike anything else in game shows currently. Enough can’t be said about Craig Ferguson’s hosting as well. Craig doesn’t know the identity of the Hustler so he’s playing the game along with the contestants. He’s constantly stirring up trouble, throwing out suspicions and commentary and keeping everyone on their toes.
The speed of the game and question material are the only downside to this. The game can be a bit slow at times. I don’t think it crawls at a snail’s pace…there’s always game play going on, but it may not be trivia game at that moment; it may be the psychological game. But it does go through just ten questions in an hour which can be a bit jarring given that minutes before The Hustler starts The Chase does about 20 questions in two minutes. Also it would benefit them to have questions that aren’t straight trivia and required group think a bit more. If your show encourages deliberation the the material should be more suited towards that. Most of the questions are things you’d find on Millionaire, which is usually either you know it or you don’t. It knocks out some strategy and debate which would be welcome in a show that’s all about strategy and debate.
Kudos to the team, though, for creating a “someone knows the answer” format that actually works. Giving clues during the show has been a welcome addition and allows for constant guessing. Knocking the team down as the show progresses also makes it less of a crapshoot at the end. In particular the final five minutes of the past two shows have been some of the most engaging and entertaining time in game shows in a while.
The Hustler isn’t the strongest or most unique game out there, but they’ve taken a format gimmick that’s been attempted over and over to no success and turned it into an exciting, fun, and compelling show. Through the force of the top-notch production and hosting by Craig Ferguson, the show rises far above what could be an average hour and turns it into something we’d recommend not missing. It’s the strongest of ABC’s newest game shows and worth your time.