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Columns
'Don't Know Jack' and 'Go Fish' show promise

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

By now viewers know the drill: A TV show that comes on in summer, particularly a sitcom or drama, is usually considered junk by a network. Look no further than NBC's "Kristin" or ABC's "The Beast" to see ill-conceived shows burned off like kindling wood.

But two new series premiering this week seem less like castoffs and more like contenders, particularly ABC's "You Don't Know Jack" (8 p.m. tomorrow), a wacky game show based on a computer game.


 
 
"You Don't Know Jack"

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

Hosted by: Paul Reubens as Troy Stevens.

   

 

Paul Reubens stars in "Jack" as host Troy Stevens. He's joined by

various performers, including a mariachi band that performs while contestants answer an elimination-round question.

The show's title is invoked repeatedly, but in far more creative ways than NBC's already dull repetition of the phrase, "You are the weakest link."

"If you think this show is going to make anybody but me a millionaire," Stevens exclaims, "you don't know jack!"

But I do know this: "Jack" is far more entertaining than "Weakest Link" or "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." The questions, generally about pop culture, are stated in creative ways with unusual touches a normal game show would never attempt.

In each episode, Stevens announces the $2 million question of the night. The catch? As soon as he starts reading the question, the jackpot amount begins to drop precipitously. Then he loses the question card -- it takes flight on a draft of air; a dog wanders on stage and chomps on it -- and recovers the card and finishes reading the question only when it's worth about $200.

"Jack" is mondo bizarro, so much so that the host assures viewers in each episode that they're watching a real game show.

"The only thing phony and insincere in this game show is me," he says in the first of two episodes that air tomorrow night. Next week the show moves to its regular time slot, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

"Jack" is a natural evolution for Reubens, who turned the kids' show on its head with "Pee-wee's Playhouse." Now he's moved on to the game-show genre, stripping it of highfalutin' pretensions until only fun, albeit strange fun, remains.

'Go Fish'

There's nothing as original about "Go Fish" (two episodes air tonight starting at 8 on NBC; regular time slot will be 8:30 p.m. Tuesday), but it's certainly not as embarrassing as most of the series NBC premiered last fall.

Faint praise, perhaps, but these days ...

Kieran Culkin (Macaulay's little brother who starred in "The Cider House Rules") plays Andy "Fish" Troutner, a high school freshman with a four-point plan to achieve popularity and the affections of his dream girl, Jess (Katherine Ellis).


 
 
"Go Fish"

When: 8 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Kieran Culkin, Will Friedle, Joe Flaherty.

   

 

Filmed single-camera style (think: "Malcolm in the Middle"), tonight's first episode was written by Pam Brady ("South Park") and Adam Herz ("American Pie"). It's not as outrageous as their previous credits lead you to expect. Save for a predictable, lame gag that puts Andy and his friends in a compromising position, "Go Fish" is pretty tame. On occasion, it's almost sweet.

Andy's parents are saddled with unfunny eccentricities, including Pittsburgh native Joe Flaherty ("SCTV") as his dad. Flaherty plays a character similar to his "Freaks and Geeks" father role, but not as believable or as well written.

Andy's brother, Pete (Will Friedle, "Boy Meets World"), returns to his former high school as a teacher, but gets too caught up in wanting to be liked by his students. He's as baffled now as he was in his student days by drama teacher Mr. Hopkins, a weird-o of the Andy Dick variety played by none other than Andy Dick.

Though a little gawky, Culkin's Andy isn't quite the nerd the show would have us believe. But with a limp mop of hair that leaves a perpetual upside down "U" on his forehead, some viewers may share the thought that distracted me throughout the show: "Go Fish, get yourself to a barber shop."


You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

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