Review: Card Sharks (ABC, 2019)
A casino set and a snarky host, should you watch this or should you ghost?
In season 2, episode 8 of Arrested Development, this exchange occurs between main character Michael Bluth and his brother GOB:
Michael: Are you serious? Dad gave you the Camaro? I thought you won that on Card Sharks.
G.O.B.: Michael, I was never on Card Sharks. Dad told us not to tell you.
It was such a throwaway joke but I enjoyed the reference. Which, honestly, I think is my feelings about ABC’s revival of Card Sharks: I’m glad it’s back, I enjoyed watching it, but there’s nothing about this current production that makes me want to come back for more.
Card Sharks, originally hosted by Jim Perry in 1978, is a giant game of Acey-Ducey. Players are asked a survey question, usually posed to 100 people. One player guesses a number, then their opponent guessed whether the actual answer was higher or lower than their opponent’s guessed. If they’re right, they get to attempt to run guessing the higher or lower status of 5 oversized cards. If they’re wrong, the original guesser gets a go at the cards. First player to win 2 games goes on to the bonus round.
The bonus round of Card Sharks is probably the most iconic: the Money Cards. Eight cards were dealt out in three rows: four on the bottom, three in the middle, and one on the top. Starting with a bank of $200 of house money, the player would make a bet on whether the next card was higher or lower. If a player lost all their money on the first row, they’d go to the second row and get a cash injection of $200 to keep playing. If the player made it to the top row, they’d have to make a Big Bet of at least half their cash. Win or lose, they’d face another challenger and play again. Repeat until you felt like watching the end of Young and the Restless.
Scott St. John, EP of shows like Celebrity Name Game, Hole in the Wall and 1 vs 100, is the executive producer on Card Sharks. A lot of the things that Scott St. John likes to do on his shows is in full force on Card Sharks: music happening underneath everything all the time and contestants who never stop auditioning even when the credits are rolling are my two biggest pet peeves with shows that St. John tends to produce, and both of those things irked me watching Card Sharks.
I enjoyed a lot of things about the show: host Joel McHale, the sardonic and sarcastic host of The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale and The Soup, is actively himself on this show, for better or for worse. He never felt like he was really in control of the show as an emcee, but just someone there commentating on everything that was happening around him. I don’t think he connected with the contestants as well as, say, Elizabeth Banks does on PYL, but I laughed out loud on more than one occasion at his snarky quips. I also disliked the fact that Joel never flipped a goddamned card. You have dealers, I get it, but I think one of the Unique Selling Points of Card Sharks is that the host gets to control that drama by flipping the cards. I get the dread-filling feeling, though, that whenever obnoxious game show nerds shout comedians shouldn’t be game show hosts they’ll point at Joel McHale.
ABC’s revival of Card Sharks has re-jiggered the main game from being a best-of-3 match of 4 questions and flipping over 5 cards, to a best-of-1 match of five questions and flipping over 10 cards in a row. Functionally, the winner of both matches is going to flip over 10 cards, and the change of format doesn’t bother me so much. The winner of the main game wins $10,000. The pacing of the main game feels way too slow. It makes Bob Eubanks’ gentle saunters through the game feel like a mile-a-minute thrill ride. I really enjoyed how they asked questions that weren’t specifically survey questions, but instead numerical questions that were factual, like ‘what percent of current female senators were Girl Scouts?’ and I’d love to see more of that. More Wits and Wagers, please.
The Money Cards are also just fine, with some questionable gameplay choices. Instead of giving the player house money to work with, they take their $10,000 and uses that as money to play in the Money Cards, which adds to the gamble and the risk—you could really walk away with nothing. In this incarnation of the Money Cards, players make their bets both verbally to the host and physically by lugging around giant poker chips on their table. I hated the giant poker chips, because I felt they added to the dragging on of the proceedings. “12,000, higher, Joel.” Easy peasy. If they call higher or lower and it ends up pushing, with being the same value, it counts as a loss. Especially heartbreaking when a player—who doesn’t get to come back tomorrow to try again—gets dealt 3 aces in a row and there’s nothing they can do about it. I get that ABC’s not trying to give out $150,000 every episode, but still, it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Two games with different contestants fill the show’s hour, no returning champions.
There’s a lot of little things I didn’t like about Card Sharks that bugged me way more than the little things I didn’t like about Press Your Luck bugged me. In fact, the little things about Card Sharks bug me so much I’m going to mention them in this article:
- I own a deck of original Card Sharks giant cards. The cards on the show had SO MUCH GIVE to them, they looked like they were just printed out on basic card stock instead of sturdy layered rigid cardboard. At one point, a dealer managed to bend a card 45º when picking it up off the deck
- The mix between the theme music and the audience is so bad, all I could hear was Mosher and Stoker’s excellent bass line and some clapping.
- The set in photos looked way better than it did on TV in action.
- I thought watching the players struggle with the giant cards was less charming and funny and more time-wasting and annoying.
- FLIP THE FUCKING CARDS, JOEL.
ABC’s Summer Fun and Games, when reviving games, has two basic modes: rehash and reflash. Rehashing the game just takes the game, slaps on a new coat of paint, maybe some additional things, but keeps the game the basic same thing. Family Feud, Pyramid, Match Game and PYL were rehashed. Reflashed games took the basic structure of the game and twisted it to be something they thought would fit in the modern age. To Tell The Truth’s first season, Gong Show, and Card Sharks were reflashed and I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.
I would probably watch Card Sharks again, and I’d definitely watch Card Sharks over The Wall, or Game of Games, or Mental Samurai, or any other network’s game show offerings this summer. And make no mistake, you nerds: this is better than the 2001 Card Sharks, so you can finally stop filling Pat Bullard’s twitter filter with disparaging remarks about his show. But if the choice was Card Sharks or something on my DVR, I’d probably catch up on those episodes of Good Girls I haven’t watched yet.