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One reason the new Match Game, which premiered on Sunday, was so much fun was that it remained essentially true to the original. Host Alec Baldwin sauntered onto the set with a pencil-thin microphone, a visual homage to the one that Match’s founding host, Gene Rayburn, wielded like a small scepter. The ABC reboot featured a set that was strongly reminiscent of Match Game’s best-remembered, 1970s era. The music was that funk-throwback stuff, heavy on the wah-wah pedal. The celebrity players — Rosie O’Donnell, Debra Messing, Tituss Burgess, Sutton Foster, J.B. Smoove, and Michael Ian Black — were up to the challenge of giving answers that were both helpful to the contestants and, in the tradition of Match Game, mildly smutty. (And in the tradition of the new version of game shows such as Steve Harvey’s Family Feud, sometimes borderline-obscene.)
Baldwin hosted with debonair aplomb while remaining open to extending the show’s racy roots. When a contestant named Alissa fell to her knees in front of Baldwin after a successful answer, he made what could only be construed as an oral-sex joke — telling her, “Wait till you win first. Then you can give Daddy his prize” — as Alissa and most of the celeb panel made “Oh, he did not say that!” mock-shock faces.
The tee-hee, aren’t-we-naughty questions involved celebs having to fill in the blank in a sentence such as “We found BLANK in Uranus.” There was another about Mick Jagger writing “a Viagra jingle: ‘I can’t get no BLANK.’” When the civilian contestant trying to win the prize money, a man named Charles, guessed the metrically precise “small erection,” Baldwin said admiringly, “Irving Berlin over here!” — surely the first time the great pop-song composer’s name has been uttered in prime time since the 1950s.
But there was also one question designed to irritate a chunk of the country whose blood boils at the mere sight of former View host O’Donnell: Donald Trump has invented “a new Olympic event he thinks he can win. It’s a contest to see who can BLANK the most times in 60 seconds.” As the celebrities wrote down their answers, O’Donnell said, “You know my feelings on that orange slug!” She added needlessly, “Bad man!” Charles guessed “lie” as the fill-in-the-blank, and every time a celeb turned over a card with “lie” on it, there were cheers from the audience.
So we were presented with a vision of a happy, big-network, prime-time audience gleefully willing to call Trump a liar as though it were just another commonplace, not the castigation of a candidate with a very good chance of winning the biggest game show in America: the White House. Here was a sour joke worthy of another show that aired Sunday night: Veep.
Match Game airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on ABC.