As with so many other revivals of classic game shows, the new Password on NBC is not jumping from 1961 with host Allen Ludden to 2022 and with new host Keke Palmer.
Password has gone through several iterations and several networks, changing quite signficantly even during the 1960s and 1970s.
In between then and now are several versions, from Super Password in the 1980s to Regis Philbin’s Million Dollar Password in the 2000s (played once by Phil Keoghan and Julie Chen!).
Most recently, Jimmy Fallon has turned Password (NBC, Tuesdays at 10) into a bit on his Late Show and The Tonight Show, and that’s basically what NBC is giving us with its new version: 43 minutes of Jimmy Fallon mugging for the camera.
Jimmy Fallon has put himself in every episode, even though he’s introduced as one of the “all-star guests.” (The other announced celebrity guests are Yvette Nicole Brown, Tony Hale, Jon Hamm, Chelsea Handler, Heidi Klum, Joel McHale, Chrissy Metz, Martin Short, J.B. Smoove, and Meghan Trainor.)
Every episode’s title includes his name: “Jon Hamm & Jimmy Fallon.” “Heidi Klum & Jimmy Fallon.” “Martin Short & Jimmy Fallon.” The set even has the same color palette as his Tonight Show set.
So this is Jimmy Fallon’s show. If you adore Jimmy Fallon, and cannot get enough of his humor, and also like Password, either the original or the bit, this show is for you.
If, like me, watching Jimmy Fallon for more than a few seconds makes you start to claw at your own flesh to stop the pain, this may not be the game show revival for you.
ABC figured out several years ago was that revivals worked best—at least creatively—when they honor the DNA of the original, in the production design and the game play.
This Password doesn’t really do that, even with its version of the 1960s theme song, because it looks like a game show in 2022, not an updated version of a 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s show, like ABC’s game shows.
The format is simple and familiar: Each celebrity pairs with a normie, and the celebrities take turns giving one-word clues to get their partner to say the password. The points they get for a correct answer diminish with each clue given. The clue giver/receiver switches with each new password.
The first team to 15 points wins the round. Then they switch partners and do it all over again. If a player wins both rounds, they go on to the bonus round; if each contestant wins one of the two rounds, they play a version of Super Password to break the tie.
In the bonus round, the player has one minute to give 10 clues: 30 seconds for each celebrity. They get $1,000 for each correct answer, and $25,000 if they get all 10.
If they fail to get 10, there’s a bonus bonus round: the player gives one clue and if the celebrities together can guess the password, they double whatever they earned in the bonus round. It’s a nice way to cap a less-successful game.
Like ABC’s Match Game, each hour has two episodes with the same celebrities but new contestants, who are game to play, and that’s all that’s really necessary.
Having an actual live studio audience to react authentically to the bad guesses and the exceptional ones is a considerable improvement over the shows that over the past few years have had to use digital avatars and/or lots of fake cheering and clapping.
This is the jokey, charades version of Password, where clues get delivered with physical affectations and movements that are sometimes more revealing than the word. Fallon gives a clue for “Rocky” by repeatedly doing a Stallone impression while saying “Adrian.”
I’m honestly unclear on the nuances of the rules, because “gestures” are allegedly prohibited, but happen constantly. Then again, they’re not always helpful. A contestant does the blank-clue head bob, and Heidi Klum says, “What was that face you were making?”
While all of that is allowed, “TV” is buzzed for being “initials” and thus not a word. Initials?! .
Meanwhile, the players allegedly have five seconds to guess, but are generally given much longer than that.
The production’s standards aside, as host, Keke Palmer is great at communicating all of these rules with ease, and also reacting to what’s happening without demanding all the attention.
Jimmy Fallon has to stand up and run around for almost every single victory and/or surprise. The stage direction seems to be “freak out at everything,” so when there’s a genuinely amazing clue/answer, the reaction is the same level.
Even if this is all just pure enthusiasm and excitement, it’s too much. In the second episode (I’ve seen two), when Heidi Klum’s partner mishears/misunderstands a clue, after he and his partner get the password, Fallon jumps up and launches into an explanation about what that other player did wrong.
The show could get give us a third game in an hour if he’d just sit down and shut up, which may be something I shouted at my Tele Vision while watching.
Also filling time are some brief between-rounds moments, which were fun, though also an opportunity for me to be even more annoyed, such as when Fallon tells a contestant born in the Philippines that “Filipino food is delicious.”
My obvious annoyance at Fallon’s antics aside, I think it’s a mistake to have him be in every episode. A few episodes, sure. But more variety equals better television. Instead of combos of celebrities, we just have Fallon + 1 in every episode.
Perhaps the producers were worried that some celebrities would just be terrible players (ahem, Heidi Klum) so they wanted to make sure at least one celeb knew how to play?
Password’s most-famous celebrity player is Betty White, and she continued her run by playing Password on Late Night.
Her game play and wit didn’t change much from the 1960s. She was focused and funny, and frustrated when she failed, but also locked in to the game.
This new version is premiering eight months after she died. “Betty, this is for you,” Jimmy Fallon says while deciding whether to play or pass on the word “gallop” while Jon Hamm mocks him for stalling.
The episodes are also dedicated to Betty, which is a nice touch. But perhaps the best way for Fallon to honor Betty White would have been to take a cue from the way she played the play.
Jimmy Fallon unfortunately makes himself the center of attention far too often in an otherwise decent—but not special—revival of the classic game show. C
What works for me:
- The use of the format
- Keke Palmer’s hosting
- The quick glimpses of celebrity/contestant interactions during breaks
What could be better:
- Far less Jimmy Fallon
- Clearer rules and fewer charades