In a time when the average American spends nearly as many hours on a computer as watching TV (if not more), it may be time to consider adding the PC into the definition of the idiot box. Luckily, TV networks have already thought of that, making more and more of their shows available for viewing online with limited commercial interruption [See last week's Idiot Box, "Hyper-Speed Syndication"]. But they don't just want you to watch “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and “30 Rock” and be done with it; they want you to spend all of your Web time on their site. Really. They even craft clever little webgames to keep your browser tuned in. I give you TV-on-the-webgames:
New season begins Friday, July 18, on USA
An obsessive-compulsive former police detective is the perfect protagonist for a webgame. The character-driven reason to fiddle with things multiple times gives ample fodder for a rapid-fire game of tiny tasks to complete, with Monk's dwindling patience as a timer. The premise is to complete minor, everyday chores three times, each with a growing level of difficulty. Hanging out in Monk's mind for a few minutes is fun—straightening forks, labeling food, avoiding handshakes, investigating crime scenes—but it also gives a taste of how excruciating it would be to actually obsess over these things every moment of every day, not just for a few minutes of Web-enabled goofing off. Even so, Monk's Mind Game provides the most logical, story-based reason for a series of mini-games I've encountered to date.
Viewable on Fox.com
Here's one designed for lovers of Web classics Diner Dash and Cake Mania with added appeal for those who can't get enough of Chef Gordon Ramsay. But the game's not perfect. The graphics are impressive, all the way down to Chef Ramsay's five o'clock shadow, and a mouthwatering recipe from the chef himself is offered up as incentive to complete each level. But one key ingredient is missing, a mistake that just doesn't fly in Hell's Kitchen: Chef Ramsay's onslaught of motivational insults. No matter how many times I burned the food (admittedly on purpose to set his temper flaring), the worst insult he ever uttered was calling me an ass. Even when he shut down the kitchen, digital Ramsay kept relatively cool, denying me the satisfaction of living a real "Hell's Kitchen" experience. Even so, I'd play it till the end if the full version didn't cost $19.99. Still, it may be worth it for the recipes—or maybe it's bollocks.
Mondays at 6 p.m. on NBC
Who needs to train for hours a day, striving for the peak physical condition necessary to take on an American Gladiator, when it can be done from a computer seat? NBC must have spent beaucoup bucks (i.e. unpaid interns probably did most of the work) on this series of three webgames tied into the revived “American Gladiators,” but they are effective. Race across a treacherous bridge, play king of the mountain and climb an impossible rock wall, all while being pummeled by a latex-covered warrior of the new millennium. You'll be so glad pixelated Joe is taking all the hits, you'll put him through it again and again and again ...