People in the entertainment industry prefer the term “reboot” as opposed to “remake.” That makes it sound like they’re doing something new and clever, when they really aren’t. Much as I was entertained, for example, by last week’s dusted off and relaunched nighttime soap “Dallas,” it’s basically the same old “Dallas,” but with cell phones. So, when MTV (MTV2, to be specific) said it was reviving the popular ’70s-era game show “The Hollywood Squares,” there wasn’t a whole lot of reason for rejoicing. However, by remixing the whole thing as “Hip Hop Squares,” producers have created something fresh, clever and rather cheeky.
The game play hasn’t been altered much. Two contestants go head-to-head in a game of tic-tac-toe. Each square on the board is occupied by a celebrity. In this case, the majority are culled from the hip-hop industry. Fat Joe, Common, Nick Cannon, DJ Khaled, Tech N9ne, Ghostface Killah: These are just a few of the rap industry celebs who take up real estate next to comedians (Ralphie May) and the occasional reality show star (Vinny Guadagnino). Celebrities are presented with a question by host Peter Rosenberg (who looks every bit like the Hot 97 radio personality he is, but whose vocal inflections eerily mirror those of original host Peter Marshall). A jokey answer is given, and players can either agree or disagree with the celeb. Get it right and “circle gets the square.” Get it wrong, and your opponent has the opportunity to sweep in and steal the space.
As in the old days, the questions are laced with innuendo, but they’ve been content-updated for the new school crowd. (Sample question: “In his biography, Flavor Flav says he lost this at age 6?” Correct answer: “His virginity.”) Of course, as before, the show’s writers give the stars plenty of silly, pun-filled answers to spit out. (A discussion about the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk” in weightlifting leads exactly where you’d expect.) But everybody looks like they’re having a lot of fun. These days most rap stars have to live up to their tough stage personalities. I doubt you’d see 50 Cent kicking it on “Hip Hop Squares,” but it’s great to see everybody else just joking around with one another. Camaraderie is one of the things that made ’70s game shows like “Hollywood Squares” and “The Match Game” such big hits, and it’s a real treat to see it form so quickly here.
The show’s premiere set a network ratings record (highest-rated and most-watched series launch in the 12-to-34 demographic). Rightfully so. I’m actually surprised it’s relegated to little old MTV2 alongside “Lingerie Football League.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Viacom bumps it over to the flagship for a few airings. It would probably be a hit. And at the very least, it would go along way toward proving my contention that Bam Margera is this generation’s Paul Lynde.