Empty9-10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22
Well, if Corbin Bernsen can host a game show, then why the heck not Dennis Miller? The king of the obscure pop culture cross references and brainy stream-of-consciousness rants brings his talents to an arena that you'd think would be beneath him and wears it like a loose overcoat -- if not a well-fitting glove -- in this new NBC hourlong diversion.
"Amnesia" was hatched no doubt to bridge the scripted series gap during a writers strike that's now over. But anything from the production stable of unscripted guru Mark Burnett is a good bet, even a concept that's as wafer-thin as is this one. Billed as a "comedy quiz show," it will sink or swim on the shoulders of a comic genius whose bemused expression reveals a man who can't quite believe he's doing this. It isn't that the show is awful; it's simply that Miller, he of the smug cynicism, makes little effort to hide the fact he's here only for the paycheck.
The deal here finds a single contestant challenged to recall details (many of them obscure) from his or her past and/or present to win $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or up to $100,000 from a single question, depending upon the round. In the premiere, it happens that Will Fowler is spirited but remarkably bad at it. His memory is far sketchier than it really ought to be, even with his father, brother and wife lending assistance of sorts. The questions range from such stuff as "Which of your two kids was born on a Sunday?" to "What's your wife's correct ring size?" to "What was the number of the grade-school classroom where your now-retired father taught science?" Will misses as many as he gets, and the fun part is watching his wife's expression turn increasingly distressed as the incorrect answers mount.
Again, the fact that this format comes across as mostly uninspired in the premiere is perhaps less important than Miller's wisecracks, rejoinders and ad-libs. He has some fun with the reacts and situations but seems in truth barely interested enough even to expend the energy a good portion of the time. There are a couple of exceptions. About a soundproof booth into which our contestant must occasionally step, he says, "We got a deal on that thing because Houdini died in it." Eyeing a series of drunken photos of player Will and his wife, Miller notes, "It's like Tammy Wynette and George Jones' wedding album!"
So the Dennis Miller who oft inspires awe with his cerebrally stupefying digressions is still here, more or less. And let it also be said that he conveys a flippant sort of hipster rapport with the personable folks who populate the stage in the "Amnesia" opener, which turned to legitimate interest and even apprehension on his part when it looked as if the player might well walk away with zippo. Miller evoked an almost fatherly concern that warmly belied his usual self-satisfied, mocking distance.
But sensitivity isn't what Burnett hired this guy for. The real question is whether viewers will be comfortable accepting his occasionally ambiguous shtick in this venue. The result so far is as inconclusive as the first frame of the Zapruder film.
Mark Burnett Prods.
Executive producers: Mark Burnett, Adam Cohen, Cara Tapper, Joanna Vernetti
Co-executive producers: Jeff Krask, Jim Roush
Supervising producer: Evelyn Warfel
Senior producers: Jason Gabel, Paul Hardy
Producers: Derek Che, Nate Hayden, Stacey Margetts, Mary Morelli, Sascha Rothchild
Challenge producers: Rob Cohen, Mike DiMaggio
Director: Don Weiner
Supervising editor: Barry Murphy
Editor: Brad Ley
Production designer: Joe Stewart
Art director: Christopher Goumas
Lighting designer: Oscar Dominguez
Wardrobe supervisor: Gamalia Smith
Music: David Vanacore
Host: Dennis Miller