Bet on Your Baby: TV Review
8 p.m. Saturday, April 13 (ABC)
Electus and 5x5 Media
ABC's new competition series is supposed to spotlight the kids, but it's the parents who, unfortunately, get most of the focus.
Neil Gaiman wrote, "I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time." The same is true for babies, and the unpredictability of young children is something that TV has been trading in for a long time, particularly the long-running CBS series Kids Say the Darndest Things. Now ABC has gotten in the game with Bet on Your Baby, a game show where one parent guesses how their toddler (placed in "The Babydome") might react to a challenge (stacking cookies, spinning in place, knocking down certain color blocks) coaxed by the other parent.
In some ways, it's a game that parents play every day: "If I do this or say that, can I get my kid to do or react the right way?" At stake here, though, is not a peaceful car ride or keeping grandmother's vase intact, it's $5,000 for a winning bet and potentially a $25,000 grand-prize college fund.
Host Melissa Peterman, from ABC Family's Baby Daddy, genuinely is good at forced chatter with the hyped-up parents and reassures viewers several times that the show is just about kids playing and having fun, not about confusing exploitation (place your bets …). For their part, the kids (who are, naturally, ridiculously cute) seem to genuinely want to please their parents during the tasks but often are confused by the parent's bumbling instructions, even though some do resort to bribery: "You can eat them afterwards! Build a tower as high as the ceiling! We can go get ice cream!"
It's common sense that if you aren't enchanted by little kids and gushing parents, the show is not for you. It has a schmaltzy America's Best Home Videos vibe, though give Peterman credit for playing off of the contestants well and having a few decent jokes. Peterman also interacts with some of the kids in show bumps before or after the ad breaks, attempting to get these kids to say some darned things, but mostly they keep mum.
Speaking of quiet toddlers, the show loses immense steam after it turns from the babies to the parents. The couple who wins the big challenge then moves on to compete for more cash by standing with a hammer in a semicircle of piggy-banks, getting five tries to "Smash for Cash" (if you get a large cash amount do you keep smashing? Or take what you have in case your last smash is a dud?).
That gamble isn't the problem, even though five smashes is far too many. The worse part is hearing the couples' interminable thought process about which pig to smash and why, whether they should stop, why they should keep going, what their kid would do, what makes the most sense for the family. On and on. These are important decisions, sure, but we tuned in to watch kids doing darned things, not to focus on the financial indecisions of strangers (then again, I was never a fan of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire for that reason, so maybe the cheese stands alone).
Electus and 5x5 Media, which co-produced the series, have offered up some decent competition shows in the past, such as TBS' surprisingly good King of the Nerds and, from Electus, Food Network's addictive Chopped. Bet on Your Baby is not up to par. But if you can get over the mild secondhand embarrassment of seeing parents weakly coaxing willful toddlers (a fairly big hurdle), and if you have no interest in using that app that replaces endless Facebook newsfeed pictures of your friends' babies with cats instead, then this show could be for you. Otherwise, I would place your Saturday night bets elsewhere.