National Bingo Night

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9 p.m., Friday, May 18
ABC


For the first time ever, I open a review with what would normally be the closing line: "... and 'Lame-o' was its name-o." This should give you a bit of insight into the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it zeitgeist of a primetime geekfest that feels far less like a game show than it does a Christopher Guest spoof of one.

"National Bingo Night" achieves the near-unprecedented feat of jumping the shark during its opening minute, a high-tech, "Rollerball"-esque, Orwellian nightmare melange of giant numbered and colored balls rolling down metal tracks, hyperactive camera movement and frenzied studio audience members caught in the throes of quasi-seizure. Yes, it's supposed to be about bingo, though perhaps as conceived by David Lynch. This hourlong ABC spring/summer series actively embodies every doltish convention of the genre, from the overly excited contestants to the over-the-top pep rally atmosphere to the oversized visuals to the overheated host (Aussie Ed Sanders) who SCREAMS EVERYTHING AT THE VERY TOP OF HIS LUNGS BECAUSE IGNORING HIM IS NOT AN OPTION, MATE!

The format -- more than a bit confusing initially -- finds a single contestant in each of three separate games working to reach 500 points from the giant balls that shimmy wildly inside a hulking, air-blowing sphere and are retrieved by the requisite silent supermodel type. Studio audience members compete against him or her via their own bingo cards, and if someone gets bingo before the player achieves the number, that poor sap is sent home with zip rather than $50,000.

There's also an at-home playing element for those tuned in, with its own cash prize and other goodies. But if you can endure "National Bingo Night," trust me, you've earned every penny of that 50K. Here, after all, is a show (an ABC news release calls it an "alternative series," which perhaps means an alternative to a series) that proves such an assault on the senses you'd swear it was designed to mirror shock-and-awe warfare. What did we ever do to ABC to deserve this?

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