British game show The Cube is far from square
by Danny Gallagher, posted Sep 15th 2009 11:02AM
Normally I wouldn't do a post about a show that's hard for us Yanks to see, but this game show addition to the Brit's ITV Network merits special attention because it shows just how far ahead of the curve they are when it comes to kicking our asses on television.
The Cube sounds like an ordinary, run-of-the-mill challenge game show, designed to humiliate people on national television by making them look stupid for not being able to complete menial tasks for cash and/or prizes. That's because on the surface, it looks like every single game show you've ever seen since executives realized that crushing the human spirit on live television would score them lets of cash and/or prizes.
But when you watch an entire episode, its stylish look and dark feeling matched with the complexity of the game's concept make for an hour of television that sucks you in and never lets you go for a second. Compare that to just about every recent American game show that pushes you away and makes you run as far as you can from your TV set.
The concept is pre-K simple. The contestant might complete a series of simple tasks like flicking a ball into a bucket of water or counting a number of squares in a certain amount of time in order to move up a money ladder, all of which take place in a glass cube that is surrounded by video game graphics and tested by an anonymous reflex expert known simply as The Body. Think of it as Beat the Clock meets The Lawnmower Man.
The simple tasks, however, are anything but. Time is extremely short and every time a contestant fails a task, they lose a life. If they go through nine lives, they leave with nothing but they can leave the game at any time as long as they complete a task after they start it. The whole game is monitored by a Saw-like ominous voice, presumably the Cube, who taunts the contestants into completing what seem to be a relatively easy game but remains serious and almost mechanical when they fail them. The Cube becomes its own character, giving you a villain that you can really hate. It's basically Master Control from Tron with a Douchebag 2.0 upgrade.
Such a show sounds like it would drag on into eternity and the pacing is a little slow, but the show counters this by including some camera techniques that are relatively new to game show producing and even most of television, as well. Contestants' successes and failures are slowed down to a crawl in "bullet time" as the camera zooms around to different angles to capture the action in frame by crawling frame. It's like The Matrix, only watchable.
The most interesting part are the reactions you have to their successes and failure. Unlike most reality or modern game shows, The Cube works best when contestants are successful at their tasks. Since The Cube is transformed into such a hateful villain like Deal or No Deal's Banker or Press Your Luck's Whammies, you root for the contestants when they win and feel a little bad when they lose. And if you're the kind of guy who likes watching people sell their soul for your entertainment, it works the other way just as well.
If this show gets a remake for America -- and my gut tells me the chances are better than average -- here's a word of advice. Don't change anything. Don't even try to remake it. Just give us the same exact show. And if you have to meddle with it, make the Body's hooters a little bigger. I don't know much about making a good television show, but I know what our audiences like.