The initial teaser for NBC’s Password didn’t do this revival any favors, being edited to make a game about the silent, deliberate exchange of clues and guesswork that feels hyped, wacky, and full of Jimmy Fallon antics.
But now that I’ve shown several episodes of the eight-episode summer revival (which starts tonight at 10:9pm, followed by a Wednesday at 9am), I can report that – with more than a little surprise to give me to the new password is… not bad? And sometimes even a lot of fun.
No, I’m still not a fan of the set, which has none of the snugness from the (Deep Cut Alert!) Allen Ludden hosting era, but instead seems dictated by the law that every primetime game show since 1999 has had to evoke who will Millionaire. (Is ABC the only network that knows how to lovingly mimic classic game show sets?) And for some reason, the voiceover whispering the password to us at home has settled on a delivery best described as ” Hmm, kind of creepy.”
But the gameplay is faithful to what we’re all familiar with (aside from a flourish or two), and the proceedings are overseen by a pretty perfect host. Keke Palmer is clearly well versed in the rules/results and keeps the game going, but most importantly she is simply “Keke Palmer hosting the password”. She’s not here to garner attention (as fabulous as her glasses rotation is) or snoop around for a catchphrase, though she occasionally eludes a pointed observation or reaction — like when Heidi Klum uses “urination” to refer to… well, you’ll see.
The familiar format is as follows: Fallon (who occasionally revived Password on The Tonight Show) serves as a celebrity player each night alongside Jon Hamm (in the premiere), the aforementioned Klum (Night 2), Yvette Nicole Brown, Tony Hale, Chelsea Handler, Joel McHale, Chrissy Metz, Martin Short, JB Smoove and Meghan Trainor. The celebs proudly introduce their civil partners, secret passwords are shared, and teams take turns offering one-word clues, hopefully leading to a correct guess.
After a round, the celebs switch sides and the first contestant to win two out of three advances to a bonus round. There, the contestant gives both celebrities clues to hopefully get 10 out of 10 passwords within 60 seconds and win a grand prize of $25,000. But even if they fall short, there’s a “redemption round” with a password that can double their winnings for the night.
As much as the trailer plays up Fallon’s “energy” (namely, a clap-along he initiates in an early episode before letting off his correct guess), it puts it on par with the other celebrity guests. Also, the banter Fallon enjoys with each celebrity, presumably stemming from existing friendships/visits to The Tonight Show, serves the show well, especially when it leads to playful taunts. Jon Hamm, for example, is a great choice to move things along as he’s incredibly friendly, funny, and unafraid to make a funny face while repeatedly saying the “Bonessss” clue. Klum, meanwhile, jokes about the fact that English isn’t her first language, but her accent seems to derail her delivery of at least one clue (when “Victoria’s” is misheard as “victorious”). Oh, and she seems to think Jimmy Buffett is singing a song called “Tequilaville.” That, the aforementioned “urinate” cue, and a little dance Klum does during the fast-paced bonus rounds add up to some charming moments.
After all, primetime game shows these days tend to openly “cast” the civilian gamers — meaning they expose us to an oversized personality who seems to be auditioning for a bad sitcom, rather than casting John Q. Public. Luckily that wasn’t the case (pretty much) in the episodes I’ve watched. And while one contestant didn’t initially seem like the best candidate for this show, the switch in celebrity partners resulted in an immediate turnaround in her fortunes.
TVLINE’S CONCLUSION: “That password is… fine.”