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TELEVISION REVIEW

The truth hurts, but it pays well

January 25, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

I have never understood the game "Truth or Dare" -- it seems like a lose-lose situation to me. Either you submit to the embarrassment of saying something you would rather not or of doing something you would rather not. I don't know why anyone would consent to be a part of that.

I do, however, see the appeal of watching other people play.

"The Moment of Truth," a new game show that premiered Wednesday night on Fox, takes the "dare" out of the equation and replaces it with cash, as much as $500,000. (An announcer introduced it as "the show everyone in America has been talking about for three months" -- I think that is a bit of a fib.)

Based on a Colombian program already franchised to a couple of dozen countries, it is a kind of win-lose/lose-win situation -- you earn money by answering a series of increasingly embarrassing questions, even as you risk losing the love of your spouse and the trust of your friends and the support of your relations. (Three of them are conveniently seated onstage with you, for added pressure, drama and laughs.) By opting out, or by lying to save face or spare feelings, you may preserve your dignity and your relationships, but you sacrifice the dough. Now doesn't that sound like fun?

As usual in modern game shows, "Truth" has been inflated to the size of the Graf Zeppelin. The set is like some giant futuristic courtroom, with faceless juries climbing up the back wall. The music is ceaseless, or near enough, and the pacing is deadly: The show would be more aptly titled "The Really Drawn-Out Moment of Truth." And as the 21 questions each contestant will potentially be asked (by host Mark L. Walberg) are taken from 50 already answered before the show -- while hooked up to a polygraph -- the interminably long pause "to think" before every response is clearly . . . a lie. (The sexy-girl computer voice that reveals whether the response is true or false also takes its time.) If you were to cut the dead air, the hour would last 10 minutes.

Production values aside, there is a certain fascination in watching people so recklessly expose their inner, darker selves to the TV lights. The questions are not general but devilishly tailored to each. (Some research has obviously been done, some investigation of the subject's weaknesses.) The first contestant, a football player turned personal trainer, admitted that he admires himself in the mirror, considers himself the best-looking of his friends, has checked out teammates in the shower, has done something that would cause his wife not to trust him, has delayed having children because he isn't completely sure they'll stay married -- I would think he's somewhat less sure after this show -- and that he'd want her to get liposuction if her stomach got flabby. ("I thought he would say no," she said.)

He went out on a question as to whether, as a personal trainer, he had ever touched a female client more than was necessary. He said he hadn't. Blaaap!

He was followed by a Hollywood Park employee who admitted to looking through co-workers' desks and to having a gambling addiction. As soon as he came on, I wondered, "When are you going to ask him about the hairpiece?" It was question four.

A completely shameless person would do really well in this. Or a completely blameless person. (But they'd never pass the audition.) For anyone in between, I'd advise walking away at the relatively mild $10,000 level of humiliation, at which you might merely be revealed as vain and untrustworthy but not a complete failure as a human being -- which seems the inevitable fate of anyone who manages to get to question 21. If "The Moment of Truth" is anything to go by, if you want to keep your life intact, a little dishonesty is the best policy.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'The Moment of Truth'

Where: Fox

When: 9-10 p.m. Wednesdays

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