Culture > Television

Stupid test

Television | Are You Smarter's symbols resonate, but the show does not

Issue: "Is Romney rolling?," May 19, 2007

Dumb is the new smart. Or maybe it's always been that way. To be sure, a whole swath of America prides itself on how little it knows.

Maybe that's the reason we have a game show called Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (Fox, Thursday 8 p.m. ET). What the title question really wants to know is: How dumb are you?

The show pits one adult against a small class of fifth-graders who haven't yet been disfigured by pubescence. The adult works his way through typical subjects-spelling, math, etc.-and he's allowed to cheat off his younger colleagues by copying or peeking at one of their answers. As the adult progresses through "school," as it were, he earns higher dollar amounts, with $1 million waiting on his sheepskin at the end of the game.

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It's hard to tell if host Jeff Foxworthy would rather be somewhere else or actually enjoys this. The show's best lines are his, when he makes jokes at a contestant's expense. He was the logical choice to host the new show: Of all the comedians who've been marketed at Americans who consider ignorance a constitutional right, he's the one who looks best in a blazer.

The show's concept rather brilliantly employs highly charged symbols (the test, the grade) and symbolic language ("cheat," "dropping out") that resonate with just about everybody. But resonating symbols alone do not a game show make. The questions here are just too easy and the contestants are just too simple, despite the fact that they are actual adults with actual jobs as things like actual mortgage brokers.

Of course, stupid can be funny-if it's done right. This game show just doesn't go far enough. Instead of adults with middling intelligence, the producers should go after the biggest, most unself-conscious idiots they can find. You know, the kind of people who can take real American pride in their ignorance. Then, partner the idiots with child geniuses. Call it I'm with Stupid. Now that's a show I could watch.

Harrison Scott Key
Harrison Scott Key


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