TV Critic’s Corner

Are emoji for dummies, or filled with nuance? That tension is at heart of new game show

Hunter March hosts “Emogenius” on GSN.
Hunter March hosts “Emogenius” on GSN.

There’s really no emoji that precisely captures the cultural moment emoji are having right now. (Unicode, consider this my formal request for a dumpster fire icon in the next update.)

Despite the surge in popularity of this adorable system of technoglyphics, and despite millions of emoji steering meaning and sentiment across social media every day (“face with tears of joy” was the most popular emoji on Monday — wonder why?), emoji are still regarded by many as the decisive blow to language as we know it — the rock bottom of dumbing down. (It’s hard not to cite “The Emoji Movie” — currently rocking a 7 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes — as ancillary evidence in this case.)

Meanwhile, to millions of others, emoji is nothing short of its own language, capable of as much subtlety, nuance, and sure, confusion as any olde-fashioned spoken tongue of yore.


This tension roils at the center of “Emogenius,” an emoji-based game show on GSN hosted by AwesomenessTV icon Hunter March. (New episodes air at 9 and 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.) Pairs of contestants are shown a text message in progress, starting with a written prompt (“What was your favorite show as a kid?”) followed by a response in emoji that must then be decoded ([Open Book] + [Rainbow]). Get it?

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Like emoji, it all seems pretty straightforward, but as the title of the show suggests, this “dumbed down” lexicon requires a certain degree of genius to achieve any sort of prize-winning proficiency; and the entertainment value of “Emogenius” comes from the fact that scarcely anyone seems up to the task.

Thus “Little Miss Sunshine” gets misread as “pinch girl sun”; “Jon Snow” gets greeted as “toilet flake”; “brownies” get taken for “chocolate legs”; and everyone involved gets to experience for a few seconds how Siri feels all day long.

“Emogenius” may feel like the ultimate advertisement for emoji, but the most satisfying part is watching self-proclaimed enthusiasts of the form stumble through their symbols once the difficulty is ever-so-slightly notched up. For the cranky fogeys among us railing against the degradation of English, watching so much get lost in translation feels like a win.

Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.