Of all the vintage game shows that ABC is pulling out from the back of the closet (“To Tell the Truth,” “Match Game,” and “The Gong Show” among them), I’m most happy to have “The $100,000 Pyramid” back in rotation. It airs Thursday at 9 p.m. as part of ABC’s weekly three-hour descent into competitive retro-camp, and I am so here for it.
Part of this, of course, is sheer nostalgia. As a child of the ’70s, the prevalent oranges, browns, maroons, and blues of Dick Clark’s classic set on the original “Pyramid” — which hopped networks and notched up through titular denominations from $10,000 to $50,000 — was something of a second home to me. Compared to other game shows of the time (which had you guessing at the price of pudding), the “Pyramid” was a white-knuckle cognitive thrill ride.
Every detail contributed to the show’s addictive tension: the invisible solutions hovering below the stumped contestants, the indifferent chirp of the countdown clock, Dick Clark’s fatherly disappointment should you blow it (say, if you can’t connect the dots between “Liz’s Husbands”), or conversely, the ecstatic celebration of the theme song should you prevail over that last tricky category (arguably the most effective use of tambourine in television history).
The restored “Pyramid” has its differences. The paycheck is bigger. The futurized set feels more like the hull of the Starship Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. There are slightly spicier categories in the main play round (e.g. “The ‘Midass’ Touch”). And permasmiling host Michael Strahan provides a more pumped-up presence in several senses. Oh, and the tambourine is gone, which, if you’re reading this ABC, is a huge mistake.
Thursday night’s Season 2 premiere will feature recent Kennedy Center honoree LL Cool J squaring (or . . . tetrahedroning?) off against “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones, so it’s likely to be a hoot. (Though I doubt Jones will steal Vicki Lawrence’s unofficial title as Sassiest Pyramid Celebrity.)
People like to point to “Jeopardy!” as the go-to game show for big brains, but “Pyramid” is no slouch. With its pre-Scattergories pressure to sort, compare, fill in gaps, and imagine what a Frisbee might say, “Pyramid” isn’t just the most satisfying show on TV to shout at, it’s an exercise in analytical thinking and activated empathy — two categories we could all stand to brush up on.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.