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TV Series Review

Quiz shows aren’t just for Jeopardy junkies and Wheel of Fortune fanatics anymore. British import Weakest Link has become a big enough hit in the U.S. to earn two weekly slots on NBC and one on Pax despite its tedious sound effects, kitschy decor and abrasive host.

Like most quiz shows, Weakest Link avoids TV’s usual content snags. Sexual depictions and innuendo aren’t a problem. Contestants don’t smoke or drink. Host Anne Robinson isn’t profane. Physical aggression hasn’t invaded her disco-meets-Who Wants to Be a Millionaire soundstage. Indeed, Louisville Slugger may show up as a trivia answer, but it has yet to appear as a tool of destruction.

Ms. Robinson, however, never fails to avail herself of an opportunity to bludgeon players with words. She has become famous for her brusque demeanor. Her catchphrase "You are the weakest link—goodbye!" represents the show’s overall approach: focus on the loser. In long-running games such as The Price Is Right, or even the newer-fangled Millionaire, cameras zoom in on the winner’s exuberance. On Weakest Link, it’s the loser who gets the face time.

Walking the "walk of shame," ejected players glower, grimace or sniffle their way off the set, only to castigate their competitors in exit interviews. Some are belligerent. "If it wasn’t just a big popularity contest I would have wiped the floor with them." Some are petty. "I’m so mad at Helen. She voted me off unfairly. She’s jealous of me. I’m cuter than her, I’m funnier than her and she knows it." Some are vindictive. "I thought they were nice ladies before the show, but I don’t think that way anymore." All are encouraged to be poor sports.

Meanwhile, Robinson continues to dole out dry, uninspired put-downs. "Who of you is of as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike?" "Who is the least likely candidate for human cloning?" "Is there a village that needs its idiot back?" Stilted and scripted, her riffs quickly devolve into absurdity.

Game shows are fun. Trivia can be educational. But sore losers are always a drag. Regis Philbin’s schmaltzy "arm-around" shtick beats grousing malcontents any night of the week. Maybe Simon & Garfunkel said it best: Ms. Robinson, "Any way you look at it you lose." Your show is the weakest link.

Episodes Reviewed: April 16, 17, 18, 23, 30, May 10, 14, 2001

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