The Hustler had a “series preview” on Monday ahead of Thursday’s “season premiere” because American TV is mental. It’s a format devised by Richard Bacon of 19 Keys fame and once again Stephen Lambert is on hand to redefine the gameshow genre in exec producer role, this time it’s another Quiz Whodunnit where one person knows all the answers to the questions but must avoid detection whilst also adding money to the pot they could take home.
Let’s get this out of the way first – the production on it is superb – I love the Victorian library set, the vibe, the fonts, all that. I love that losing contestants get shoved out of secret doors (albeit in a comically rubbish manner). I think Craig Ferguson is absolutely terrific, the Crystal Maze host who never was.
Five people work together as a team to answer multiple choice questions that one of them definitely knows the answer to as they relate to their interests. There are ten questions, each one preceded by a fact about the Hustler, the first nine worth $10,000, the last one doubling or halving the pot. At various points during the game, The Hustler gets to secretly determine which two players get sent home. At the end the final three have a discussion, if the two contestants can unanimously agree on who The Hustler is, they split the pot between them. If not, the Hustler wins it all to themselves. The Hustler, then, is trying to lead the team into getting questions right to put money in the pot without giving away their position.
There’s a pretty immediate issue that comes across – everybody is encouraged to discuss and find The Hustler through the clues given, but The Hustler then gets to eliminate people without recourse, so you’re punished for Doing The Thing the game wants you to do to win. This doesn’t seem quite right – sitting in the background would be the best strategy but it’s not much fun. Because of the way the prize structure works there also doesn’t seem to be much in the way of incentive for The Hustler to do something gutsy except possibly the final question. Maybe if each question had an increasing value they’d be more inclined to stick their neck out, as it is, apart from a few times they asked “is $x,000 enough?” it’s easy to get too comfortable, and there are diminishing returns.
Did I at any point really care who The Hustler was? Not really. But there’s enough entertaining stuff going on that it’s not a washout by any means.
All Quiz Whodunnits in the past have worked on the premise that somebody’s got all the answers. But what if they actually did it like The Mole and the villain had to persuade the team to get answers wrong to earn themselves money? After all, the more successful ideas based on this sort of thing understands that everybody messes up from time to time, but who’s doing it deliberately?