This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't premiere until a few days after publication time; we got screeners.
Can You Beat The Rap With Hip Hop Squares?
Or is this classic-game-show reboot too offbeat? ...Man, these puns are terrible. Sarah D. Bunting isn't that sorry, though.
What is this thing?
Hollywood Squares, as produced by Ice Cube.
When is it on?
"Usually"? ...Hee. HHS debuts Monday, March 13 at 10 PM, and VH1's devoted an entire "Hip Hop Squares Week" to hammering the basic-cable consumer's consciousness with the new property -- but the week after that, it'll settle into its regular timeslot at 10 PM Mondays.
TV generally seems to have had good luck reimagining classic game-show franchises -- To Tell The Truth, Match Game, Pyramid -- and VH1's also starting to get on a roll with reboots (ANTM). It feels like Squares rises like a noisy, tipsy phoenix from the ashes of its previous incarnation once every 5-7 years, so why not now.
What's its pedigree?
The venerable Ice Cube is producing, alongside Jesse Collins Entertainment (mostly awards shows, but as those involve casts of hundreds and so does HHS, that's a handy production partner) and The Firm (Salem and Royal Pains...sort of? while dba Prospect Park?).
And that's just behind the camera. In front of it, DeRay Davis is hosting; Tyson Beckford is a player (as it were) on the first episode, with Don "ANTM" Benjamin; and squares include Eva Marcille, Faizon Love, Kelis, Tip, Tiffany Haddish, and Bobby Brown as your venerable center square. AND you've got The XO Squad dancers, AND DJ Biz Markie, AND this is just the premiere. Upcoming guests include the Lacheys, T-Pain, Mike Epps, Vivica A. Fox, and the guy for whom I unmuted an SVU rerun commercial to watch the HHS promo: Michael Ealy.
As maddening as it is to me that Hip Hop Squares does not have a hyphen in the title because I am that guy, it has everything else that made Hollywood Squares so much fun, most importantly the sense for the viewer that she's gotten invited to, or at least is eavesdropping on, a bunch of famous people hanging out and getting silly -- possibly because the production has lubricated them expertly. Exactly how many beverages is Kelis working from here?
The premiere has a running gag about the lack of sammiches on set, culminating in Faizon Love objecting to the vegetable platter he's offered by Frisbee-ing cucumber slices onto the dance floor, and the lack of booze-absorbing carbs is probably not a coincidence...
...but whether it's cocktails, adrenaline, the literal dozens of people (few of them retiring personalities) in the space, or a combination, HHS strikes the right balance of clowning around and gameplay. Which is to say there's much more of the former, and not all of the bits work,
but overall, it put me in mind not just of the original HS but of Remote Control, which aired on VH1's sister network and had the same raffish energy. I loved that show, but if I'm being honest, it could have used more swears, a note HHS takes with alacrity. And it's funniest in the little moments, like Kelis quietly grumbling amidst some unrelated chaos that the show has defined "tramp stamp" incorrectly, or Tip chillaxing in the LeBron-esque throne he obviously has in his square.
It's a visual style feast as well. Eva's mani alone.
As with the original, if you came for the gameplay, this is not the show for you. There's also some casual misogyny that I found cringey, and while I hope that kind of shit gets called out better in future, I'm not counting on it.
When it's firing on all cylinders, it's a great time.