Celebrity Hungry Hungry Hippos: A Review

This was originally posted on an SNL message board: I had originally written this as a potential sketch but got bored when actually coming up with dialogue.  I actually think this works better in a review form.  

Just in case there's any confusion, this is not a real show.  This does not have the endorsement of any of the actors depicted herein nor that of the FOX television network.  Furthermore, I don't think they would allow the suggestion at the end to be published.

The reality TV phenomenon has rightly been blasted for lowering the bar of what is considered entertainment, and it was only a matter of time before it reached yet another nadir. Such new depths were plunged Wednesday night with the premiere of what appeared to be the result of letting a mentally incompetent 6-year-old choose the next cheap unscripted show, FOX’s monstrosity Celebrity Hungry Hungry Hippos.


I’ll admit there was a glimmer of hope that this would not be as painful as what the networks have been subjecting us to lately; unlike many other pointless celebrity competitions, this show’s pool of celebrities are not the same overexposed has-beens who populate every other reality show. In fact, much of the reality genre’s target audience would have a hard time placing the four contestants from the premiere episode, most of them long retired from acting: Jan Smithers (Bailey Quarters, WKRP), Sagan Lewis (Dr. Jacqueline Wade, St. Elsewhere), Frank Cady (Sam Drucker, Green Acres), and the then-young man with the blonde hair who was a frequent extra in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, whose name the producers of CHHH didn’t even bother to give. Although it was welcome to see some long absent faces again, I have a feeling this celebrity lineup was chosen due to a combination of an inability to draw bigger names, called favours, blackmail, bribery, and even kidnapping.


Only the 93-year-old Cady seemed like he genuinely wanted to play, as when introducing himself he remarked that even though he’s worked with Alfred Hitchcock and has costarred in a beloved TV show, his real life’s ambition was to “whoop some behind at Hungry Hungry Hippos”. It was less clear why Smithers and Lewis were playing. Lewis appeared confused and disoriented throughout, at various points denying her resemblance to one of the characters on House and stating that it was her understanding that the contestants would be playing with real hippos. Smithers was for the most part diplomatic, although several times in the show it was apparent she was not too happy with appearing on the show. This became apparent after the host made some insensitive comments regarding her being “the one that wasn’t Loni Anderson” on her old show, and ignorantly asking about her “brother” Waylon. The extra, apparently appearing under duress, made several unsuccessful escape attempts throughout the game.


It would have helped if they found a charming and affable host. Unfortunately, the best the producers could come up with was Dave Coulier. Smithers was the most visibly annoyed at the former “Full House” co-star, at one point threatening him “Watch it, Stamos.” In what had to be the most uncomfortable moment in an entire show of them, Coulier admitted that he wished he was John Stamos, followed by almost 30 seconds of silent staring between all parties. Making matters worse, Coulier evidently had not been briefed on the rules of the game and after the fifth fallacy regarding gameplay, had to be screamed at by an off-camera voice.


There were myriad other problems with the production. The show was apparently shot with a nonexistent budget on either a poorly lit set or an unfurnished basement (investigations into the matter were inconclusive), with the actual board game resting on a card table with its short leg propped up by a book. In the most egregious example of a lack of planning on their part, the network did not bother to ensure that the game had all the marbles. As the contestants were notified of the situation, Cady tried to keep order but Smithers wasted no time in socking Lewis in the jaw, and the extra tried to use the distraction to make a break for it. Whether or not this incident was staged to create conflict is up for debate, but I doubt the producers would have had the talent to properly stage something.


All the ineptitude of the production aside, the gameplay itself was rather dull due to the obvious nature of the strategy, eating the most marbles. If not for the revelation that Cady was cheating at the game (at one point hiding his opponents marbles in his mouth), and Lewis continually consoling her plastic hippo (dubbed “Freckles”) it would have been an otherwise uneventful game; clearly not something with a lot of inherent drama. However, the show continued to invent new levels of awfulness, particularly in the awarding of the game prizes: the main prize (ostensibly to be donated to charity) was a gift certificate for McDonald's, while the runner up received the book propping the game table’s leg up; adding insult to injury, this book was Coulier’s unpublished memoir Cut It Out. By this point in the game, Coulier had used his catchphrase so many times Smithers threatened to cut him if he didn’t stop saying it. Even after the threat, Coulier could not resist.

At this point the show descended into chaos: Smithers hit Coulier with the book while Lewis grabbed the hippo from the board and attacked him, screaming “Get ‘im Freckles!” The extra managed to escape, and in the midst of what was happening around him, Cady began shoveling marbles into his pockets. At this point the videotape mercifully cuts out.

Surprisingly, considering the issues regarding the hippo and the table leg, several other episodes have been taped, although I don’t know what FOX would be trying to prove by airing them besides its utter contempt for people with any of the five senses.

If anyone is given the choice of watching this show or shoving their face into a moving propeller, I would suggest they think hard for a minute, then run face first into the blades. It’s a sacrifice I believe the sane would make, as they wouldn't have the lingering memory of having watched this show.