Let's Bowl: First Impressions
I caught the Comedy Central premiere of Let's Bowl on August 19, 2001. Here are my thoughts about it.
On the premiere episode, the two co-hosts take some time to talk about themselves and the various other people on the set. Wally, one of the co-hosts, is trying to do a stereotypical overzealous sports announcer imitation, but sounds like the bastard love child of Howard Cosell and Katharine Hepburn. Chopper, the other host, actually sounds like a bona fide announcer and makes a good straight man to Wally's silliness.
The two contestants are introduced by name, city of origin, and religion. Yes, you heard me, religion. One of the contestants is a Lutheran, and the other is a Protestant on the first episode. Only one other reference to religion is made, in a bad movie reference: "Where's your God now!" is shouted after a bad roll is made. While not outright offensive, this does break one of show business's taboos. I only wonder what will happen when (if?) a Jew, Muslim, atheist, or some other "non-mainstream" religious person appears on the show.
Bowling is not a fun spectator sport, and the show actually skips over several frames in an effort to cram all of the action into half an hour. This is fine, since the gameplay is poor even if you like to watch bowling. The first game ended in a score of 119-116, whereas in professional bowling a score of less than 200 is laughable. The distraction option is quite amusing, though: once per game, each contestant can sneak up behind their opponent and blast an air horn to throw him/her off. When this was done on the premiere, one contestant actually fell down and tossed the ball straight into the gutter to the laughter from the crowd.
If you have ever played Rock and Bowl at your local lanes, you know that they like to throw colored pins into the mix. If you get a fancy pin as the kingpin and bowl a strike, you win a prize. At my local alley, this prize is a free game and the adoration of your peers. However, Let's Bowl! gave away a quarter-cow from a local butcher, a $300+ value, to the contestant who bowled a strike with a polka pin at the front. This added at least a little extra drama to the situation.
Like any good game show, Let's Bowl! features a bonus game at the end for the winner. In addition to being declared the non-legally binding winner of the dispute, he/she gets the chance to match or beat a league bowler's score in one roll. The league bowler choked in episode one, leading to an easy win. The prize: a snowmobile and a trailer for it, valued at over $3,000. Nice.
The commentators obviously know very little about bowling, so they try to make up funny commentary as they go. This gets very irritating after you have heard "He knocked 'em all down!" for the fifth time. They sometimes like to make exaggerated references to indicate that they take the sport too seriously, but the commentators don't even take themselves seriously enough for this to work. Chopper spent some time playing with the little spare and strike flags at his desk on the first episode.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality about the commentary is the little "Inside Bowling" vignettes they do. The first episode featured "What To Do With Old Bowling Balls," with a lot of funny slapstick humor.
The show started out as a local production, and this is quite evident at least from the first episode. No references to Comedy Central are made in the dialogue, and frequent references are made to Minnesota culture. For example, the winner gets a free trip to Duluth, and the prizes all come from local merchants. Most non-Minnesotans, including yours truly, will scratch their heads during these in-jokes.
"Finally, a reason to watch bowling." Well, not quite. The game is still boring, and the whole phony-courtroom-show-spoof is ignored except at the very beginning and very end of the show. There shouldn't even need to be a premise behind getting two people to bowl against each other for valuable prizes, although a personal rivalry makes the distraction option much more satisfying.
Comedy Central Sports missed with Let's Bowl! in my opinion. This show falls flat from the first promo, and will probably be laid to rest until the next crop of sitcom reruns washes ashore.