Bruce Fretts
July 25, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT


TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Michael Levitt, Henry Winkler
Game shows

We gave it a B

Since Whoopi Goldberg’s exit last season, new show runners Henry Winkler (yes, Fonzie) and Michael Levitt have sagely returned ”Hollywood Squares” to its roots. The dorkily redubbed revels in kitschy stunts like ”Dynamic Duo Week,” boasting ”Batman”’s Adam West and Burt Ward, ”Cannonball Run” chums Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, and ”Diff’rent Strokes” siblings Todd Bridges and Gary Coleman (who replied to a Penn & Teller dis by threatening ”I’m about to make you disappear!” Whatchoo talkin’ ’bout, Gary?). The gimmicks don’t always work: Booking Vicki Lawrence in full regalia as ”Mama,” for example, might sound like a fun throwback to the original show’s campiness, but her antics aren’t so cute now that the ”Carol Burnett Show” vet is nearly as old as her cantankerous character.

Tom Bergeron has stayed on board as ”H²”’s emcee, and you’ve got to give him credit for maintaining his good-humored demeanor. The guy always seems to be laughing, perhaps to keep himself from weeping. Once considered a contender for coanchor of ABC’s ”Good Morning America,” Bergeron instead hosts ”Squares” and supplements his income by introducing clips of crotch injuries on ”America’s Funniest Home Videos.” In yet another case of downward showbiz mobility, Jeffrey Tambor now serves as ”H²”’s announcer (and as a semiregular panelist). While he’s an improvement over the unironically smarmy Shadoe Stevens, it’s kinda sad to see the ex-”Larry Sanders Show” sidekick transformed into his onetime alter ego: Hank Kingsley would’ve killed for this gig.

Previously reserved for wickedly bitchy Paul Lynde and Goldberg, the center square now rotates among an array of quipsters. Some, like Ellen DeGeneres and Brad Garrett, inject authentic humor into their sometimes scripted answers. Others, like Gloria Estefan and Howie Mandel, display no discernible trace of wit. The lower left cubicle, formerly the domain of bogus hick Charley Weaver and Midwestern comic George Gobel, often houses ”H²”’s best source of laughs, Martin Mull. The ”Fernwood 2Nite” cutup’s timing remains rapier sharp. Asked if Johnny Cash ever served time, Mull deadpanned, ”Well, I think that’s where he wrote ‘A Boy Named Sue.”’ That’s innuendo worthy of Lynde, who once naughtily cracked that female roosters are ”the ones who just go ‘a-doodle-doo.”’

Though ”H²” rarely offers the outrageousness of the original ”Squares,” it’s starting to recapture some of the old show’s outrageously surreal magic. May’s ”Blondes Have More Fun Week” gathered Pamela Anderson, Charo, Miss Piggy, Paris and Nicky Hilton, and Phyllis Diller, who explained why she’d lost out on a role on ”Baywatch”: ”It was my bra size — 34 long.” Against foolproof lines like that, reality TV’s empty-headed hotties can’t measure up.

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