'BrainSurge': As Fun as Brain Freeze

My television automatically tunes in to Nickelodeon every time I turn it on (it's either because my DVR is constantly taping SpongeBob or some nefarious new technology beaming in from the Big Orange). Because of that, I often catch a glimpse of a Nick show, promotion, or violent commercial before I change the channel.

When I suddenly came face to face with BrainSurge, Nick's first game show in about a decade (in other words, its audience's lifetime), I stopped. My professional tenure at Nickelodeon coincided with the last kid game show resurgence, featuring Figure It Out and You're On!, and I was interested to see how the form evolved. Or in this case, devolved.

BrainSurge is not even a month old, having debuted September 28, but it definitely reflects a more sedentary generation of kids. Unlike its popular ancestors Double Dare (which begat Super Sloppy Double Dare and Family Double Dare), Nickelodeon GUTS, and the quirky Legends of the Hidden Temple, there are no physical challenges. Maybe some lawyers just got wise to the massive liability issues.

Naturally, BrainSurge features obligatory farting sounds, kids crashing through paper, and ritual sliming of losers (via a gooey ride akin to being birthed out of a huge icing tube). But for most of the show, kids are standing, sitting, and stepping their way through sometimes jokey, sometimes straightforward memory challenges. In a way, it’s like Simon, the TV Show.

Host Jeff Sutphen has that fresh-from-the-frat Nickelodeon host quality that makes you think he delivered a fair number of wedgies in his day, but I’m honestly not sure if that attracts or deters the audience.

Interestingly, for all the media-saviness with which we credit contemporary kids, these contestants still wear those timeless and awkward “Am I really on TV?” expressions. I say, let those kids text while they’re playing—you know they’re dying to.

By the end of the show, what struck me most was how uninventive it was. The visual flair of the video challenges resemble bad CD-ROM games of the '90s, and that’s the high point. BrainSurge has none of Dare’s hyperactivity, GUTS’ drama, Legends’ spooky-yet-cool educational bent (or consistently confusing final round), or Figure It Out’s celeb-worshipping anarchy.

In short, it’s dull. And in kids' television, being dull is worse than being bad. Brain, I'm afraid I see a short and slimy tube ride straight to Wikipedia obscurity in your future.

Carmen Sandiego, are you still out there?

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