The Darkest Episode Of TV Ever Was On Celebrity Family Feud
Family Feud is still on TV. Somehow, among all modern high-stakes game shows that end in marriages or spleens shattered by moving platforms, this lumbering dinosaur has stubbornly persevered. The secret to its success is almost certainly attributable to some Nobel-Prize-deserving media genius at ABC who came up with the idea of Celebrity Family Feud and thereby unearthed the formula to transform an ancient relic into the most engrossing train wreck on network television. I've only seen one episode of season one -- Mario Lopez vs. Joey Lawrence -- and I'm already confident that there's more to unpack in these 22 minutes of prime time than in that entire pile of basic shit, Moby Dick.
Though both probably mention dick an equal number of times.
However, like any American classic, it's borderline impossible to appreciate on your own. You need a guide for a masterpiece this dense. So please, take my hand and try to keep up. I'm documenting this not just for you, but also for the Library of Congress. History will want to know what happened here.
Here's how the show works: Two families compete to answer questions for money. Every question has multiple "correct" answers, except all of those answers are determined by surveys of the general public, or, as I will refer to them from this point forward, THE WAD. Instead of relying on "facts" or "empirical evidence," you have to get inside the hive mind of THE WAD and determine how the lowest common denominator would answer. If the question is, "Name the bloodiest wars in U.S. history" and the majority of bejowled survey takers think that the War on Christmas belongs on that list, then change the goddamn history books, because for the purposes of this show, that's absolutely correct.
Like most kids, I always felt a special connection to Family Feud, likely because any game in which winning isn't about what's right or wrong, but what's most popular, was a conceit I could really grab hold of as an 11-year-old boy. But when you throw celebrities into the mix, suddenly the whole show really sings. Celebrities generally fall out of touch with the thought process of the average human being, so their answers reveal just as much about their own corrupted psyche as they do the idiocy of the THE WAD. Regardless of which way the embarrassment pendulum swings, someone ends up looking like a lunatic. It's beautiful, really.
Oh, and it's all tenuously held together by host Steve Harvey, who is the glue. His energy is enthusiastic within reason, but also appropriately apologetic for being complicit in this dumpster fire. Not an easy demeanor for a host to nail.
With a wave of the hand, he introduces both families, and we are off.
Round One Question: "Name A Reason To Call 911 While You're Making Love"
Joey vs. Mario
One thing I neglected to mention, but which seems to be prevalent in the modern version of the show: every question will leave you secondhand embarrassed for the writers. They are intended to drag even the dumbest person toward a sexual answer so the audience and Steve can have a good laugh about how we're all secretly thinking about hard fucking. Yet even with the path clearly marked, somehow people still manage to fail catastrophically.
Not even from this episode -- just some additional flavor.
Hot hands Mario Lopez knows the answer before Joey can even say "Whoa," which the audience will continue to quietly beg for the rest of the show.
To the question "Name a reason to call 911 while you're making love," Mario says, "You hurt something." Which, while technically correct, is less specific than a horse stamping out an answer in the dirt. Still, it's on the board, sort of. It shows up as "Injury / Broke Weenie." As soon as Joey Lawrence sees the answer, he astutely asks the question, "Does that say broke weenie?"
Steve assures him that it does.
Joey loses his will to play.
But Mario is on board, hard. In fact, he has more to add. He leans back smiling and tells no one, "Hey, it happens." This is the first of many times Mario will take great pride in his knowledge of horrifying sexual experiences. Also, this is the only answer he will get right in the entire show.
The Lopez family has earned the right to play this round, and Mario's wife Courtney is up next. But first, a little backstory for context:
Mario Lopez has been married once before his current wife -- for about two days. He and his first wife got an annulment because she found out that he had sex with a prostitute at his bachelor party days before their wedding. This is completely unrelated, but still feels like important context, given everything that is about to happen.
Steve Harvey asks Courtney for a reason to call 911 while making love, except Mario isn't done. He has some more quips he wants to squeeze in about his wife, like "She's got this on lock" and "She knows all about this" and "She's got on speed dial," inadvertently assuring everyone that his wife is in tremendous danger any time the Lopez beast wants to mate. Mario, you will quickly realize, is hopelessly stupid.
Courtney says, "Because someone died." It is a good answer. It's on the board, and for a brief second, it looks like this might be just a boring game show after all. Then Mario crosses himself Catholicly and slaps his wife on the ass, because nightmares rarely let you forget they're nightmares for long.
The rest of the family is on point, clearing out the board despite every one of their answers being a euphemism for "Anal bead disappears in a butthole."
The actual answers were "lost sex toy" and "something gets stuck."
It looks like smooth sailing right up until it circles back to Mario, who has disregarded the "making love" portion of the question and is only hunting for legitimate reasons to call an ambulance. He ventures "You can't breathe," and his confidence is loud enough to drown out the awkward silence that follows, as even his team refuses to clap for that answer.
Surprise. His terrible fucking answer isn't up there. Mario is livid. He pleads with Steve Harvey that it should count because "It's a good answer" and because it's likely that Mario doesn't know how this game works.
The Lopezes are clearly shaken and can't root out the last answer before getting three Xs. The board changes hands to the Lawrences, and a single answer trickles down the line to Joey. "The room is on fire," he offers because apparently even people who aren't in movies light candles to have sex. It's correct, and the Lawrences have stolen the first round. Everyone in the family celebrates and points eagerly down the row toward the brains of this operation: the mysterious and unsteady 87-year-old-man at the end who fed Joey that answer. He is far too old to be the Lawrences' father. He is probably too old to have been standing this long. He shrugs casually, as if to say, "I don't know what my relationship is, either." Commercial break.
Round Two Question: "Give Me One Good Reason You're Not a Nudist"
Matthew vs. Courtney
Matthew Lawrence buzzes in first this time, but the producers won't let him answer. No one gives a shit what he has to say on the subject.
No, they want to know why Courtney Lopez isn't naked right this instant. Courtney says she's not a nudist because she's a mother. Immediately, "Morals/Values" appears on the board, thanks either to some mistake in the back room or the biggest logic jump I've ever seen producers allow in a game show. Fate is doing everything within its power to hand this game to the Lopez family.
Hey, speaking of Mario's family, this feels like as good a time as any to bring up the fact that none of them are on the stage. Mario has a mother, a father, and a sister, none of whom are standing next to him.
Naturally, this raises a thousand new questions, but let me assure you that the show has no intention of answering any of them. I had to dig through the Internet to find out that the other people are Damian Mazza, Gina Kramer, and Alex Lopez. Damian is Courtney's brother. I assume Gina is either Damian's wife or Courtney's sister. Alex, from what I understand, is a ghost that only I can see. He's impossible to find anywhere online. If he is related to Mario, then he is a cousin at best. All of this means that Mario couldn't even book his own family for a family game show.
Courtney decides that this patchwork family will play out this round too, and they come up with two more solid answers immediately. Damian and Gina knock out the first and second top survey picks with "Body issues" and "It's cold."
Then Steve saunters over to ghost of Alex, who is clearly struggling with this premise. Finally, for the question "Name a reason you're not a nudist" he gambles on "You got a little dingaling." Dingaling. He just spits the word out like it's common vernacular for a 35-year-old man and let's it writhe flaccidly on the podium.
"Little dingy!" chirps Mario. He has heard this word before.
"Little dingy?" goes Steve.
"Dingaling! Dingaling!" cries Alex with the kind of panicked desperation people usually save for when their brake lines are cut and someone might die tonight.
It's a precarious moment that not even Steve Harvey knows how to save. It's only through sheer will that Alex is able to choke down the other 47 dingalings trying to swarm out of his mouth so that the game can lurch on. It's wrong, of course but fortune has shined because now it's Mario's turn. Except, there's a twist. Mario doesn't have an answer, he has prepared a speech instead. He takes a moment to collect himself and says, verbatim, "The reason I'm not a nudist, Steve, is because I don't have the ... the ... right opportunity. There's not a nudist beach around me. So I don't have the right area to ... be nude in." After a flourish of confusing hand gestures to better illustrate his point, the perennial idiot is done.
Steve Harvey, having no idea or interest in what Mario's actual answer was just now, instead screams "Chicken Nugget!" at the answer board because, I guess at a certain point during a disaster, you stop trying to save the day and start exploring what surprising new lows you can sink to.
The Lawrences take over again and steal another victory from the pearly jaws of the UnLopez family. The score is now 159 to 0, despite the fact that Joey is the only member of his family who has uttered a single word.
Round Three Question: "Name Something That Would Be Hard To Do With Only One Lip"
Andy vs. Damian
It looks like Andy might earn his team a chance to play with "whistle" which is right. But then Damian swoops in with "kiss" as an answer which is somehow righter and again we are off to the UnLopez bench for more insanity. Immediately Gina falls right into the hands of the hack show writers and says "Suck?" It's on the board, and everyone gets to have a quick hearty chuckle at that old chestnut, fellatio. But Mario won't let it go. He is inspired. As soon as Steve makes his way to the top of the order, Mario pretends to think so that his answer feels more impromptu, then offers up "Blow" with a cheesedick confidence smeared all over his face. He is reliably insufferable.
Also, Mario has decided to adopt an accent this round. Perhaps in a misguided effort to appeal to Steve Harvey, he tries on an uncomfortably urban affectation.
When his answer is absent from the board, he is furious again. He tells Steve Harvey, "You know that was a good answer, don't be lyin,'" and if you listen closely, you can hear all of the Lawrences wince simultaneously.
Miraculously, even after that disastrous misstep, the UnLopezes drag the dead weight of Mario to their first victory. Finally, they're on the board.
Round Four Question: "Name An Animal Head A Cat Might Hang On The Wall Of His Cat Cave"
Donna vs. Gina
First of all, this question is just nuts. It's headfirst psychotic. It's less of a question and more of a cry for help from some writer's room serial killer. Yet everyone on stage is stoically unfazed, it's too late for them. By the fourth round they've all embraced this fever dream wholly because that portion of your brain responsible for logic has given up. Instead of asking the obvious followups, like "What is a cat cave?" or "How would a cat use a hammer without opposable thumbs?" or "Where is the asylum that is sending you these questions?" Gina buzzes in and shouts "Mouse!" And she is right, because this is what madness tastes like.
For the most part, everyone in Mario's non-family has finally zeroed in on the mentality of THE WAD and it looks like they might win the game. Everyone except Mario. It's important to remember here that, while these ordinary people on stage with him have at least lived partial lives of anonymity, Mario Lopez has been famous since childhood. He has made friends just by sitting backwards in a chair and has started relationships using nothing more than the phrase, "What's up, pretty mama?" He has never had an experience any of us would qualify as usual, so it shouldn't be too surprising that, when asked for an animal head that a cat might hang on its wall, Mario Lopez thinks a reasonable answer is:
And finally we are at the heart of why Celebrity Family Feud is so extraordinary. It's rare that you see crazy outdo crazy so effortlessly. You might be trying to trace the steps in Mario's brain that would lead to that answer, but know that I've walked this path a thousand times before you and I still don't understand. Does Mario Lopez have human heads adorning the walls of his trophy room? Nobody knows. Certainly not Damian, Gina, or Alex -- I'm pretty confident this is the first time they've ever met him. Everyone on stage quietly holds their breath waiting for Mario to elaborate, to prove he is not an alien in human skin, that he is, in fact, a slightly tinier human piloting a plastic body.
Mario does elaborate. But like a monkey paw curse, the granted wish of the audience has made everything a million times worse. Keeping up his new accent, Mario explains, "How you not gonna have another cat? If you're one cat, you want another good-looking cat up in your cave. If I was a cat, I'd have like a super cat up in there." And we all slip further down the
rabbit cat-hole. Steve Harvey answers in the only conceivable way.
The UnLopezes can't recover and for the third time, the Lawrences have a chance to steal. But something is wrong. For the first time, Joey has no faith in the answer that's trickled down from the team elder. He won't say it because it can't possibly be right, and he's furious at his family for letting him down so abjectly. With no other ideas, he begrudgingly concedes "A lizard?" while throwing his hands up in certain defeat.
It's on the board. Madness prevails. The Lawrences win.
The ancient one has saved them all again. The UnLopezes can slink off in their separate directions, never to talk again. The spell wears off, and we can all wake up again to a world that makes sense.
But hang on.
No horror movie has ever ended cleanly, there is always some indication that the terror persists right before the credits. As Steve Harvey throws to a commercial, the camera reels across the floor and lands on the silent Lawrence ancestor as still as fallen snow -- the Puck of this horrible midsummer's night dream. He looks directly into the lens ... and winks.
He is the puppet master. He is creator and destroyer. The Henry Ex Machina. He is the WAD in the machine.
Here is the episode in its entirety.
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