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Press Your Luck Review

"Whammies are Back to Old Tricks in Addictive, Entertaining Game Show"

The Whammies are back. After 760 episodes of Press Your Luck in the 1980s, the love them or hate them red creatures with high-pitched muppet-like voices return to wipe away players’ cash and prizes (and possibly your own sanity as a TV viewer) in ABC’s delightfully irritating revival of Press Your Luck.

Much like The Masked Singer, there is something addictive about a show you know is awful but somehow can’t look away from, and Press Your Luck falls into this category but adds nostalgia with a modern twist. After all, we watch cars race around and crash into each other. We stare at a forest fire despite its danger. We watch teams get marched to slaughter year after year against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. There is something embedded deep within human nature that suggests we somehow like to see disaster.

And seeing seemingly-sane professionals chant “No Whammy… No Whammy… No Whammy… STOP!” and then (alas!) hit a “whammy” space on a game show and then see their inconsolable facial reaction--the realization of total despair--the pain as if all of their hopes and dreams being crushed by an animated demon--well, you get my point. It’s dramatic. And soul-crushing. And fun.


If you missed the 80s or have never seen Game Show Network (which probably means also you’re not watching the show or reading this review), Press Your Luck involves three contestants who answer extraordinarily easy questions (Which word does not start with H? Hippo, Harmonica, or June? Okay, that isn’t a real question, but it may as well be) in order to get “spins” on the Press Your Luck game board. The board contains dollar values, prizes (that are worth even more than the dollar values on the board), and images of devilish creatures called Whammies. You don’t know when you yell “Stop”  where the spinner will land but hope it’s on cash or prizes.

You can play your spins or pass them to the contestant in the lead and at the end of the game the player with the most money left wins. (You’d think this time they’d correct the game show and actually have contestants...you know...spin something? Nope. Still a red buzzer. So no one spins anything. Ever. This is yet another illogical fact you just have admit makes the show terrible. And yet you can’t look away. It’s the vampire and you’re the victim.)

So what’s new in 2019? The Whammies are updated slightly. Some do the typical random whammy things (like fly a plane across a player’s cash total to make it go to zero) but there was a bachelor parody where a whammy throws roses at a player’s money and an Oprah parody where “you get a whammy” and “you get a whammy” and a few other pop cultural-referenced whammies that I’ll let you discover for yourselves. 


The Whammy may steal the show, but there’s still a captain of the ship, the show's essential host. The captain of the revival in 2019 is Elizabeth Banks. She hosts with empathy and spirit, and you get a sense she truly wants the contestants to win. (Whether she delights in seeing most of them lose their money when she drives home each day is questionable. I think she probably does). Still, she’s a good, safe choice for a host and is likable. She seems to excel most in the second half of the show.

And what is this second half of the show, you ask? The 1980s version just ended after 30 minutes. What’s new in this Press Your Luck is something that probably makes it more interesting to watch  than the 1980s version but a bit more tedious. The entire second half hour of the show involves the one winner playing a new “ bonus” round to try to win a lot of money. It’s contrived and a bit odd. 

You get several spins in each round (they go down--but that’s a good thing) and you have to accumulate money and prizes and just not get 4 whammies in the bonus round or you go home with nothing. You can only “stop playing” at the end of any one section of the bonus round and keep whatever you have or you can risk it all and do another round of the bonus round where the money will increase but so will the chances of getting your 4th whammy.  

This is where they attempt to create a genuine game show for the Millennials (or post-Millennials). Most game shows give random prizes like “A trip to Hawaii!” but the new Press Your Luck features custom prizes. They’ve asked contestants about wants and desires ahead of time, so they talk to the contestants and their loved ones and say things like “We know you’ve always wanted to go back to your honeymoon spot of a trip to Italy--so we’ve put that on the board!” and “we put your dream car on the board” or “we know you like ice cream so here’s an ice cream machine! or “you just had a baby so here’s baby stuff for three years” or  “we know your wife said no to a game room so we’ve put an incredible video game collection on the board--now she can’t say no to it if it’s free!” 


The contestants react insanely happily (even though they rarely hit these prizes and even more rarely keep them since they tend to hit the “whammies” after earning the prizes, which wipes their prizes away). But it adds motivation for them to quit the bonus round with a big prize and leave the show happy without trying for the million dollar prize. In theory, if they keep hitting money spaces and prizes and reach $500,000 they “instantly” get instead a million dollars and the game ends. (This makes me think they tried playing the game many times before it aired and no one got to a million dollars, so they created a bizarre rule where a half million dollars EQUALS a million dollars instead of re-inventing the game in a different way). I think I’d like to find those accountants when it comes time for me to retire…  

Strangely, the bonus round drags. A half hour of watching one person just hit the red buzzer (without even the inane, insipid trivia questions) actually gets tiring. Within a few minutes I find myself shouting for the Whammies to end my misery. I really don’t need to hear who is having a baby and who loves video games and who wants what prize. Just play the game. 

Still, it’s fun. It’s not Jeopardy. You won’t see James Holzhauer or Ken Jennings (although that would almost be worth it--see very smart Jeopardy contestants be flustered by the idiotic simplicity of a show with taunting whammies popping up on the screen). But it’s summer. Enjoy. And in the privacy of your home, it’s okay to shout for the Whammy.

Press Your Luck airs on ABC all summer long at 8 pm Eastern / 7 pm Central. It can also be watched online at  https://abc.go.com/shows/press-your-luck

  • Whammies. (I tend to root for them)
  • A bit more thrilling with chance to win 1 million dollars.
  • Elizabeth Banks is competent and empathetic.
  • Trivia questions are so, so, so, so, soooooooooo stupid.
  • New format actually makes show drag in final half-hour.
  • Not interactive for viewers at home. Couldn't they have done something innovative?


Meet the Author

About / Bio
A TV critic for entertainmentfuse.com with a passion for network and cable TV, I have been writing about TV for more than 20 years. I teach English and Journalism/Media studies to high school students and community college students in the Boston area. I'm a crazed sports fan of the Cubs, Red Sox, Patriots, Bears, and Illinois Fighting Illini. This month's funny claim to fame: Once Googled myself and saw college student in NC used me as a source and called me a "Reality Television Theorist"... like all day I would sit in a room and ponder the great life mysteries of reality TV. If only I could. 🙂

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