Review: 'Identity'

Pennjillette_240How good are you at reading people? Or, alternately, how deeply ingrained is your way of looking at and thinking about others?

Those are the central questions -- pretty much the only ones, really -- NBC is asking in its new game show Identity, which kicks off Monday and runs for five straight nights. The network launched Deal or No Deal the same way last year and is hoping for another big year-end ratings success.

It's an easy enough premise to grasp: A player stands before 12 strangers and is given characteristics that match up with each of those people. In the episode NBC sent us, those included "youngest," "opera singer," "alligator wrestler" and "created Spider-Man" -- yep, Stan Lee was there, and when the contestant asked to hear a little more about him, it was all host Penn Jillette could do not to burst into laughter as he asked the Marvel Comics legend his name.

Each time players correctly match an identity to a person, they win more money, up to $500,000. They get a couple of helping hands -- a panel of "experts" (a body-language reader, a psychologist and a former FBI trainer), an allowance for one wrong answer and a chance to narrow the field to three people for one guess. Use up the one free wrong answer, though, and the next one means the player leaves with nothing. So the stakes are suitably high.

Watching the game made me think of several things. First, Malcolm Gladwell would probably be really good at it. And second, it can sort of confirm the notion of that song from Avenue Q, "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." I cringed a little when the player in the episode I saw identified the Asian guy as the sushi chef and the only woman who looked over 30 and bigger than size 6 as the opera singer. That she was right both times didn't make me feel any better, and such obvious choices don't say much about the level of difficulty in the game. Several other visual cues were pretty obvious as well.

Jillette, the vocal half of Penn & Teller, does a pretty good job of keeping the proceedings moving, and the all-or-nothing stakes of the game makes it a little intriguing. But it didn't feel like the woman playing the game was faced with any really tough decisions until she was two-thirds of the way through the game. Maybe she was just really good, but for Identity to be more than a pre-Christmas stunt, it really shouldn't be as easy as it is.