TV Review: 'The Price Is Right'

By the time I first became aware of "The Price Is Right," Bob Barker had already been the show's host for roughly a decade. While I've probably seen highlights from Barker's earlier years, I've certainly never watched unedited versions of his first episodes.

The totality of the link between Barker and "The Price Is Right" isn't just based upon the fact that the "Happy Gilmore" co-star was the show's only host, but also upon the idea that most young viewers weren't introduced to the show until it was already a well-oiled machine, the product of what must have been hundreds of episodes before it became a well-oiled machine.

That's a long way of saying that it's unfair to judge Drew Carey's future capacity as "Price Is Right" host on the basis of his Monday (Oct. 15) debut. While we may not rush to final judgment, though, it's possible to look at Carey's first episode and say that as versatile as the comedian has been as a host, performer and sitcom star in the past, in this new gig, he's far from a natural.

One of the most familiar terms of praise for Carey is that he's an Everyman, but there's a big difference between being an Everyman and being comfortable with the idea of other Everymen (and Everywomen) rushing up to you in moments of adrenaline-fueled enthusiam and attempting to hug or kiss you.

Nothing characterized Barker's gifts as "Price Is Right" host more than his ability to handle giggle sorority girls and 500-pound Samoans exactly the same. Yes, he put on a terrified face when an obese contestant rushed the stage, but underneath, you always sensed he was hugging them right back. In contrast, Carey is surprisingly clumsy with the spazzy contestants. Over the years, Barker had made his peace with the crowd's insanity, but Carey doesn't seem understand why these people are so wacky and looks to the audience to approve his diagnosis.

The Carey premiere's first attempted hug comes from a woman in a "Cleveland Rocks" shirt and Carey's reaction comes close to making fun of her excitement in a way Barker would never do. Then one winner later, Carey greets an attempted bear-hug with an outstretched palm, as if saying "Wouldn't it be more dignified if we just shook hands?" "The Price Is Right" is a unique universe and I'm willing to cut Carey initial slack for not looking at ease when it comes to its rules.

For the most part, Carey isn't imposing his own personality on the franchise at all. He doesn't treat it as a stand-up gig, knowing that the show is about milking contestant reactions and plugging products. His patter is Barker-esque and dedicated fans don't need to worry -- Carey ends the show with the maestro's famous pet conscious advice.

Continuity comes in the form of Rich Fields, though his announcing tenure is relative new. I think the Barker's Beauties have been refreshed, though I may be wrong.

CBS has been playing up the show's new look, but although some of the differences at noticeable, all changes have been made within the same retro-nostalgic '70s style. To the best of my ability to recall, all of the games in the premiere are original old school contests, though the only mention of the previous regime comes when they play Barker's Bargain Bar, which Carey says "was named after the founder of 'The Price Is Right' Ezekial Barker." Everybody laughs knowingly.

If you tune in at the beginning, stick around until the end, because something happens that has happened only 76 previous times in "Price Is Right" history.