The revival of Match Game by ABC this summer has largely been a success. It’s not quite the ‘70s version (what could be?) but it’s better than any of the other attempts to bring the show back. Sure, this probably owes to the fact it only aired once a week, and only for a few months this summer. However, after debuting a little rough around the edges, Match Game came to be quite a fun show to watch. The improvements in the show were largely based around Alec Baldwin getting more comfortable with being a game show host, but the concept of Match Game lives and dies with the celebrity panel. While there were some recurring panelists, there was no Brett Somers or Charles Nelson Reilly or Richard Dawson, a quasi-permanent staple to anchor things. Nevertheless, after watching Match Game this summer, here is a dream panel culled from everybody who appeared on the show.
“America’s Sweetheart” Jack McBrayer made several appearances on the show, and in terms of getting laughs, he probably comes out on top. McBrayer took to being on the panel with ease, quickly using his sweet, Southern gentleman demeanor to wring laughs. He and his former 30 Rock costar Baldwin had great chemistry, and McBrayer was a solid game player as well. Celebrities as good as McBrayer were rarely found in the top left corner of the panel even in the ‘70s. Surprisingly, McBrayer ended up being the MVP of the new Match Game.
The erstwhile Brett Somers seat was basically filled by either O’Donnell or Niecy Nash all season. Their demeanors were quite different, with Nash being a much more boisterous, bawdy and loud panelist, though she was still mostly entertaining. However, O’Donnell and Nash did end up filling a similar role in that they both ended up as sort of the de facto Richard Dawsons of the new show. When a contestant needed a suggestion for the Audience Match, or a partner for the Head-to-Head Match, they almost always went to O’Donnell or Nash if they were on the panel. I’m giving O’Donnell the edge, because she was a bit better at the game, or at least seemed to take it more seriously. Plus, Nash’s humor and personality on the panel is quite similar to a lot of other panelists. O’Donnell brought a slightly different vibe, which is good. Also, she mentioned Somers a couple of times, and, fairly or not, she gets a couple extra points for that.
This may seem so facile. Charles Nelson Reilly was gay, Tituss Burgess is gay, so why not put Burgess in Reilly’s place? However, I assure you it goes well beyond that. Burgess, especially when he moved from the top left to the top right seat, seemed to be channeling Reilly’s energy. He brought the same snarky, clever wit as Reilly. Burgess seemed to give off an air that he was above it all, but it also was clear he didn’t actually think that. Burgess was a lot of fun on the panel, and he’s a must have for any all-star team.
I really waffled on whether or not to include Jones. She completely took over the show when she was on. The show completely went off the rails, and Jones drove it there. She wasn’t a particularly good game player. There are a lot of reasons why one would leave Jones off of a dream panel. On the other hand, she was just so funny when she was on Match Game. She may have been going completely nuts, and her energy may have been at a 10 the whole night, but she was hilarious all the while. It would be a bad idea to have somebody like Jones on every episode, but if you are talking about the most enjoyable panelists from this summer, I think she has to be included.
Look, I’ll be perfectly honest. Outside of McBrayer and Burgess, none of the guys who were on the show made a real impact. Nobody stood out at being particularly good at the game, or were particularly funny. David Alan Grier was dull. Josh Charles was subsumed by Leslie Jones. J.B. Smoove was insane, and only fitfully amusing. None of them can even dream of being deserving to sit in Richard Dawson’s seat. Bobby Moynihan and Michael Ian Black were both pretty good. Black, with his dry, sarcastic wit, is a good fit for a show like this. He’s also a smart guy who, given a chance, could probably be Dawson-like. So why not put him on this panel?
It came down to Ellie Kemper and Ana Gasteyer. I love Kemper. She’s funny and she’s really smart but also kind of weird. It seemed like she would be a perfect panelist for Match Game, the red-headed heir apparent to Patti Deutsch. While Kemper was good, she didn’t quite do anything other than be amiable and mildly humorous. Perhaps it was because she was so pregnant at the time. Gasteyer, meanwhile, was good with a smart, outside-the-box answer. When you get to that last answer on the panel, you’ve really got to bring it, and Gasteyer brought out.
Chris Morgan is not the author of THE book on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but he is the author of A book on Mystery Science Theater 3000. He’s also on Twitter.