Reviews

Hey! Spring of Trivia

Bill Gibron

Bemoaning his horrible home life and numerous nasty ex-wives, Takahashi is a walking Friar's Club routine.


Hey! Spring of Trivia

Airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Kazuyoshi Morita, Katsumi Takahashi, Norito Yashima
Network: Spike TV
Amazon

Prior to 1982, no one gave trivia much thought. It was the province of fans: sports aficionados kept track of stats, pop culture junkies knew chart positions, character actors, oddball titles. It wasn't until the Canadian quartet of Scott Abbott, Chris Haney, John Haney, and Ed Werner developed a board game that the accumulation of pointless minutia found a resting place. In the pie-shaped pieces of Trivial Pursuit, thousands of dumb facts suddenly became points of pride.

Two years ago, Japanese television turned the trend into a celebration. Hey! Spring of Trivia (Hey! Trivia No Izumi) became a national obsession, a chance for viewers to share their love of insignificant information. Now, Spike TV brings the truncated version, hour-long shows cut down to 30 minutes each. After finding great success with a risqué reconfiguration of Takeshi's Castle (now known as Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, or MXC), Spike decided to give Hey! a midseason chance. So now American men can watch a world of insignificant knowledge delivered via garish lights, goofy personalities, and energetic communal enthusiasm.

Hey! Spring of Trivia is The Gong Show for the new millennium, another entertainment by the inane and the shamefully interesting. Want to know how far a baseball player can hit a superball or why a certain species of ant tastes like lemons? Hey! has the answers. From the amount of weight an average Japanese serving tray can hold, to the fact that Mozart wrote a song called "Lick My Ass," the sheer strangeness of some of these factoids, along with the personalities of the participants in this cerebral potpourri, are instantly addictive.

Not really a game show, it's a throwback to the That's Incredible/Real People school of reality TV, overseen by the enigmatic Chairman (Kazuyoshi Morita) and moderated with self-effacing aplomb by marvelous hosts Katsumi Takahashi and Norito Yashima. Viewers in Japan send in their own personal pieces of trivia, which are presented to a panel of judges who give the information an initial rating, based on interest and entertainment value. These scores are registered as "Heys!" (named for the sound the computerized voice makes with each tap of the ratings button); after further explanation and a short film on the subject, the voting is closed. The presentation with the most points (the judges can award more "Heys" during the video explanation) wins. The prize is a Golden Brain, of course, a cheesy noggin stuffed with a loaf of Japanese melon bread inside (Hey! shrugs away this anomaly by arguing that melon bread actually looks like a brain).

While such meshing of information with entertainment is not a new idea in television, Hey! Spring of Trivia takes the concept to a new level of interactive insanity. Here, the panel members (featuring a few recognizable regulars, including a couple of attractive actresses and performer who dresses like a Pee Wee Herman impersonator) mock the trivia, offering quips and usually racy rejoinders during the video presentations. They argue over their opinions and taunt the Chairman when he dismisses a potent piece of nonsense. Like a big boisterous brawl where no judgment is too stupid or freakish fact too insignificant, Hey! degenerates into a myriad of mindless musings about meaningless information that's a true jumbled joy to watch unfold.

In reality, Hey! is television as a Dadaist experience, a kind of cathode ray Tabula Rosa where you, the audience, get out of each and every episode exactly what you put into or bring to it. If you take your trivia seriously, you will learn more mindless minutia than you have space in your melon bread for, and you'll love every Hey! hitting minute of it. If you are unmoved by such dismissible data, you can still sit back and marvel at the psychedelia on crack concepts upon which the entire program is based, from the weirdness that impresses the panel to Takahashi's lame mother-in-law joke.

As for the info itself, everyone appears especially intrigued by facts about insects, and they are also impressed by the many trivial points made about bodily fluids (usually urine). God forbid the fact to be judged focus on something medical or scientifically obtuse (the connection between the tear duct and the plucking of a nose hair registered one of the lowest scores ever). But if the entry involves a fart or the fact that the original Olympians competed in the nude, complete with suggestive show and tell recreations, the "Hey!"s pile up.

As on American Idol, the show's most effective selling point is the panel of judges. The Chairman adopts a constant cultured badass mode, never removing his swinging shades. Takahashi and Yashima are like the Skinny and Fatty of show hosting, playing against and off each other with brilliant brashness. Bemoaning his horrible home life and numerous nasty ex-wives, Takahashi is a walking Friar's Club routine. Yashima is the smart-alecky kid who takes the Chairman and other panelists to task for not paying enough attention to the trivia. Together, they appear genial and genuine, smoothing over some of the show's outlandish aspects.

Add this interpersonal dynamic to a set that features a water sculpture that spells out words and numbers, a fetching female narrator who makes almost everything she says sound smutty, and an outrageous attention to detail when proving trivia true, Hey! Spring of Trivia is the very definition of a brainteaser.

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