“Cha$e”
Tuesdays at 10 p.m.
Sci Fi Channel

1.5 out of 5 stars

“Cha$e” could’ve been the coolest game show on television.

It claims to be a “real-life video game,” where suit-wearing “hunters” reminiscent of the agents from “The Matrix” stalk contestants through a maze of city blocks. If a hunter manages to catch one, that player is eliminated. The contestant who survives the hunt and reaches the finish line first wins a grand prize of $25,000, a figure that seems higher than the show’s budget. While the premise is original, the game show unfortunately suffers from the same pitfalls that ruin the games it attempts to emulate.

The appeal of a human video game is that it could overcome the restrictions of computer programming and artificial intelligence. Spontaneity would seem fair. “Cha$e” doesn’t do this at all. The hunters walk in straight lines, turn at perfect 90-degree angles and only look directly in front of them. The show even superimposes a targeting reticule with the words “Target Sighted” or “Searching” over each hunter’s first-person view. Manipulating errors in a game’s framework shouldn’t be part of a live-action game show, but that’s just what the contestants do to survive. The show would be infinitely cooler if the hunters just walked around like normal people and scoured the scene for contestants.

The players are given challenges for which they’re rewarded with some rather lame tools: deflectors, invisibility glasses and sonic stunners. The deflector sends a hunter in the opposite direction; the glasses blind hunters to you for two minutes; and the sonic stunners freeze a hunter for two minutes. The recurring flaw is that the hunters are real people, not digital villains. The people playing them must be really well-trained, because they react to each tool exceptionally quickly. Seeing actual human beings turn around robotically or stop in their tracks when a contestant points a “gadget” made of duct tape and tin foil at them is just plain ridiculous. The show feels less like a sleek, modern reality competition and more like four-year-olds playing some game they made up in their basement.

There are a lot of kinks in the game that don’t involve the hunters. There are supposedly 25 “money flags” hidden throughout the map. Each flag a contestant collects is worth $1,000 if that contestant wins. However, only one flag was found in the pilot episode, making it seem like the producers either forgot about the flags halfway through or hid them way too well. Also, too much of the game relies on luck. Throughout the show, host Trey Farley (“Bend It Like Beckham”) sends video messages (which the hunters magically can’t hear) to the contestants telling them where to go, including the finish line. Whoever happens to be closest to the finish line at the time will obviously get there first. Winning the game isn’t all that impressive when it’s only a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

“Cha$e” had the potential to be among TV’s most exciting and action-packed game shows, but instead, it’s a failed attempt at turning video games into reality. The creators clearly misjudged which parts of video gaming translate well into live-action television and which parts should remain solely virtual.

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