“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know
when to fold ’em.” The old Kenny Rogers lyrics never
held more true than in “Celebrity Poker Showdown,”
Bravo’s latest offering to the reality genre. Through a
combination of entertaining contestants, shrewd card playing and
expert analysis, the hour-long program delivers plenty of good
old-fashioned fun for the “Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy” network.

Janna Hutz
Courtesy of Bravo
Janna Hutz
Courtesy of Bravo

The program, an obvious spin-off from ESPN’s surprise
success “World Series of Poker,” is hosted by Kevin
Pollak (“The Usual Suspects”), who uses his casual
demeanor and quick wit to create a fun environment from the very
beginning of the show. He is joined by the obligatory poker expert
(Phil Gordon) who uses all the hold ’em lingo, such as
“flop” and “river,” but also keys the
viewers in on who is in the lead and the odds of them winning the
hand. The two exchange this banter over the voice of the announcer,
who is at the table with the cast of players.

And what a cast it is. For each of five episodes, a wide range
of celebrities will try their luck at the table. For example,
following the cast of “The West Wing” on this
week’s episode will be such stars as Tom Green, David Cross
and even Coolio. The winner from each of the five shows gets
$50,000 for the charity of their choice and compete for a grand
prize of a quarter-million dollars. The first week featured Mr.
J-Lo (Ben Affleck) competing against, among others, David Schwimmer
(“Friends,” of course) and Willie Garson (“Sex
and the City”) who quickly earned the nickname “Mean
Willie,” due to his lucky streak and betting means (he
eventually won, much to the crowd’s dismay).

The action is interesting (who doesn’t like to play a
round of poker every now and then?), and watching Schwimmer go
“all in” on one hand only to see “Mean
Willie” snatch victory from him is oh so lovely. The only
downer is the loser’s lounge, where broke gamblers go to hang
out and make fun of the remaining players. One might expect comedic
gold to come from this room, but with only a few cut-ins, it loses
its effect.

Unlike other mindless reality television, this series just
encourages viewers to relax and enjoy the show. Not only that, the
average fan can learn how to play better poker. When all the chips
are down, “Celebrity Poker Showdown” delivers an hour
of fun. There’s not much more you can ask from a television
show.

Rating: 4 Stars

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