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'The Gong Show' reboots and 'Boy Band' dances to distract in a new era of tumult

'The Gong Show' reboots and 'Boy Band' dances to distract in a new era of tumult
Contestants on the new version of "The Gong Show" with host Tommy Maitland (a.k.a. Mike Myers in disguise). The show premieres Thursday on ABC. (Greg Gayne/ / Greg Gayne/ABC)

A woman dressed as Little Bo Peep stuffs a tarantula in her mouth, then plays harmonica. A man dressed in a Sasquatch costume and riding a unicycle plays flaming bagpipes. They're not to be confused with the piano-playing contortionist or Buddy Lee, the geriatric jump-roping sensation.

If this sounds like an episode of "The Gong Show," it is, but don't expect to see Jamie Farr in the judge's seat or Gene Gene the Dancing Machine busting bad disco moves across the stage.

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The ABC production, which premieres Thursday, is a reboot of the 1976 game show where Afros and tube socks reigned supreme and it was always amateur half-hour.

Forty years later, and "The Gong Show" hasn't matured much other than growing by 30 minutes. It's just as crass and unsophisticated as the original, which is of course the point.

It arrives within the same few weeks as reboots of other '70s game shows, "Battle of the Network Stars" and "Love Connection." What could be more timely than the return of diversionary entertainment forged in the shadow of Watergate, war and years of civil unrest?

These shows, which focus on the game rather than the drama between its players, signal a reset from popular reality-show competitions of the last few decades. Where "The Apprentice" helped give rise to a future president, "The Gong Show" helps distract from the tumult that has followed.

Hosting this time around is the "British comedic legend" no one's ever heard of, Tommy Maitland. He looks a lot like Mike Myers under layers of prosthetic makeup because, well, it is likely Mike Myers under layers of prosthetic makeup. Or at least that's the popular guess because the network has kept it a secret.

Maitland wears wacky hats (like 70's show host Chuck Barris), frequently addresses the live audience as "cheeky monkeys" and keeps a small shrine to Queen Elizabeth on the side of the stage.

He introduces the "talent" while a rotating panel of celebrity judges like Zach Galifianakis, Will Arnett and Ken Jeong must decide between scoring each act on a 1-10 rating scale or banging a giant gong to stop the performer mid-act.

Is it beyond stupid? Yes, and happy to embrace the fact that no brain power is required to watch. There's no true crime to solve, no political drama that feels uncomfortably close to the bone, no real-life Senate hearings or scary North Korean missile tests. Just people and the games they play, with witty commentary from judges and utter weirdness from maybe-Myers.

Directly following "The Gong Show" Thursday is another new ABC competition, "Boy Band."

It's an "American Idol"/"The Voice"-like competition populated with 30 dreamy young men armed with hair gel and synchronized dance moves. They perform solo, together and against one another for a panel of music industry figures including producer Timbaland, former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and former Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Singer Rita Ora is the host. Their ranks are thinned until only five boys are standing. The winners land a recording contract, releasing their music into scene that has all but stopped listening to boy bands (details, details).

New game shows include Fox's "Beat Shazam," an updated "Name That Tune" hosted by Jamie Foxx, and NBC's "Hollywood Game Night."

All these new arrivals are riding a wave of success sparked by 2016 reboots of game show classics "Pyramid," "Match Game" and the '50s-era "To Tell the Truth." A new version of "Jokers Wild" hosted by Snoop Dogg is reportedly in the works.

Game shows offer a comfortable, familiar, non-challenging form of entertainment that leaves the drama of the real world — and reality competitions — behind for a contained, studio audience experience.

Even the jokes in "The Gong" show feel as if they're pulled from a simpler — or at least more familiar — time.

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"Our next guest will leave you crying for more … of an explanation," quips Maitland. Or "I haven't had that much fun since Dolly Parton showed me how she keeps her guitar picks warm."

"The Gong Show" prize is $2,000.17, presented in the form of an over-sized check (that's up from $516.32 in 1976). But for the couple who spits bananas back on forth as their act, it's validation that their time has finally come. Or at least come back around again.

Spoiler alert: the couple spitting bananas across the stage win. But really, we all come out feeling like winners in comparison to them.

'Boy Band'

Where: ABC

When: 8 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)

'The Gong Show'

Where: ABC

When: 10 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)

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