But it's good to see Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee Wee Herman, back in prime time, says Ken Tucker

By Ken Tucker
Updated June 20, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
You Don't Know Jack: Bob D'Amico/ABC

”You Don’t Know Jack” is a lame game show

Yeah! Paul Reubens, the erstwhile Pee Wee Herman, returns to prime time. Boo: Reubens isn’t doing Pee Wee — he’s ”Troy Stevens,” host of an ABC game show based on the computer game, ”You Don’t Know Jack” (Wed., June 20, 8 p.m.).

Now, I know I shouldn’t typecast a man as talented as Reubens, straitjacketing him as his most famous character. But let’s face it: Reubens’ post-scandal efforts to branch out — his stint on ”Murphy Brown”; his critically praised role in the recent movie flop ”Blow” — haven’t added to his luster.

Neither does ”You Don’t Know Jack,” to put it mildly. As Troy Stevens, Reubens dons what looks like an old Beatle wig and introduces contestants with lines like, ”Let’s cheat — I mean, let’s meet them now!” He’s full of winningly slimy bonhomie, but the show doesn’t even have the sharp snarkiness that makes the computer game fun the first few times you play it. The contestants are, apparently, real people competing for real dough (”The only thing illegitimate about this show is ME,” says Troy), but that only makes things worse. They don’t quite know how to react — you can see them wondering, Do I play along with Reubens’ act, or concentrate on the game? — with the result that there’s no tension in the competition. Add what sounds like canned screams of laughter from the studio audience, and this ”Jack” is hackwork.

Is there any silver lining here? Well, on talk shows to promote ”Jack,” Reubens has confirmed — as he told EW.com’s Liane Bonin back in April — that he’s planning not one but two new movies, both of them starring him as Pee Wee Herman. One of them, he’s said, will be aimed at kids; the other will expose Pee Wee’s ”dark side.” If Reubens can revive the glowing creativity he brought to his kiddie show ”Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” and his first, Tim Burton-directed film ”Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” we’ll be able to forget his current summer burn-off show and groove on Reubens’ far richer, more rewarding creation. Meanwhile, hit the road, ”Jack.”