Million Second Quiz Is Visionary But Also Trivial, Says PEOPLE’s TV Critic

Ryan Seacrest

Rodolfo Martinez/NBC

updated 09/10/2013 AT 3:50 PM ET

originally published 09/10/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET

NBC’s new primetime game show Million Second Quiz wants to have you at your mobile device of choice, your thumbs typing away with urgency and delight.

On that level, perhaps it will succeed. But that isn’t the same as biting your nails in suspense or excitement.

Hosted by Ryan Seacrest – you were expecting Carol Channing? – the show airs live every night (except Sunday) through Sept. 19. It’s a fairly elementary multiple-choice trivia challenge, but built into an ambitious framework of bells and whistles and social and digital media signifiers.

Signifiers in this context means absolutely nothing. I’m just momentarily tap-dancing around the challenge of describing MSQ, as it prefers to be hash-tagged on Twitter.

Mammoth and Multi-Faceted

The show, as the title promises, will last one million seconds, and is designed for the era of The Matrix and The Hunger Games. It is mammoth and moves on digital tentacles. The broadcast portion unfolds on a breathtaking open-air set in Manhattan – with an hourglass-shaped frame towering over the “Money Chair,” where the reigning champion sits and goes one-on-one against his or her competitor. This chair looks like a cross between a giant Lifesaver candy and a futuristic time-travel portal. The opponent stands at a more conventional but still futuristic podium, the sort that has graced many a Golden Globes awards.

But that Money Chair – you could sell that thing at Design Within Reach.

Even when it’s off the air, MSQ rolls on relentlessly. By the time we tune in for Tuesday’s show, the two opponents we saw beneath the hourglass at the conclusion of Monday’s debut may have been pushed out by two new faces over the course of the day. An ongoing pool of fresh challengers is constantly being tested, selected from wannabes lined up outside the Manhattan studio. Meanwhile, especially skillful players using MSQ’s digital platforms – social media like Twitter and Facebook and the show’s downloadable app – are always being harvested (I apologize if that makes them sound like organs) and whisked in from all over the country to the big-league game.

There will also be a constant live video stream of the “in house” competition and to the cheerful, studio living quarters provided for the current top four.

(Checking out this feed at 5 a.m. after an odd, vexing dream involving Beau Bridges, I found three of the four meandering slowly outside their sleep pods, like bears looking for trashcans to rummage.)

These many elements are ingeniously, if convolutedly clever – if we’re worried about American global preeminence, we can rest assured about creating stunt programming. MSQ’s multiple platforms have created a game show that is more democratic and, if you’re inclined to play yourself, more personally involving than any in history.

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