Things to Watch When There's Nothing On

On a dull TV night, we had to think a little bigger to find entertainment. 

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Monday night has never been the most exciting night of television, and this midseason is no exception. Well, until Smash comes along next month and blows all our bloomers up with a big ol' belt note. But yes, for now it's a little dull (especially when our DVR forgets to record Pretty Little Liars), so we are forced to find entertainment in strange places. Haha, no, not reading a book! Don't be ridiculous. Rather, in cheap primetime game shows and the nether reaches of On Demand.

NBC's new-ish (it premiered in mid-December) game show Who's Still Standing? has a hilariously simple concept: People must answer trivia questions in a set amount of time — if they are unable to the floor opens up and they drop down into... Well, it's unclear. Probably a big cushion or something. The point is they suddenly disappear and are out of the game and it's bizarrely satisfying to watch. The show, like so many shows these days (In Treatment, Homeland), originated in Israel, but its gimmick is certainly universal. The US version is hosted by Cash Cab's Ben Bailey, who brings the same softly sarcastic friendliness here that he does to that endlessly addictive quickie game show. And why wouldn't he, as it's the same basic format of rapid fire intermediate-level questions asked and money accumulated and people freaking out.

Who's Still Standing? is a little too quickly paced to have the tension of something like early, primetime Who Wants to Be a Millionaire; remember, contestants' runs on that show would sometimes carry over into second episodes and there were all those long and hideous and nervous pauses, all that slow ponderous music and heavy lighting. No, this trifle is a much brighter, louder, faster affair, though the ultimate prize at stake is the same. Yeah, they're just throwing a million dollars around everywhere these days, just going to show how Millionaire completely redefined the stakes of, and really entirely reinvented, the evening game show. We might not have the smarts of the British quiz shows, but dammit we're still giving away oodles of cash.

This is all to say that for in-a-pinch nighttime TV viewing, one could do a lot worse than Who's Still Standing?, a fast-moving hour of playing along at home and watching people fall through trap doors. The trap doors aspect is genuinely exciting, though we found ourselves wishing that at the end of the episode they'd show everyone landing on whatever it is they're landing on. Though that could also break the illusion too much or tip its hand or whatever. The mystery of where these people disappear to is probably better! Maybe they are never seen again, are lost for all time in a dark cosmic void that exists under a Burbank soundstage. Oh if only they'd remembered Weird Al's name or said "Whack-a-Mole" instead of "Whack-a-Mall," they'd still be on this mortal plane with the rest of us. But instead they're trapped in another dimension, playing the question over and over again in their head for eternity. Oh well!

Once that loopy hour is done and it's only nine o'clock, you could either: Be a good, almost nun-like person and tuck yourself into bed for a nice long sleep before waking up early and doing calisthenics or something, you could read one of these aforementioned "books" though we're not sure where you could find such a thing at that late hour, or you could, if you'd recently moved for example and had your cable reinstalled and they gave you Cinemax for free for three months, plow through a couple episodes of their 2010 British co-produced action show Strike Back, a ridiculously gung-ho, boob-filled action spectacular. We'd recommend the third option.

Strike Back — about a ragtag team of special operatives, including one ex-military American, working loosely with the British government — is not exactly a dumb show. It displays a certain level of familiarity with geopolitical conflicts that you might have to strain to find on, say, something like NCIS. That's maybe owed to it being mostly a British production — people who live in smaller countries seem to know more about other places or something. (Or Americans are just inward-looking jerks. Either one.) But no, it's not remedial or anything, it's just that they then cover that thin-ish layer of smarts with a heap of rah-rah, pow-pow violence and hilariously gratuitous sex scenes. Which is to say, it's lots of fun! Every episodes is like a mini action movie, with wisecracks and tough babes and blood-soaked musclemen heroes somehow coming out swinging in the end. It's wonderfully unabashed about itself, which almost makes it kind of cool, even if its (minimal) politics are a little square in their shoot first ask questions maybe later approach. If you've got Cinemax, you could do a lot worse.

So yes, fear not if your DVR lets you down or an evening's TV schedule seems despairingly boring. There is a whole secret second tier of programming lurking in the shadows that is plenty entertaining enough to fill a night. But if you really can't find anything on, not one blessed thing, we suppose you could maybe try to have a conversation with a friend or loved one or something. But that's really a last resort.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.