Las Vegas, mid-range stars, beer and cards, all the way it was meant to be. From the funky Rat Pack-inspired opening to the tacky Loser’s Lounge, Bravo’s Celebrity Poker Showdown is great goofy fun. In each of the six episodes, five celebrities stare each other down for a $50,000 pot to be contributed to their favorite charity. In the last one, the big winners from each round go for broke over a $250,000 pot. You learn a bit about the actors along the way. The cast of The West Wing all look and act like their counterparts, except they have nothing witty to say.
Carrie Fisher looks like she’s still in the middle of a 20-year bender, barely able to complete a sentence and not that good at eye contact. Nonetheless, she’s great fun, especially when she and Mimi Rogers get into a trash-talking, bird-flipping showdown.
Probably the weakest part is host Kevin Pollak, who insists on throwing in unfunny and obvious jokes (“You can’t claim executive privilege if you’re losing, Martin!” he tells Martin Sheen) in his opening patter. Fortunately, his amiable partner, poker expert Phil Gordon, salvages some dignity and explains the complexities of the game in plain English. Even if he does occasionally say stuff like “Mimi is only 56 percent to win from here.”
If you’re a poker aficionado, don’t bother coming in looking for any skilled playing. Mostly it’s a primer on how completely ineptly a poker game can be played by famous people. Scott Stapp, lead singer of Creed, comes up with some hilarious moments with his complete inability to understand the basics of the game. “How can I lose with two pair?” he whines after he gets his butt kicked for the third time.
Hell, the real fun is in seeing total amateurs try to get by on their charisma. Celebrity Poker Showdown is in heavy rotation through January and February on Bravo; you can find schedules on www.bravotv.com. The first of the six episodes reruns at 3:30 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Saturday, plus many times after that. Rating: 3 1/2 stars