Film and TV

Reality Bites: Bet On Your Baby

Having children is a huge gamble, not just due to fears about mankind's future, but also in the sense that every parent -- at certain low points when dealing with an implacably demanding toddler -- wonders if he or she might be raising the next Pol Pot.

"Fortunately," ABC's new show Bet on Your Baby takes the short view, allowing parents to bet on their kid's ability to perform certain tasks rather than charting that same child's rise to genocidal tyranny over the course of his or her life.

Because honestly, that sounds like more of a PBS thing.

The premise is simple: Fve sets of parents wager on their ability to predict what their particular rugrat will do, for up to $50,000 in scholarship money. At current trends, that should cover one semester's worth of tuition in 2028.

I had to look up host Melissa Peterman on Wikipedia, and I still don't know anything about her. She was on Reba (another of that proud family of programs such as Outsourced and The O'Reilly Factor that no one will admit to watching) and something called Baby Daddy, which is what you get when you remake Three Men and a Baby and remove all the mustaches and chest hair.

The children (ages 2 to 3 1/2) compete in the "Baby Dome," which sounds utterly horrifying (and strangely intriguing) but is actually just a big chamber that looks like your average preschool classroom and appears to be (mostly) free of fallout and postapocalyptic biker gangs.

The first thing you'll be tempted to do is turn the sound off, because Peterman 's banter reminds you of listening to your spinster aunt with all the cats talking about how scandalous it was when Patrick took Sabrina home on General Hospital. The audience's unending chorus of "Awwws" as each child is introduced is similarly tiresome, and almost convincing.

I'm not going to run through the entire list of contestants, because reading this far has probably been torture enough. The first is three-year-old Kai, who has to score as many soccer goals as possible in 90 seconds. Kai's mom bets he'll score 3 to 5, while Dad offers onsite encouragement and assistance. If you're worried about the kids wilting under pressure, rest assured the Baby Dome is removed from the studio audience, though there are cameras present that the children are obviously aware of.

It seems as if this would be an easy system to game. Even though you won't know the specific nature of any challenge, most of them involve guessing a number range of outcomes. Surely the parents could play it safe by lowballing each time, thus securing at least some money and having a good chance of making the final round. Then again, maybe that's not the best way to boost a kid's self-esteem: "Sorry, son. You were probably capable of kicking a few more goals, but we'd rather you took the safe route. Try not to stand out in the crowd." Or as Homer Simpson put it, "The lesson is: Never try."

As it is, the only tension comes from the parent who made the bet agonizing in front of the audience as Junior "plays," unaware he/she may be set on the path to ITT Tech that very night.

Next up is Lorenzo (described as "40 months" old...don't we stop using months as a unit of age when they're, like, two?), who has to perform a variety of dance moves, all of which are helpfully demonstrated by Peterman, who quickly cements her status as the whitest woman on the planet (like starring in Reba wasn't enough). Meanwhile, Lily has to unroll toilet paper, while her dad (stay at home, because they make a big deal out of that) bets on whether she actually can. She can't, probably because it's more fun to commit wanton acts of destruction when your parents aren't watching. These TV producers don't know shit.

In terms of child exploitation, Bet on Your Baby has nothing on Toddlers & Tiaras, but as college costs continue to rise and normal working Americans become increasingly unable to foot the bill without seeking usurious government assistance, expect to see these kinds of game shows kick up the humiliation quotient as potential students and their parents grow more and more desperate.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar