Give 'em a hand: Bravo's 'Poker Showdown' is a winner
By Amy Amatangelo
Tuesday, December 2, 2003
Ben Affleck without Jennifer Lopez glued to his side?
Willie Garson, the sweet Stanford on HBO's "Sex and the City,'' as "the Prince of Darkness''?
Welcome to the wonderful world of "Celebrity Poker Showdown'' (premiering tonight at 9 on Bravo). In this six-episode series, celebrities play No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em at the glamorous Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
"Well-paid famous folk gambling without using their own money,'' host Kevin Pollak says. Each player will walk away with at least $5,000 for the charity of his or her choice, but they're all vying for the grand prize: $250,000 for their favorite cause.
These celebs take poker very seriously. In the first game, Affleck, Garson, Don Cheadle ("ER''), David Schwimmer ("Friends'') and Emily Proctor ("CSI: Miami'') sidle up to a poker table.
Quickly, each performer's real-life personality becomes evident. Garson, a reckless and ruthless player, earns the nickname "Evil Willie.'' Schwimmer is nervous, Cheadle is cool and Affleck is stressed. Proctor flirts with her male competitors.
"Can I have some of your money?'' she coyly asks Affleck.
To the uninitiated, watching poker may seem as exciting as attending a screening of "Gigli 2.'' But Pollak and poker expert Phil Gordon bring the game to life and make it accessible to even the novice player. Unlike the folks playing, the viewer has access to every player's hand, and Gordon pops in with statistics ("75 percent to win that hand'') and succinct advice that only the audience can hear ("very playable hand'').
Most of the celebrities have been playing cards for a long time, and their expertise makes the game even more exciting. After a player is ousted, he or she sits in the "Loser's Lounge'' and humorously mocks former competitors.
In the second episode available for review, "The West Wing'' co-stars Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Timothy Busfield compete. (Their castmate Joshua Malina is one of "Showdown's'' four executive producers.)
Even though these faux White House figures aren't as proficient at the game, they're still a hoot to watch. Schiff smacks gum throughout the game and tries a variety of hats to bring him luck.
Upcoming episodes feature Hank Azaria, Tom Green, Coolio, Carrie Fisher and Mimi Rogers. The winner from each round will play in the championship game Jan. 13. Will it be exciting? Bet on it.