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Stream It Or Skip It?

Escape rooms are something you either love or hate. Some people like the thrill of being trapped and needing great teamwork and problem solving to get out. Others (like me) just get anxious watching people in these rooms. So we approached Celebrity Escape Room, a Red Nose Day fundraiser produced by Jack Black and Ben Stiller, with a little trepidation. Will it be funny or make us hyperventilate? Read on for more.

Opening Shot: In a control room, we see Jack Black in a smoking jacket, reading a book that says “Literature” in handmade letters. “Oh!” he says in a Jack Black-ian fake voice. “You’ve stumbled upon a brand new part of Red Nose Day. Something I put together called Celebrity Escape Room.”

The Gist: Celebrity Escape Room is a one-off special (for now, at least), that is executive produced by Ben Stiller and Jack Black. As part of this past week’s Red Nose Day, it was designed to bring awareness to the Red Nose Day organization’s various causes. The object: If Black’s four superstar buddies — Stiller, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow and Adam Scott — can navigate their way out of four escape rooms in one hour, they can raise $150,000 for Red Nose Day. Also, the donation number is displayed throughout the episode for people to call in donations. For each puzzle the group solves along the way, another $15,000 is added to their total. They can get three clues throughout the show if they all wear a red nose and agree to get a clue.

Black, of course, is supposed to be the escape room master, “controlling” things from his console while stroking his beard and whipping around his ponytail. He jokes (maybe?) that if his buddies don’t win the money for charity, he’ll use the money to buy a 1991 Lamborghini Countach he found online.

So the four celebs are sent in an elevator that they think is a room, but Black is just “messing with them.” The first room is an ’80s-themed bedroom, where the group needs to figure out where some missing photos are then put them in order, then solve the Rubik’s Cube-style table in the middle of the room. The next room is a high school hallway, which is where the most complicated puzzles take place, having to do with finding lockers to open via a black-light-projecting bulldog head, personalized varsity jackets, Cox getting locked in a locker, invites to the prom, and a “wall of fame”.

Then they go to the “prom,” where they have to set a clock, take a photo, and figure out which bottles of colored M&Ms to put together to unlock their spot on a dance floor, where they have to step on the squares in the right order a la the ’70s game Simon. Then, to finally escape, they all have to do karaoke to the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).” One problem with that: Kudrow doesn’t know the song, unlike her fellow Gen X teammates.

Photo: Trae Patton/NBC

Our Take: It’s not had to conceive that Celebrity Escape Room, which premiered as part of a fundraising special for Red Nose Day, wasn’t also filmed as a way to test out the concept for a potential series. Of course, with all of us distancing from each other, whatever series might come out of this special won’t happen for at least a year. But if they want to turn this into a series, they have a pretty good concept for one, even if Black isn’t the host going forward.

It helps that Stiller, Cox, Scott and Kudrow alternately admit that they’re the ones carrying the team on their backs as well as not being the sharpest knives in the drawer. Listen, all four of them are relatively intelligent people — Kudrow went to Vassar, for heaven’s sake! — but the idea of having to solve relatively easy puzzles to escape these funny rooms leaves them all a bit flummoxed, and they’re not afraid to admit it. Then again, they are all problem solvers as actors, directors and producers, and you can tell Stiller does the most of that in his career as a director and producer, as he generally has the most thought-out decisions as opposed to just doing things like shouting because a sign said “MAKE SOME NOISE.”

It also helps that all four are funny about this goofy circumstance they’re in. It gives the viewer a little insight into them as real people and not celebrities. We loved, for instance, that when Cox got locked in the locker, she said in a side interview, “I knew Lisa wouldn’t leave me there,” which is a sign of their 26-year friendship. We also loved Scott constantly mentioning Friends to Cox and Kudrow, because he was likely a fan of the show and acts like a fan even though he’s now their contemporary.

We thought that Black’s histrionics were mostly funny, and the interactions the celebs had with each other were real and funny. Keeping the escape room aspect of it pressure-free and lighthearted helped keep us from getting anxious about the idea of being trapped in a room where we have to figure out how to escape. The interstitials where other celebs like Paul Rudd, Kate McKinnon, Lil Rel Howery, Kristen Bell and others pretend they’re in other escape rooms that Black has neglected was a nice touch, as were the guest spots from Kelly Clarkson, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz. If the lighthearted, fundraising element of the show remains, it could definitely make for a good short-run holiday or summer event series.

Sex and Skin: None.

Parting Shot: After the quartet go back to the control room after escaping all the rooms, Black leaves in a cloud of smoke (and an instruction to close the doors) and confetti rains down. Scott jokes that there are clues on the scraps of paper, that’s how weird the experience was.

Sleeper Star: Here’s a good place to give kudos to the set designers for making escape rooms that evoked some strong nostalgia in the guests — the school hallway led Scott to say it smelt like school, “a combination of Clearasil and body odor” — and a colorful show for the viewers.

Most Pilot-y Line: None.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Celebrity Escape Room was a good start to Red Nose Day (you can still donate, despite the day being over), and it was just lighthearted enough to not set off a panic attack. So it’s a win-win for the viewer and for the Red Nose Day organization.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.

Stream Celebrity Escape Room on NBC.com

Stream Celebrity Escape Room On Hulu



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