top of page
  • Writer's pictureSusannah Powers Stengel

Don’t When You Can’t

Don’t is the New Game Show that Rewards its Contestants for Doing Nothing, and its Audiences with Absurdist Meta Theatre


Spoilers For: Shrewdly acerbic gameshow content.

During quarantine, irritable funks fuse with bouts of failed productivity. Even on good days in this dumpster fire, I struggle to relax. TV decisions have gotten harder. Normally compelling dramas now leave me apathetic. Favorite comedies and familiar characters grate my nerves, clashing hollowly against the ennui.

Into our broken matrix of skewed COVID-19 reality pounces Don’t. Allow me to make a decision for you. Don’t discount Don’t, ABC’s theatre of the absurd style game show, streaming on Hulu. The show is hosted by Adam Scott (best known as Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation) and flawlessly narrated by Ryan Reynolds (best known as the titular anti-superhero in Deadpool). Don’t somehow scratches an uncanny, escapist itch, the perfect oxymoronic spectacle for our discordant time.


Oh, the smirk of it all. Adam Scott shines in Don't.

Image Credit: PrimeTimer


Contestants compete in a family team of four for a chance to win a potential total cash prize of $1000,000, simply by not doing as they are told.

-Don’t Drink: Players eat peppers of ever-climbing scoville ratings and increasingly quenching beverages are proffered lovingly by Scott.

-Don’t Flinch: Contestants stand behind a glass wall unflinching while country hams are thrown at their faces and they are mocked incessantly.

The challenge sequences themselves are wonkily-paced, silly-stupid-fun. The unapologetic direct address antics of the game show wrap around you with a flawed familiarity reminiscent of a fleece hoodie with a few large ketchup stains. What makes this game show fresh and diverting is its wry, self-conscious absurdism, achieved in three ways:

1. Reynolds’ Metacritical Voice:

The direct audience address of our overlord and narrator Ryan Reynolds wins the day. As the blue background of the Don’t title screen plays, Reynolds admits time you that “This LoFi blue space tunnel is where” he lives. He is the naysaying, heckling ghost of our own dark internal monologues. He reminds the audience repeatedly in episode 5 that Mikayla’s husband David will never be a real member of the Ellison family. Matters of global international policy are not avoided. In fact, they are exploited. As Reynolds reminds you in episode four: “You won’t see me, but I can see you. Just kidding. This is ABC, not Facebook.” Mere seconds later Reynold’s pipes up with nervous ferocity—“Russia will always be our enemy.”

2. Scott’s Contradictory Agreeability:

Host Adam Scott delights in lingering eye contact with the camera, uncomfortable pauses, and earnest commitments to the ridiculous. He treats contestants graciously. This doesn’t stop him from teasing them relentlessly. He seems to get an adorable but sadistic pleasure out of watching the faces of four sweet sisters when he drops a test dummy from a great height at the start of the “Don’t Leave Me Hanging.” As the body bounces to the floor and falls apart, Scott touches his ear-piece and charmingly reports back, “I’m being assured that that probably won’t happen to you guys.”

3. Side Challenges and Wicked Diversions

Don’t finds plenty of time in its intentionally off-kilter pacing to revel in the random. Such as a commercial for the Ellison family action figures, with son-in-law David only added to the expansion pack. An errant joke about bucks leads Reynolds to say “40,000 antelopes are standing by backstage. Side challenge: don’t tell PETA.”

Right now, there is something so satisfying about knowing you are being messed with transparently (not secretly).

Don’t wittily encourages us to laugh at the absurdity of language itself and to grin cheekily back at Scott as he simultaneously hosts the challenges and distracts us from them. This show scratches a meaningfully meaningless itch oh-so-topical to our frustrating moment and still provides a few sincerely heartwarming moments of family bonding. On the days you can’t, won’t figure out what to watch, try Don’t. I recommend watching one episode in your underwear in a bad mood and seeing if, just maybe, with Don’t you dare enjoy yourself.

Image Credit:


“Don’t Go Chasing Cedar Rapids.” Don’t. ABC, Hulu, 9 Jul. 2020.

“Don’t Hit Your Sister.” Don’t. ABC, Hulu 16 Jul. 2020.

What's your favorite classic, new, or rebooted game show? The Floor is Lava on Netflix is hot garbage. Thoughts? Feelings? Back us, fight us, just join the bloom and write us. Comment below!


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page