PERFECT BID: An Underwhelming Tale Of An Underwhelming Scandal
Perfect Bid doesn't overstay its welcome, it's warmly presented, and offers up some interesting behind-the-scenes insights into one of the world's most famous game shows.
Most people only watch game shows when they’re home sick from work or are in need of some background noise.
Not Ted Slauson. He attended tapings of The Price Is Right for nearly three decades, appearing on it thirty-seven times. The show was more than an obsession for Slauson, it was his life; he’d spend hours keeping records of the prices of all the products that were featured, even writing computer programs to help him learn his figures.
Slauson‘s expertise got him into hot water during one fateful taping in 2008. He was an audience member when contestant Terry Kniess became the first person to guess the combined price of all the products during the ‘Showcase Showdown’ exactly right. As Slauson was well known to the The Price Is Right team, many theorised that he and Kniess had worked out a way of cheating the system. In Perfect Bid: The Contestant Who Knew Too Much, Slauson tells his side of the story.
An Affectionate Portrait
Whilst ostensibly about the 2008 ‘scandal’, Perfect Bid spends far more of its scant runtime charting Ted Slauson‘s long relationship with The Price Is Right.
Slauson describes his various appearances on the show with astonishing precision, especially considering that some of the events that he recalls are nearly thirty years old. He still remembers how many steps it took him to get from his seat in the audience to Contestant’s Row, interactions he had with Holly Hallstrom (one of the models who’d present the products), and the exact prices of some of the items he placed bids on.
Slauson‘s excellent memory for detail goes a long way towards overcoming the unfortunate fact of him being a rather dull screen presence. Director C. J. Wallis tries his best to distract from this, with varying levels of success. The amount of archival footage he has to hand is a definite help, as are the animated sequences. But sometimes Wallis inserts these strange, lengthy bridging shots of Slauson staring uneasily into the camera, or drinking from a bottle of water. It’s difficult to know what he was going for with these moments, but unless it was to confuse his audience, it doesn’t work.
Though Slauson is by far the most dominant presence here, Perfect Bid is at its most engaging when he is not on screen, and Roger Dobkowitz or Bob Barker (respectively the executive producer and longest-running host of The Price Is Right) is. Dobkowitz and Barker both love the show as much as Slauson does, but in a markedly different manner. They are grateful for the way that it bettered their lives, and as such, they have as much respect for the fans as the fans have for them. Barker is often asked why he goes out to talk to the tourists on the bus that stops outside his house, and he replies, “Without these people, I’d have had to work for a living.” He’s often visibly emotional when he talks about his thirty-five years as host.
It’s not hard to imagine a documentary looking down on Slauson‘s obsession with The Price Is Right, or even mocking him for it, but to its credit, Perfect Bid never once threatens to head down that path. Instead the film is an affectionate portrait of the people who make game shows their life, one way or another.
Is That It?
Perfect Bid is marketed as being about ‘one of the biggest controversies in game show history’, and yet by the time it actually gets round to covering the scandal, there are six minutes left of the documentary. And when those six minutes are over, you’re left wondering “Is that it?”.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the preponderance of Ted Slauson‘s voice. Sure, we hear a little from Roger Dobkowitz, Bob Barker and Drew Carey, but we spend the most time with Slauson, and that narrows our field of vision significantly. When Perfect Bid finally gets round to addressing the Kniess incident, Slauson‘s voice dominates to the extent that the scandal just doesn’t appear to have been a scandal. Some interview footage with Carey reveals that they changed the prices up more frequently afterwards and had a lot of meetings, but that’s it. It doesn’t seem like an event that was worth making a movie about.
Whilst Slauson might not be the most charismatic presence, psychologically he’s fascinating. Anyone who harbours a level of obsession like his is worthy of further exploration; it would have been illuminating to learn more about his life than how it connects to The Price Is Right.
But we never get to know him beyond his relationship to the game show. His childhood is rushed over within thirty seconds. At one point we enter a room that is full to the brim with Snoopy memorabilia, but oddly we never hear him talk about that particular obsession. He alludes to having a partner, but we never get to meet them. We never meet any of his friends or family, or anyone who could offer any personal insight into his character. There’s just Slauson, and he’s too wrapped up in the minutiae of his favourite show to be concerned about self-exploration.
Perfect Bid is ultimately worse off for this lack of curiosity. To not even question Slauson on the most basic facts about his life is an obvious oversight, and that results in the documentary remaining a disappointingly shallow experience. Entertaining, but shallow.
Perfect Bid: In Conclusion
Perfect Bid is a perfectly fine film. At seventy minutes long, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, it’s warmly presented, and offers up some interesting behind-the-scenes insights into one of the world’s most famous game shows.
What makes Perfect Bid frustrating is the vast psychological terrain that it walks up to and then steps right back from. An obsession as strong as Ted Slauson‘s could have made for a fascinating movie, but a lack of curiosity into his life beyond The Price Is Right means that C.J Wallis‘s documentary is just fine, when it could have been excellent.
Have you seen Perfect Bid? What did you think?
Worldwide distribution rights to Perfect Bid have been acquired by Gravitas Ventures and is slated for release April 2018. For all international release dates, see here.
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