Celebs take on ‘Brain Games’ in revamped NatGeo series


‘Brain Games’ – Why Keegan-Michael Key signed on


Keegan-Michael Key

National Geographic’s “Brain Games” returns this week with a reworked format, more cerebrum-twisting challenges and a host who is clearly in his element.

Premiering Monday, Jan. 20, the rebooted version of the original 2011-16 series brings in Hollywood celebrities such as Ted Danson, Rebel Wilson, Anthony Anderson and married actors Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard to take part in interactive games, illusions and social experiments designed to test their brain power, assisted by mentalist Lior Surchard. Meanwhile, science communicator Cara Santa Maria takes the challenges on the road to ordinary Americans in field segments.

It’s all presided over by Emmy-winning actor, writer and improv comedian Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “Friends From College”) before a live studio audience.

“It was part of the reason I did the show …,” Key explained to a recent gathering of journalists in Beverly Hills, Calif. “I feed off of other people being directly with me, but also addressing an audience. And I thought that that was something that was really nice. It’s this wonderful, fun, accessible area where we want the audience to watch the show and also feel, ‘Oh, gosh, if I go to Hollywood, I’d love to go to that show. That show looks like it would be a lot of fun and I would learn something.’ ”

Monday’s opener, titled “Male Brain vs. Female Brain,” tasks spouses Bell and Shepard with challenges such as packing as many items as possible into a refrigerator, arranging numbered blocks in order in a grid and a cooperative exercise where they deflate an oversized beach ball and pack it in a box, each using only one hand.

“They’re intensely competitive …,” Key says of the couple. “Dax, you can see his cogs turning the entire time I was setting up some of the exercises because he’d be like, ‘Right. OK. And so then I’m gonna count back in order like this, and I do a serpentine? Or am I going one to …’ — he really wanted to make sure he could get the rules so he could figure out a shortcut to doing things. And Kristen, you could see had a lot of nerves because she just wanted to go, ‘Am I not doing it right? Am I not asking the questions I should be asking? How do I get some advantage to playing the game?’ ”


George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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