ESPN’s gala premiere of “TILT,” shown January 13th, seems to be drawing dead from the start.
The show, starring Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol. 2) as poker champion Don “The Matador” Everest, is not going to persuade anyone who was thinking about playing the game to join the party. It portrays everyone in it, from the head of the casino to the worthless runner at the bottom, in a genuinely bad sense. There was not one redeeming quality that you could put on any of the characters. Perhaps most fatally, it seemed to be overly dramatic, sophomoric and badly acted and written from the start.
In the premier episode, you are given three young guns (none worth mentioning more than that) who, in one way or another, have been stripped of their bankrolls by “The Matador.” They have been banded together by another old-timer who, which hasn’t been stated yet, has also lost out to “The Matador.” Of course, there is tension between the three, with the two men (black and white) normally being separated from each other by the woman, who’s the third member of the team.
“The Matador,” meanwhile, has the head of the casino setting up games for him that have already been rigged with colusional playersand that will pay them off the Best Bets Today. Not ten minutes into the program (and in a scene which will not please most female viewers), we get to see Madsen receive oral pleasure from a hooker in the employ of the casino owner. Additionally, he seems to have a sidelight with another casino head (it appears; once again, it hasn’t been stated yet) and, at the very end of the program, breaks the arm of the runner in the employ of the old-timer and his crew to find out who he is working for.
Even law enforcement doesn’t get a break. There is a maniacal sherif from Iowa who is there to settle a score with “The Matador,” who seems to be responsible for the death of his brother. After getting ripped off in the rigged game by “The Matador,” he starts off on his sure to be homicidal path to getting his revenge.
The writing was extraordinarily lame, with every poker cliche tossed in for a supposed “air of authenticity.” There isn’t a redeeming character in the show, something you normally have to have for people to put their money on. The three team members are unremarkable and not very believable as players (and barely believable as actors), even in this day of seemingly everyone playing the game. Even the cameos from Daniel Negreanu, T. J. Cloutier and Norman Chad seemed forced and like the guests wanted to be somewhere else. Any attempts at drama was missed and, for a show about poker, there was very little about the game there (myself, I wasn’t expecting it to have much from the start).
This may have been the poker world of perhaps twenty or twenty five years ago. And, in some sense, there may still be some of this element that remains in the game today. Poker has gone from the backroom to prime time, but “TILT” will do little to move it further into the mainstream and may even hasten to rescind some of the goodwill that our game has earned in the past decade.