A couple of Mondays ago, CTV launched Battle of the Generations. Billed as a “nostalgia-packed quiz show,” it features four contestants per episode, each representing a particular generation: Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial or Gen Z.
Basically it is Trivial Pursuit for the whole family, from the kids to the grandparents. Therein lies the appeal: which generation would be better at this? The one who has lived through history’s top-stories of the past 60 years, or the one who has access to more information than at any other time in history?
Shot in Toronto on a mammoth, shiny, black and neon sound stage, the series is hosted by Lilly Singh. The Scarborough native is coming off her second season as a judge opposite Howie Mandel on Citytv’s Canada’s Got Talent. The former NBC late-night talk show host is a dynamic personality with a huge social media fan following. She’s an all-world millennial, a great choice to host (as well as executive produce) this series.
On the release for Battle of the Generations, Singh is quoted as saying, “I look forward to representing my fellow millennials across Canada and seeing all the generations bring it!”
I interviewed her a couple of weeks ago. Her favourite boomer? “Howie Mandel,” she told me.
We had a great time on the zoom call, but, because I am a Boomer, I had a technical brain cramp and didn’t realize until after our conversation had ended that I had failed to record it. Score it Millennial One, Boomer, nothing!
Therein lies the heart of this epic, intergenerational TV struggle. Even though you’d think Boomers might have a big advantage in a general knowledge game because they lived through all the quiz question topics, we don’t remember stuff so well anymore. Our memories are full. Stuff has been falling out of my head for years.
The producers of the series play up these advantages and disadvantages. Contestants seem to have come straight from central typecasting. Boomers look like aging hippies; Gen Z kids are practically in pajamas. Everybody is encouraged to trash talk, but it sometimes rings a little hollow. If you auditioned for this show expecting Jeopardy!, you probably didn’t come prepared to chirp like on Letterkenny.
At stake each episode is a potential $25,000 payoff, but because this is a Canadian game show, winners might be lucky to walk away with about half of that. The money is in a “vault” and wrong answers deduct values as the game goes on.
Also working again the show is the hour-long format. That’s twice as long as other quiz shows and feels it. My final nit pick: the series appears to be taped without a studio audience. Watching is a bit like walking through an empty casino. All you hear is the plunky, dramatic music cues as lights occasionally flash. A show like this needs to hear audience members cheering on their generation.
Still, I like some aspects of the show. The way to win is to play aggressive and select questions outside your particular generation. Values are higher, for example, if a Gen X players tackles a Boomer question, or vice versa. The catch? That is really, really difficult.
As I screened the first episode, for example, I knew all the boomer questions. Such as:
Which American astronaut took the first orbital flight aboard the Friendship 7 spacecraft?
That’s easy. As every schoolboy knew in the ’60s, the Friendship 7 rocket was part of the initial Mercury program. John Glenn, one of seven solo Mercury riders, was the only possible correct answer.
Gen Z or Millennials, I’d wager, would likely be lost in space on that one. I would fail to take off, however, when faced with questions about casting on Gen Z shows such as PEN15, or which is the fake Taylor Swift album, or naming “Colleen Ballinger’s red-lipped alter ego” (Miranda Sings).
Jimmy, the grey-haired Boomer on the episode I watched, went down in flames. “Seems the only thing you didn’t smoke is the competition,” snarked Singh.
Zoe, a 23-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., made good on her obviously scripted boast to “beat these old fogies into retirement.” She reasoned and guessed correctly when picking off higher values outside her category such as Boomer questions about Gordon Lightfoot and what year GM introduced the Corvette (1953). While Gen Z’s may not care about anything that happened before COVID, they have fresh memories and, straight from university as Zoe is, sharper minds.
A warning, therefore: if you’re a Boomer, you might find Battle of the Generations more depressing than, well, The Depression — even though that was before your time. The series airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT at CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app.