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Review: "Celebrity Poker Showdown"

(c) NY Daily News

October 13, 2005

By David Bianculli

The field of five players is all male, and pretty tough on tonight's opening round of the seventh cycle of Bravo's "Celebrity Poker Showdown."

It includes a fugitive, a corpse, a convict, an ex-convict and a househusband. Or, at least, the men who play them - as five supporting players on ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Mark Moses (the missing Paul Young), Steven Culp (the late Rex Van De Kamp), Ricardo Antonio Chavira (the imprisoned Carlos Solis), James Denton (the plumbing Mike Delfino) and Doug Savant (the baby-sitting Tom Scavo) bring a lot of hit-show clout to "Showdown" (9 p.m.).

As host Dave Foley tells them while describing the game's $1 million charity prize pool: "A million dollars! Why, that's catering on your show for a week!"

This poker show, though, continues to chug along and entertain, long after many other reality-competition shows have lost their edge and momentum.

It's only partly because, with the cameras placed to reveal the hole cards and with running commentary by Foley and poker expert Phil Gordon, these games of no-limit Texas hold'em are fun to watch.

Mostly it's because these freewheeling games allow celebrities to do what few other TV venues currently permit: to let them come on and be themselves, with neither agenda nor material.

In "Showdown," we get to peek at the true personalities behind these showbiz personalities. Only rarely, as when the abrasive personality of "Survivor" star Jon Dalton (aka Jonny Fairplay) made that round of play a tedious bore, does it fail to entertain.

Otherwise it's fun to watch celebrities relax and goof off, and that's precisely what these "Housewives" guys do.

Moses makes increasingly rude jokes. Culp needles Denton to throw off his game ("So, Jamie, you done any magazine covers lately?" "Not on purpose," Denton replies).

Chavira plays to his Latin supporters in the crowd. And when the game gets down to head-to-head action, the quality of the poker is the best I've seen in this show's entire run.

"Hey, Ricardo," Denton says after a hand in which Chavira forces a fold from Savant. "Did you have anything?"

Chavira smiles. "It's just like Wisteria Lane," he replies, "where everything's a mystery."

On that hand, Chavira indeed had the goods. So does "Celebrity Poker Showdown," hands down. Or hands exposed.

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