Saturday, 25 February 2012

Should ROOM 101 be banished to Room 101?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Room 101 returned to our screens awhile ago, but I haven't had the chance to write about it until now. I was always a fan of this show; from when it started in 1994 with Nick Hancock in charge, all the way through the Paul Merton years until it was axed in 2007. For those who've been hiding under a rock, the format of the show had a weekly celebrity trying to convince the host to let them banish items into the fictional "Room 101". It was basically a half-hour spent listening to a famous person's "pet hates", which was an amusing way to spend some time.

Now, after a five year "rest", Room 101's back with comedian Frank Skinner as host, although it's transformed from a talk show to a homogeneous panel show, with three celebrities competing to get their many hates into Room 101. There are even different rounds revolving around specific categories. You could argue this is an improvement, because how can more celebs and more spleen-venting be a BAD thing? But, strangely, it isn't an improvement. Without the one-on-one focus, the show feels more trivial and less time's spent discussing each celeb's irritation. One of the funniest things about Room 101 was seeing Hancock/Merton analyse each guest's bugbears, with a variety of props and evidence to sway the argument one way or the other, but this new version just doesn't have a chance to. Consequently, good picks with plenty of comic potential are dealt with too quickly, and then we're onto the next person's choice.

I can see why they chose to update Room 101 in this way, especially because panel shows are enormously successful still, but it hasn't really worked for me. The fact it's a panel show means there's the same parade of faces being booked as guests (Sarah Millican, Micky Flanagan, Rhod Gilbert, et al), whereas I remember the original show being more inventive and surprising with their bookings. It had slowly become a minor honour to be asked on, almost like Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, but now the sheen has gone.

And if they're going to update the show, why not make genuine improvements like allowing the studio audience to vote for what gets put into Room 101? That's a far better idea than just letting Skinner decide each choice's fate, if you ask me. At least Hancock/Merton would sometimes decide success/failure based on the response from the audience, giving it a vaguely democratic feel. And the fact it now airs before the 9pm watershed means the opportunity to be more scabrous has been curbed, which is a shame.

What do you think? Is Room 101 better with multiple guests and more pet hates? Or has the show now become less focused, with fewer opportunities to explore the comic potential of a celebrity's choices?

Fridays, BBC2, 8.30PM