I don't know what to make of 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, which started a full-blown series last Friday, following its success as part of Channel 4's irregular "mash-up" evenings (where presenters of popular shows on the channel relocate to other shows, for humorous intentions). The most popular entertainment chimera of said evenings was when the comedians of satirical panel show 8 Out of 10 Cats found themselves playing teatime quiz show Countdown, aided by its regular contributors Susie Dent (of 'dictionary corner' fame) and Rachel Riley (short-skirted purveyor of numbered and lettered tiles). There's really no way on earth waspish Countdown host Nick Hewer could have been persuaded to get involved, and part of me thinks legendary original host Richard Whitley is spinning in his grave faster than the climactic Conundrum letters revolve.
The show that really benefits from this hybridisation is 8 Out of 10 Cats, because its own format is comparably weak; being little more than a succession of rounds asking topical questions based on the results of polls and statistics. I actually enjoy Cats because it's less combative than BBC rival Mock the Week and often much funnier than the illustrious Have I Got News For You? Over the years host Jimmy Carr and team captains Sean Lock and Jon Richardson have also been joined by a variety of recurring panellists who've come to feel like an extended family of the show: most notably bearded eccentric Joe Wilkinson from Him & Her.
By transplanting the Cats team to the world of Countdown (a word-and-numbers gameshow popular with students and the elderly), this cross-breed gives them a much stronger format to play in. And sometimes comedy flourishes most when it's trying to be contained by rules and procedures it can bend. Ultimately this show gives comedians the opportunity to take the piss out of Countdown from within its hallowed halls, and because the show has long ago become a British TV institution, it's surprisingly hilarious to watch happen—although there are surely only so many ways to comically undermine Countdown before things inevitably start feeling repetitive. But for now, watching people play Countdown really badly, solve rude anagrams, and chat-up sex symbol boffins Susie and Rachel is oddly enjoyable.
That said, there's a big part of me that can't overlook the fact Countdown has the raw end of the deal. It's hard to imagine this show existing in the show's heyday, where it perhaps had more self-respect for itself. Or maybe Countdown's lightened up and agreed to give its student fans an "after dark" version for a Friday night. Chances are your grandparents will never see their favourite show in this drunken state; asked to solve an anagram of MEGADICK during the ads. (The answer was MAGICKED.)