Showing posts with label Gameshows/Quizes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gameshows/Quizes. Show all posts

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Channel 4's THE SINGER TAKES IT ALL; average karaoke with an innovative twist

Channel 4's thrown its hat into the ring of reality singing contests, taking on ITV's X Factor and BBC1's The Voice, with THE SINGER TAKES IT ALL. As befits Channel 4's remit for innovation in the field, the key difference with this series is how it puts the power at the audience's fingertips using modern technology...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

What are the best British TV panel shows?

One of the most common and popular formats on British television is the venerable "comedy panel show". The UK has cornered the market with this genre, largely because it's the only country that makes so many. It probably helps that they're so cheap and relatively easy to produce.

Oddly, the panel show is almost unheard of in America nowadays, although the US is credited with originating the genre and it was very popular in the '50s and '60s. But the comedy panel show sub-genre never really took hold across the pond, perhaps because there was no radio tradition of "parlour games"? Anyway, here endeth the history lesson. Below are my favourite UK-made comedy panel shows, of those currently in existence... do you agree with my choices?

Sunday, 20 April 2014


As everyone will tell you, BBC1's new Saturday night celebrity gameshow The Guess List is a blatant rip-off of Blankety Blank. It resembles that long-running show so much that I'm surprised they didn't just revive Blankety Blank once again, with a few tweaks to suit host Rob Brydon. Instead, they've gone with an inferior format that recycles the core Blankety Blank set-up (two contestants helped along by two tiers of seated celebrities). The result is, you guessed it, very underwhelming.

Monday, 27 January 2014

MSN TV: Channel 4's THE JUMP

Over at MSN TV today: I reviewed the first instalment of Channel 4's new celebrity reality show THE JUMP, where 12 celebrities compete in a variety of winter sport disciplines...
Timed to capture the spirit of this year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Channel 4 has essentially remade 2003's The Games with a larger budget and more potential for serious injury. Indeed, during training in Innsbruck, Austria, two celebrities have already dropped out: US actor Sam Jones (who played Flash Gordon) over a shoulder injury, and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson – who decided the show wasn’t for her after all. Maybe the perceived pressure of being hot favourite (as daughter of an Olympic skier) was too much. Despite those unfortunate losses (if only for the certainty of hearing Queen's Flash Gordon theme during Jones's events), The Jump still has a decent line-up. This is perhaps indicative of a show offering a genuine challenge and chance to learn new skills, unlike Big Brother and I'm A Celebrity.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: Channel 4's 8 OUT OF 10 CATS DOES COUNTDOWN

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.

Sunday, 3 March 2013


Over at MSN today: I've reviewed the second episode of ANT & DEC'S SATURDAY NIGHT TAKEAWAY, which has been revived on ITV after a four-year hiatus.
In all honesty, I find Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway occasionally wearisome because not all of the features work and unavoidable adverts interrupt the pacing. I often change channels towards the end, once it becomes clear the only thing left is the Win the Ads final game. Yes, it's the segment that does what it says on the tin; it offers a member of the studio audience a chance to win the contents of a commercial break. Nevertheless, after a four-year absence, Takeaway is something of a refreshing volte-face for Saturday TV which is usually swamped with lightweight drama, quizzes, and talent shows. Even during its original run it was something of a throwback to classic shows like Noel's Saturday Roadshow and House Party, which clearly made an impression on a younger Ant & Dec.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Over on MSN today: I review the final of ITV's celebrity diving series SPLASH!, having missed the semi-final the week before. (Don't worry, it still made perfect nonsense to me.) I'm so relieved this Saturday night water torture's over...
You have to give Splash! credit for maintaining an audience of over five million viewers, although it's perhaps less of a statement on the show's quality and more the lack of family-friendly entertainment in general. In the wake of the BBC axing Total Wipeout and Harry Hill's TV Burp ending, Splash! is the only Saturday night show you can plonk an eight-year-old and 80-year-old in front of without anxiety. That's not quite true of crude dating gameshow Take Me Out, let's be frank.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Sunday, 20 January 2013

MSN TV: ITV1's SPLASH! Week Three

Over at MSN today: there's still an appetite for SPLASH! reviews, so I've obliged with some thoughts on the surprisingly popular ITV show's third heat...
Last week, Tom Daley's Splash! unquestionably improved from its horrendous opening episode; this week maintained that same quality. The trouble now is that the format and timetable of each 90-minute episode has taken firm root, so the show as a whole is starting to go stale. At least when it was outright bad, you didn't know where things were going. But now Splash! just floats along and we know it's heading for a pointless finale in a fortnight's time.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Sunday, 13 January 2013


Today over at MSN: owing to the astonishing popularity of my SPLASH! review last weekend, MSN invited me back to critique the second week's episode. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, naturally...
ITV's light entertainment spectacle Splash! launched to a tidal wave of animosity last weekend, most notably on Twitter. I was part of the baying crowd, but also aware that (generally) viewers don't enjoy "hating" something unless it's entertaining them on some inexplicable level. The idea of a competitive celebrity diving show isn't necessarily a bad one; it just depends on how well it's executed. I was pleased to see an improvement in week two of Splash!, although there are still many problems that prevent it being anything other than a harmless travesty.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Over on MSN today: I review the premiere of ITV1's celebrity diving show SPLASH!, which is their new light entertainment hope for Saturday nights. As I can't resist puns, do you think it sank or swam?
I can understand the thinking behind Splash! getting commissioned by ITV; in the wake of the sport's increased popularity thanks to Tom Daley's sex symbol status, the desire to extend the nation's athletic positivity post-Olympics (also a reason the BBC revived Superstars, also with Gabby Logan), and a format that doesn't taking itself seriously. The latter point is worth further thought, seeing as the show felt as throwaway and knowingly pointless as the BBC's Let's Dance for Comic Relief (which likewise has celebs doing something out of their comfort zone and receiving tongue-in-cheek analysis). The difference is that Let's Dance has the excuse of existing for charitable reasons, whereas ITV assumedly believe Splash! has potential to be an honest success. Bombing isn't allowed on the show, but tell that to the ratings.

Continue reading at MSN TV...

Saturday, 14 April 2012


BBC1 is airing two of the UK's most popular panel shows back-to-back every Friday night, but how well are these formats coping with the strains put under them?

The evening begins with deception-based panel show Would I Lie To You? Now in its sixth series, WILTY remains fresh enough to stake a claim as the funniest panel show on TV. This is probably because it's more of a parlour gameshow than most others in the genre—which are often quiz-based because it's easier to attach scripted jokes to that format. WILTY's more like Call My Bluff, only with humorous anecdotes replacing esoteric words. Two teams of three celebrities tell each other personal stories (sometimes with the aid of props) in order to trick the opposing side into thinking the yarn is gospel truth or a barefaced lie. More often than not, this makes for a highly amusing half-hour of trickery and repartee.

It helps that the team captains are perfect in their roles, each bringing a specific style of humour to proceedings: David Mitchell's logical dissection of someone's story can sometimes get wearisome, but usually it's a delight to see him analyse things with such comical scrutiny; while opponent Lee Mack plays looser with the rules and manages to create a feeling of uncertainty because he adopts a level of ineptness in his truth-telling that might sometimes be a double-bluff. There's also comedy mined from how middle-class southerner Mitchell and working class northerner Mack (now that's a double-act name, Robert Webb!) are from different backgrounds and upbringings.

The only problem facing WILTY is that, as time goes on, you wonder if Mitchell and Mack will run out of stories that are sufficiently funny/bizarre enough to work. Not that the show relies on their stories alone, but I hope they each have good anecdotes left to squeeze out before everything they say becomes a lie because they've exhausted the truth. This is a problem that doesn't affect the rotation of guests, thankfully.

Fridays, 8.30PM, BBC1

Immediately after WILTY comes BBC stalwart Have I Got News For You? (arguably the panel show that started the country's love affair with this genre). Now in its 43rd series, amazingly, little has changed since the show was forced to ditch scandal-hit Angus Deayton as host (ironically WILTY's original presenter) for the successful but problematic "guest host" format. The thinking is that HIGNFY is kept fresh by having different celebs hosting the show every week, Saturday Night Live-style, and that's true to an extent—but it also means you have boring "safe pair of hands" episodes (here Stephen Mangan, usually Alexander Armstrong) more than the truly memorable hosts (like Boris Johnson or Bruce Forsythe). It also irritates me that the show still keeps in the "mistakes" a guest hosts make during the live recording, as if it's still a novelty having a "non-professional" sitting in the hot-seat and a fluffing a line or two. Isn't this the accepted format of the show now? Why are the still showing us what amounts to bloopers in the show itself?

HIGNFY is still incredibly popular and remains an entertaining watch, but I find myself wishing it would be overhauled. Ian Hislop and Paul Merton have been team captains for so long their shtick is fairly predictable, especially in the latter's case with his surreal meanderings. But more worrying than that, if we're honest HIGNFY is a much less perceptive satirical show than its reputation has us believe. If you note the type of jokes that are made off-the-cuff, or the writers have scripted for the guest host to read off the autocue, the majority of them are silly jibes about a particular famous person's public persona or physical looks. (Politician Eric Pickles is a particular target these days, just because he's fat. I guess Pickles is John Prescott's replacement because they've had the former Deputy PM on the show and now we know he's actually a straight-thinking and amusing man.)

Obviously not every joke can be a vividly perceptive gem that tackles the hot issues of the day in a fresh way, but I get the feeling that HIGNFY has less and less to say of real merit these days. It's like everyone who appears on it just follows the pattern they've seen play out hundreds of times, afraid or just unable to take the show down a different path. Why not alter some of the rounds, ditch some of the weaker ones, or bring in a few new ideas? For instance, why is there still a "guest publication" in the Missing Words round? Wasn't that a one-series joke that never got retired? Its weekly inclusion just removes the opportunity for a politically-based joke when the missing word has something to do with a niche topic like raisins instead of something topical and of public interest.

It just feels like HIGNFY could do with a facelift, because it's been around for so long that viewers find it comforting (some people have never known a world without HIGNFY, remember!), and treat it with a reverence it perhaps doesn't deserve anymore. It probably helps that there's no admirable challenger out there, with Channel 4's disappointing The 10 O'Clock Show and Adrian Chiles' The Sunday Show its closest competitors. In comparison to both, HIGNFY remains genius.

Fridays, 9PM, BBC1

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Should ROOM 101 be banished to Room 101?

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

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


X Factor. Big Brother. Strictly Come Dancing. The schedules are crammed with reality/talent shows just now, but ITV1's vastly underrated 71 Degrees North deserves more attention. In this show, which recently started its second series, 10 celebrities undertake various challenges in the chilly Norwegians wilds, journeying across frozen tundra to the titular 71 degrees north, as one of their group's eliminated each week.

Together they build ice holes, swim in sub-zero fjords, pull sleds, hang from bridges, cross ravines, climb ice walls, sleep in tents suspended vertically from a cliff, abseil down frozen waterfalls, and race snowmobiles. You can't say the celebs don't earn their money on this show, with temperatures regularly dipping to -30C. And that's part of the reason I really enjoy it, because eating bugs, learning to ballroom dance, or living in a house with strangers, has nothing on 71 Degrees North's physical and mental demands.

The lineup this year may cause the odd titter and furrowed brow, but it's far starrier than what Channel 5 recently gave us with Celebrity Big Brother. On 71 Degrees North we have OIympian Amy Williams, ex-children's presenter Angelica Bell, ex-EastEnders actress Brooke Kinsella, buxom gardener Charlie Dimmock, comic actor John Thomson, Loose Women presenter Lisa Maxwell, "Hollywood actor" Sean Maguire, Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding, '80s popstar/actor Martin Kemp, and celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke. That's star-power akin to I'm A Celeb, which is amazing considering 71's not likely to revive flagging careers in quite the same way. But that's actually a credit to the people who get involved, as it feels like they're genuinely there for a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, not to sit around getting humiliated and scared for a big fat cheque that could lead to panto work or an ITV2 fly-on-the-wall docu-series.

The only flaw with 71 Degrees North is that every series isn't going to be vastly different, as there's only so many challenges you can do in an arctic setting. The first episode was almost identical to Series 1's premiere last year, ending with an endurance swim in freezing waters. The show also lacks the sex appeal of the other celeb-based shows, unless you find crampons a turn-on. There are no "showmances", no saucy clinches in a cha-cha-cha, no semi-naked showers under an paradisiacal waterfall, no bikini-clad sunbathing in a garden. But who cares? Instead we get something far better: camaraderie, stress, endurance, teamwork, people overcoming fears, and mounting respect for the celebs as you sit at home with a hot cup of cocoa watching the poor sods hike through blizzards. And the celebs give it 100% effort, because winning a challenge means they're treated to an overnight stay at a luxury chalet with comfortable beds, hot food and hot showers. No half-hearted bushtucker trials ending in a walk back to camp with a few hot meals, here.

It's a good show, deserving of more love and attention from viewers, as it undeservedly gets overlooked because ITV are too busy promoting X Factor to death.

71 DEGREES NORTH. Tuesdays, ITV1, 8PM.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Review: RED OR BLACK? (ITV1)

This Simon Cowell-produced gameshow was inspired by the real story of Ashley Revell, a British man who sold everything he owned to gamble the resulting $135,000 on the spin of a roulette wheel in Las Vegas back in 2004. Red Or Black? taps into that story's simplicity, as 100,000 contestants are whittled down over the course of 10 simple games with a 50/50 outcome.

Beginning in a huge arena for a pre-recorded stunt (e.g. daredevil bikers jumping through a gap of decreasing size), or outside on location (e.g. a giant bungee-catapult stunt next to Battersea Power Station), thousands are eventually reduced to a handful of people who get to appear live in the studio, playing more intimate games with a "red or black" outcome. Eventually, one lucky person remains and gets to spin an enormous roulette wheel, watching a clattering white ball decides if they walk away with a cool £1 million... or nothing.

There's no denying this all makes for exciting TV, but one ingredient's been overlooked by Cowell's creative team: unlike in Ashley Revell's true story, there's no actual gambling involved. Every contestant has literally nothing to lose. So there are no stakes. No cash is rewarded over the course of the 10 games, so it's quite simply a case of blind luck. Gameshows like Deal Or No Deal? may get flak for "dumbing down" the gameshow genre, but Deal at least plays into people's sense of judgement and greed. In Red Or Black? there's literally nothing to lose, but everything to gain.

It's still fun and entertaining, of course, partly because it all costs £15 million to stage (making it the world's most expensive gameshow), and is therefore a definite spectacle. But considering how episode 1 already saw the jackpot won by bricklayer Nathan Hageman, has it peaked too early? How interesting will it be to see people choose "red" or "black" at random, guessing their way through various games to become a lucky millionaire, or leave empty-handed? I'm not sure.

Right now, Red Or Black? is a finely-tuned extravaganza that makes for perfect "event television" for the late-summer: likable Ant & Dec are the hosts, the stunts/games are entertaining and unusual, there's some X Factor/Britain's Got Talent cross-promotion (David Hasselhoff and Louis Walsh appeared), it has live music (X Factor superstar Leona Lewis), and nobody can deny that final roulette wheel spin isn't a masterclass of televised tension. Watching a white ball clatter around, occasionally sitting in a losing colour, before being spun clear to find a home in the winning colour, had my fingernails buried deep in my sofa.

Red Or Black? continues most evenings till next Saturday (a similar schedule to how Channel 4 serve up their own big-money gameshow Million Pound Drop), so they could possibly create seven millionaires over its run. Or, more likely, three or four. Who knows? It's random! It's luck! It's coin tosses in multi-million pound clothing. Despite all that, I really enjoyed it and I'll be watching more, but I also can't help thinking it's a mistake to have ditched the gambling component. If each contestant was winning money per game, eventually ending up with something like £50,000 and the chance to risk it all for £1,000,000, wouldn't that be more exciting? Or would it be too unlikely anyone would ever gamble £50,000 in this economic climate?

ITV1; 3-5 & 7-10 September 2011

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


A critical bomb in America, the Jerry Seinfeld-produced MARRIAGE REF has been remade for the UK and aired its first episode last Saturday. Dermot O'Leary hosts (well, ITV need to keep him sweet in-between X Factor marathons), but this format reveals he's just a safe pair of hands who can't thrive on a show that practically demands a comedian at the helm. He can teeter on his heels and nod his head as much as he likes, but with nobody to hug or call "buddy", O'Leary looked lost at sea.

For the uninitiated, The Marriage Ref sees a celebrity trio pass judgement on real-life marital tiffs. This is primetime ITV, so the arguments are trivial affairs like a wife who won't stop writing her husband to-do lists, or an elderly couple's disagreement over pickles. It would admittedly be a very different, edgier show if the marital strife involved serious issues like infidelity, illegitimate children, and bigamy, but The Marriage Ref goes too far the other way. It's impossible to care about each couple's inconsequential annoyances, and most aren't funny enough to entertain. The whole things ends up feeling incredibly petty and a weak idea to base a TV show on.

It does help that there's a tradition of comedy panel shows on UK TV, which this is a loose example of. Still, while the American show manages a star-studded lineup of refs (thanks to Seinfeld's rolodex), the UK version already looks like a bargain basement version. In the US they had Alec Baldwin, Eva Longoria, Tina Fey, Madonna, Ricky Gervais, Larry David, Donald Trump, Sarah Silverman, Bette Midler, and Demi Moore as marriage refs. For the British remake's big launch we had ubiquitous comedians Sarah Millican and Jimmy Carr and, wait for it, ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell. A woman who seemed genuinely puzzled when Carr started cracking jokes, as if nobody told her this was a lighthearted comedy show and her absurd role as "UN Ambassador" was genuinely required to sort out some quarrels.

So while the US version has A and B-list guests the audience may be intrigued to see pass comment on ordinary people's love lives, the UK version's just got some comedians to provide quips. And they're the kind of comedians you see all the time on shows such as this, and it's becoming a real pain watching them conveyor belt their way around TV. Carr was hosting 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Millican was a guest on King Of... just the night before. I'm not sure which version of The Marriage Ref is best. The UK's going more for the funnybone, which probably makes it more regularly amusing, but I think I'd like to hear what Madonna has to say more than Millican. That said, the US version's crippled by that horribly cheesy/dumb production style that infects every American show involving real people. So, surprisingly, the UK version's probably a mild improvement, despite lacking any major star-power. But that just means it resides in an outer circle of TV Hell.

Saturdays, ITV1, 9PM

Friday, 20 May 2011


The idea of a TV gameshow based on a pub quiz, hosted by Al Murray's comic creation the Pub Landlord, must have seemed like a great idea for digital channel Dave. Indeed, whenever Compete For The Meat was relying on Murray talking to members of the public (repartee the comedian's honed over 15 years playing to audiences across the UK), it was on much surer footing--even if Murray's interactions have become annoyingly, half-intentionally predictable.

Compete For The Meat started with a promising 15-minute introduction and set-up, with Murray chatting to the "front row" audience (mocking their names, ages and occupations), before applying the same ridicule to a celebrity "top table" comprised of ex-England goalie Peter Shilton, alleged funnygirl Olivia Lee and gnomic TV consumer activist Dominic Littlewood. From there, four pub team trios were introduced in a Blankety Blank-esque two-tier set, and Murray again poked fun at their gender, nationality and jobs. Three attractive lady retailers, an Aussie, a professional food taster, and a dog groomer inspired decent quips, at least.

So far, so repetitive? Oh yes, but I remember the days of Strike It Lucky/Rich, when a pre-scandal Michael Barrymore's interaction with contestants lasted half the show and was often the main reason to watch. That proved to be true with Compete The Meat, too, but with the insurmountable problem that Meat's quiz was tedious and surprisingly insubstantial considering it had to fill three-quarters of an hour. Questions were asked in a chosen topic, answers were jotted down, papers were collected, scores totted up by ex-Blue Peter presenter/babe Zöe Salmon (who's her agent?), and the lowest-scoring team duly eliminated. Rather confusingly, this meant the shopgirls were asked to stand in a "Sin Bin" skip and be replaced by three people from the audience (who, in this case, had to be referred to as "The Guv's Girls", despite two of them now being men!)

The format was weak and flawed, as you can tell. Compete For The Meat should have kept things simpler, perhaps cleaving close to what The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year does annually on Channel 4. I'm still perplexed by how this quiz only managed to deliver two quick rounds, before reaching the final--where each team leader just answered general knowledge questions solo. Perhaps Meat's two biggest mistakes was trying to keep things fresh by involving an embarrassingly stupid "pub game" towards the end, where two women had to play a miniature game of curling with food, "greasing" the runway with condiments. It was so unfunny, pointless and protracted that both women looked embarrassed to be taking part, and often didn't want to play the game by its own rules as drizzling gravy had zero effect on any outcome.

And why were there celebrities involved? They weren't necessary. The points the celebs earned during the pub quiz could be distributed to the teams in the final round--so, understandably, in not wanting to pick a favourite and guarantee an easy victory, they spread their points out across every team to instead level the playing field. It was the honourable and sensible thing to do, but it effectively meant success in the previous rounds meant even less.

Overall, Compete For The Meat is a decent idea and a reasonable way to give Al Murray's Pub Landlord a new format to apply his brand of jingoistic idiocy (following stand-up, a Sky1 sitcom and ITV chat-show), but the mechanics of the format need serious attention and 20-minutes of fat carved away. The decision to have a frozen chicken mascot called "Mr Giblets" silently hovering in the aisles was notably stupid, and why not make the whole set resemble an actual pub?

This was mild enjoyment when Murray was chatting with real people, in what amounted to a "warm up" before the first advert break, but Compete For The Meat ironically fell apart when the meat of the quiz arrived on the plate.

Dave, Thursdays, 9PM.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

'SING IF YOU CAN'; watch if you dare

Do you remember Distraction, the Channel 4 gameshow hosted by Jimmy Carr, where contestants answered general knowledge questions while being distracted in painful ways? ITV have taken that basic concept and merged it with karaoke for new Saturday night series Sing If You Can, hosted by love-or-hate comedian Leigh Francis (as alter-ego Keith Lemon) and X Factor runner-up Stacy Solomon; a double-act almost as inept as Brits flops Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood. Lemon's is even less amusing when his dependency on crudity's removed by the constraints of primetime on a mainstream channel, and Solomon's speaking voice is a mostly unintelligible hitching gasp between keywords.

The concept behind the show is painfully simple: two bargain-basement celebrity teams compete in a variety of games where they must sing-a-long to songs while being put-off by silly distractions. To that end, Jodi Prenger (ironically the winner of I'd Do Anything) sang while covered in snakes; a crinkled Brigitte Nielsen sang while strapped to a rotating wheel having knives thrown at her (they all missed, unfortunately); Pineapple Dance Studio's Andrew Stone and Strictly Come Dancing's Brendan Cole did a duet while being vibrated and gunged (it's more wholesome than it sounds); and, uh, the blonde one from defunct X Factor boyband G4 sang while, um, balloons were inflated and popped.

It's TV for idiots, as you expected it to be. Even the studio audience didn't seem to be enjoying themselves, whenever you caught their blank expressions in the darkened background, listlessly holding studio-made banners expressing their support for the has-been celebs. Even a careful edit to ensure some reaction shots of people laughing or gasping didn't manage to convince you everyone watching wouldn't rather be elsewhere. What exactly is the point to it all? Who cares if the celebrities fluffed the lyrics or stopped singing altogether? That happened occasionally and never seemed to matter too much. Is is a thrill for viewers to see snakes and balloons bursting? I'm not saying silly gameshows need to have a point to be worthwhile, but it sure does help. There's nothing exciting or compelling about watching celebrities (most of whom were trained singers) do karaoke in less-than-ideal conditions. The singing didn't matter and most of the distractions were restricted by what can be achieved in a TV studio. It's hard to imagine what the games will be in future weeks -- other than variations on distractions involving water, gunge, vibration, spinning, circus acts, scary animals, and loud bangs.

Vernon Kaye was originally supposed to present this show, but looks to have avoided a bullet after ITV replaced him at the last-minute. It seems likely ITV knew the show was a stinker (soon to air alongside the all-conquering Doctor Who), so thought adding Keith Lemon would at least make it appear edgier, crazier and a more intentionally frolicsome. It would certainly have been even more boring with Kaye treating it like The Generation Game, but Keith Lemon just brings a different set of problems to proceedings. Francis's track record with comedy ('Bo Selecta!, Celebrity Juice) is puerile and sexual in nature, so Sing If You Can instantly reduces him to peddling a sanitized version of his act. And he's nowhere near as lovable as people believe him to be, on account of the fact he looks and acts like a creepy, grownup, mustachioed Cabbage Patch Doll.

But the real insanity comes from some ITV dope deciding that Stacy Solomon should present television because the public love her. In other words: she was voted I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here's "Queen of the Jungle", so it's their duty to fill the airwaves with as much Solomon-starring material as possible, because her millions of votes equal loyal viewers. It's "Operation Kerry Katona" all over again -- a habit ITV need to kick, as they just make themselves look unpardonably naff and self-obsessed. I'm A Celebrity's Shaun Ryder even appeared as one of Sing's "judges" here (a pointless X Factor-ish element of the show), together with erstwhile popstar Coleen Nolan (cruel compensation for axing her from Loose Women?) and comedian Dave Gorman (who should have words with his agent.)

Stacy's a decent singer and a memorable personality (enormous horsey teeth and a speech pattern that sounds like she's constantly out of breath), but that doesn't mean she'll be a natural presenting a TV show. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Stacy could barely read the autocue and had zero chemistry with Lemon, so was mostly relegated to reminding viewers that the celebs are making arses out of themselves on behalf of, well, their showbiz profiles... but also Teenage Cancer Trust.

Oh yes, the charity tie-in. In what soon turned into a Comic Relief appeal night, Sing If You Can spent an inordinate amount of time plugging Teenage Cancer Trust (along with Argos), and even played a five-minute VT about the charity's work towards the end. It's a worthy cause, don't get me wrong, but it was used almost as an excuse for the awfulness of the show. A calculated attempt to make viewers feel bad for hating a show that's just meant to be an hour of jovial silliness that's giving a potential £20,000 to a good cause. Well, by all means donate to Teenage Cancer Trust, but you don't need to watch Sing If You Can to do your bit in that regard.

16 April 2011, ITV1, 7.20PM

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

'DREW CAREY'S IMPROV-A-GANZA'; whose format is it, anyway?

Improvise your way over to Obsessed With Film, where I've reviewed the first episode of DREW CAREY'S IMPROV-A-GANZA, a brand new improvised comedy show that reunites many stars from the American remake of Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Atrocious title aside, this improvised comedy gameshow is a worthier successor to Whose Line Is It Anyway's crown than BBC2's recent Fast & Loose, primarily because it's the same basic show with only minor differences. A svelte Drew Carey (host of Whose Line's US remake) ostensibly takes charge, supported by a bunch of all-star improvisers: Whose Line veterans Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jeff David and Brad Sherwood, teamed with Jonathan Magnum and Sean Masterson from Drew Carey's Green Screen (a short-lived post-Whose Line improv show), and joined by Kathy Kinney and MADtv's Heather Anne Campbell.

The series was shot at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, giving Improv-A-Ganza the unshakeable feel of Whose Line Is It Anyway: Live In Vegas. It's pretty much the same format, just with a more impressive stage and trivial tweaking. The biggest change is the lack of a "host" to coordinate everything. Despite Drew Carey's name being in the title, the performers themselves marshal each game, venturing out into the audience to select volunteers to bring up on stage to get involved. The feel of a "live show" is increased by noticing most of the audience are drinking alcohol, and in the first episode Colin Mochrie gets more than he bargained for when he chooses a drunken woman to assist with a game, and the tipsy lady's inebriation ends up being the funniest part of the episode. Continue reading...

Saturday, 22 January 2011

'FAST & LOOSE' 1.2

I was distinctly unimpressed with BBC2's new improv comedy show last week, and most of you agreed with my assessment it was too slow and, unforgivably, too rehearsed. But I know these shows take awhile to find their feet (the first few series of Whose Line Is It Anyway? were weak, too), so I tuned in for the second episode, hoping for an improvement, and I got it.

That's not to say Fast & Loose is still anywhere near a good show, but episode 2 was certainly funnier and felt more spontaneous. It was especially good to see Wayne Brady in the lineup of performers (a familiar face from Whose Line), as he managed to bring a few moments of spark to proceedings. The games were also much better and, crucially, had the smell of being genuinely impulsive – such as "Forward/Reverse", where a scene is performed but the action is randomly reversed or fast-forwarded, or "Double Speak", where the performers were coupled into oversized T-shirts and had to be interviewed as one entity, with each duo having to talk simultaneously. Both games were funny ideas, even if what was being performed wasn't particularly clever or memorable. The key thing is they felt improvised, by virtue of the fact they were performed so clumsily.

But the problems from week 1 remain: most of the games drag on far too long ("Weak Links" ran an incredible 8-minutes), and there was the unwelcome return of "Interpretive Dance" with David Armand (a ludicrous 4-minute long game.) The only saving grace there was that Armand's chosen song, Wet Wet Wet's "Love Is All Around", was more conducive to humorous mime than last week's "Careless Whisper". And the utter lack of audience input is still a ridiculous oversight that denies the show interaction and a sense of legitimacy that usually fuels improv shows.

And on a technical level, I hate the lack of screen legends to remind audiences of key things in a game (as I still forget what roles performers have been assigned for "Weak Links", say), presenter Hugh Dennis sits at a desk that's too distant from the performers, who themselves have to sit on those awkward two tier benches. I'm glad Fast & Loose has problems that are so easily fixed; but it's astonishing the format got this far without anyone realizing its blindingly obvious faults.

What did you think of Fast & Loose this week?

Fridays, BBC2, 10PM

Saturday, 15 January 2011


I was a huge fan of Channel 4's Whose Line Is It Anyway? throughout the '90s and, indeed, into the '00s with the inferior but fun US remake, that wisely retained the fantastic Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles. It was a collection of simple improvisational games (many of which you could attempt at home), involving songs, bizarre props, one-liners, and audience involvement. Since its demise, nothing has ever truly replaced it on television, although Whose Line's creators bolted a few improv elements into panel show Mock The Week, and in so doing created its most popular round ("Scenes We'd Like To See", where the comedians take it in turns to enact various comic scenarios presented to them.)

So it was with a great deal of anticipation that I sat down to watch BBC2's Fast & Loose on Friday night, which is essentially Whose Line for a new generation, with Mock's team captain Hugh Dennis taking over the Clive Anderson role as ringmaster. Fast & Loose has more of a team sensibility than Whose Line ever did, with six performers huddled together off-stage on benches, ready to improvise whatever's thrown their way. Unfortunately, while I'm sure a few of the games were genuinely improvised, Fast & Loose carried a distinct aroma of falseness. And if an improv show doesn't feel improvised, that kills a great deal of the comedy for me. It's a remarkable skill to be able to think on your feet to a professional standard, particularly with the proviso everything you say is funny, but the trick is drained of life if you suspect the performers are aware of what's coming, or have rehearsed lines up their sleeves.

Unfortunately, Fast & Loose was crammed with too many moments where you didn't believe the performers were totally off-script. Remember Whose Line, when people would regularly fluff their words, find themselves upstaged by someone more skilled, burst into laughter themselves, or squirm under the pressure of having to come up with a gag or song at the drop of a hat? There was none of that here, and consequently no real sense of out-on-a-limb danger. One round, called "Interpretive Dance", even revolved around a guest called David Armand dancing to "Careless Whisper" (in the manner of playing Charades-to-the-lyrics), while two people had to guess what song he was performing, being unable to hear the track. It could have been a masterful display of improvisation, but Armand was actually demonstrating the stand-up routine he's been performing for years already. Here he is doing much the same thing for Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn". It casts doubt on his "Careless Whisper" performance being real improv, doesn't it?

I'm sure a few of the games were genuinely improvised, of course. I'm guessing the ones that were particularly unfunny. But, too often, the responses the performers gave sounded rehearsed, or too polished to be impromptu gags. One round required them to dance and, when the music stopped, deliver a cheesy chat-up line straight into camera. Each performer had a bizarre ability to know it was their turn to deliver their zinger down the lens, don't you think? Almost as if there was a set order of play. And if that's true, then it stands to reason they knew that game was on the agenda, and could therefore have prepared some jokes. You can Google "bad chat-up lines" and find many variations on what they came up with.

One surefire way to make things look genuinely improvised, and a key feature of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, is to involve the studio audience. Get members of the public to suggest topics or ideas that will fuel most of the games. That way we can be relatively sure the performers are being truly spontaneous. But audience interaction was something Fast & Loose noticeably excluded, which again lends credence to my belief the performers knew what Hugh Dennis would be asking them to do throughout the show.

The only bright spark of comedy came in the final game, "Sideways Scene" (see photo above), which saw three performers act out a scene while lying on a giant red canvas that, when viewed from above, looked like a regular horizontal room with a door frame and wooden chair as furnishings. The three performers would therefore have to crawl around on the ground, aware that their actions in our bird's-eye-view would look like they're awkwardly levitating half the time. The downside is that the visual fun of the game outweighed the comedy being performed, but it was nevertheless an imaginative, original idea that made me laugh.

Sadly, that was the only moment where Fast & Loose came into its own. While I don't think the producers rigged every game, I can't shake the feeling the majority of this show wasn't improvised. The performances were too slick, the jokes too robust, and moments that were supposedly off-piste (like Greg Davies approaching a camera to poke fun at Dennis) just looked rehearsed. Everyone seemed to have too much awareness of where their cameras were, which again made everything feel very staged. They should have treated the show like theatre and performed for the audience.

It's a pity, because there's no shame in having a show that feels loose because the performers aren't so on-the-ball with the improv, so long as it all feels like real ad-libbing. That's what we've come to see. If the producers come out to ensure us that Fast & Loose is 100% made up on the spot, then fine -- but the show is doing a poor job translating that fact to the TV screen. The way to relieve skepticism is very simple because Whose Line perfected this genre 20 years ago: get the audience involved in the creative process. If someone shouts out "spaghetti western" and the performers immediately transform a romantic dinner scene into a cowboy shootout, that proves quickly and easily that everyone's thinking on their feet

And really, what's the excuse not to involve the audience?


  • The show really needed to include on-screen legends, reminding us who or what the performers are pretending to be in a few of the games. If your attention slipped, or you left the room for a few seconds, you'd come back and be at a complete loss trying to understand what was going on for many of the games -- particularly the "Weak Links" quiz and "Come Dining" round. Again, a lesson that should have been learned from Whose Line. Oh, and the show's music cues were cheap and ghastly.
TRANSMISSION: 14 January 2011, BBC2, 10PM