Weaver's Week 2006-08-13

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


Reviews in Brief

Three short reviews this week, then the return of University Challenge. And a familiar face on Mastermind.

Bad Lads' Army

(Twenty Twenty for ITV, 9pm Tuesday)

In this programme, a group of young males are enlisted in an army. The gentlemen in question have mostly been in trouble with the law, and the underlying social experiment is to see if they will make any more of their lives if they are subjected to the strictures of the armed forces. The army concerned is not Her Majesty's, but is a confection from the producers; it is staffed by former members of HM Forces.

So far, so humdrum. The gents are split into two teams, and each team faces a challenge in every episode. The winners of the challenge are given a reward back at camp, and the overall series winners get to take their lives in their hands and jump out of a plane while it is flying at many thousands of feet. They do have parachutes attached, which rather reduces the risk.

Now, have we seen two teams, competing for rewards and for an overall prize before? That's right, it's the format of Splash Camp transplanted into the peak-time schedule. The difference between the shows is the breadth of vocabulary: Splash Camp used many different adjectives, each appropriate to the noun it described. Bad Lads' Army, regrettably, knows of only one adjective, roughly halfway between "fruity" and "fugitive" in the dictionary. This chuffing lack of variety makes for a chuffing dull show, especially when it's chuffing well repeated every chuffing four chuffing seconds. At least the chuffing beep machine isn't chuffing up the chuffing sound levels, probably because it's chuffing well broken through overuse.

Annually Retentive

(BBC3, 10.30 Tuesday)

Back in 1992, the character of Alan Partridge got his own chat show on Radio 4. Adding layer upon layer to the spoof, the team made a "behind-the-scenes" documentary, Knowing 'Knowing Me Knowing You', in which they pretended to negotiate guests for their spoof gabfest. While the original conceit worked, because it was a frighteningly accurate pastiche of Wogan and Jonathan Ross, the meta-spoof was an abstraction too far.

In the present day, Rob Brydon has invented his own spoof game show. Annually Retentive goes back into recent history, and quizzes minor celebrities about it. Rounds are (quite deliberately) derivative of ideas from HIGNFY, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and Whose Line is it Anyway?. Footage from the spoof show is intercut with behind the scenes shots - planning meetings, bookings for the programme, Rob interacting with the panellists while off air.

Two problems present themselves. The minor problem is that Annually Retentive has rather been done before - Back in the Day (which we reviewed last year) covered remarkably similar ground, especially the faint smell of familiarity about the whole format. But the major problem is that Annually Retentive falls between two stools - it disappoints the fan of comedy quizzes by cutting back to the backstage fluff, and it disappoints the fan of Rob Brydon's considerable comedy talent by relying so heavily on celebrities who can't really act.

Can You Tell?

(Unknown for Oxygen, airing on Challenge, 8pm Saturday)

Take some people who are interesting, or who do interesting things. Then put the interesting member of the public before a panel of moderately famous conversationalists, and ask them: does this man earn his living as a football mascot, or as a professional footballer? Each panellist has some time to quiz the member of the public, but they can't ask questions that would give away the answer - instead, they must ask more indirect questions, hoping to raise the answer by poking around the edges.

This show is an import from the US, and is set in some sort of café-slash-bar. The host (Tony Rock - they couldn't afford brother Chris) mingles, the panellists ("rising young comedy talents" - that's "cheap") sit at a low table, and there's a hostess (uncredited) whose only job is to introduce the show after each commercial break. It doesn't take a tremendous leap of imagination to re-locate the panellists behind one desk, the host behind another, and have the hostess bring the public to the host. It's but a short step to the BBC-4 version of the format - Hugh Dennis asking Brian Sewell or Julia Hartley-Brewer if this man describes himself as modernist or post-modernist. And so dull was the original format that we started taking this step before the first guests had even finished playing.


First round, episode 19

In his smart suit, Kevin Johnston Smith will take prehistoric art to 8000BC. This column's art teacher was an expert on this field, for he had experienced the period first-hand. Mr Johnston Smith is no slouch, scoring 11 (1).

Steve Bolsover discusses the Novels of Charles Dickens, and is sporting a tan jacket. It's perhaps too large a subject; the score is 4 (5).

Standing out from the crowd in his red top is Geoff Thomas, offering the Life and Career of Edith Piaf. It's a slightly hesitant round, finishing on 11 (0).

Chris McCoy, in a dark green jumper, will tell us about the Life and Films of James Dean. Though the contender looks a little nervous, he takes a small lead - 13 (2).

Mr Bolsover finishes on 9 (7). Mr Johnston Smith, the first vet that John can recall on the show, finishes on 14 (3).

Geoff Thomas was Number One's Number Two, and made the last eight on Discovery Mastermind. He lost in the proper version in 1994 on a Fabled Five-Question Play-Off, and made the final here in 2003. He also has victories in Counterpoint and Today's the Day. He finishes on 22 (0), and still has not passed on a single question aired on the BBC quiz.

Mr McCoy needs ten to win, and (as if we couldn't tell by the chatter) there will be no FFQPO tonight. Though he starts strongly, Mr McCoy begins to fall behind the pace, and finishes on 18 (5).

Scarcely any time to congratulate the winner, now 24 minutes between passes, because someone else is waiting in the other Manchester studios.

University Challenge

Granada for BBC2

First Round, Match 1: Aberystwyth v Bristol

Without University Challenge, this column would be bereft of content for much of the year. Last year's series was the best in many years, and we're hoping for just as high a standard this time round. The format remains the same - 14 first round matches generate seven quarter-finalists, the four highest-scoring runners up compete in the repechage for the last place. Details of the rules are carved into the fabric of Stonehenge; this column's scoring system is unchanged from last year.

Yes, it's a very early start this year, though given that last year's contest very nearly ran on into June, perhaps it's for the best. There are no sporting pre-emptions on the cards, just the usual run of public holidays, so we should see the first repechage matches in late November, with the quarters in February and the final before Easter. In short, UC may - and we emphasise may - be finished before Gretna wins promotion.

Aber have the honour of getting the first questions right, and the series' first error comes from host Jeremy "Thumper" Paxman, who botches the pronunciation of Anaïs Nin. Bristol have slightly the better of the opening exchanges, but when Aber gets a set of bonuses on mice in films - and gets them mostly right - the scores are 50-45.

Bristol's magnetism takes them into a stronger lead, but Aberystwyth are big in Japan, and draw level at 70-all. Bristol remember Alfred Wallace, the man who worked with Darwin on the theory of evolution. The music round is Name That Tune, which no-one does until the singer is on the verge of singing it. Or Thumper, it's his era. Aber has the lead, 105-85.

They'll be tugging their ears in Koper tonight, after Bristol confuses Slovenia with France. Bristol also manages to pick up the season's first missignal, well into the third stanza, but re-takes the lead within moments. This column never knew the street address of Friends, but the Aber side did. No-one can remember King Cnut, the patron of Bad Lads' Army. We told you Aber were big in Japan, as the team names the country from its map outline. Not the most difficult question; Aber leads 150-130.

One question asks the teams to define the mathematical constant i - would that be the viewing figures for Love Island? Blimey, Bristol has finally woken up, 55 behind with four minutes to play. But the side is pulling back the deficit, and come to within twenty points, then tie the scores at 185 with just over a minute to play. The first question goes to Aber, who get two bonuses right on Caribbean politicians. But Bristol get the next starter, miss the first bonus - and time expires. Aberystwyth have taken the win, 205-195. Bristol will return in the repechage, it's tradition for the first show losers.

Captain Josephine Nevill led from the front for Aber, taking 6 starters en route to 91 team points - the team answered 21/30 bonuses correctly, a remarkable achievement. Bristol's was a two-man attack, Adrian Saunders and Richard Wheatley also answered 6 starters correctly - and picked up a missignal each - scoring 81 and 80 respectively. The side had 17/35 bonuses, just about average for the show as a whole.

Next match: University College London v Pembroke College Cambridge.

This Week And Next

Charles Allen confirmed his resignation as ITV chief executive this week. He's fallen on his sword to allow someone else to take the blame for the channel's risk-free, sterile, and ultimately self-defeating schedule. This column will take on the job for nowt. Just don't expect Coronation Street to survive.

Someone who would be a complete contrast is Mr Lordi, winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest. He married his long-time girlfriend Johanna in a ceremony in Rovaniemi last week-end. Pyrotechnics all round, natch.

And speaking of Eurovision songs turning up in strange places, the European Athletics Championships have been taking place in Gothenberg this week. The BBC's coverage has been enlivened by the theme. They're playing "Invincible", the Swedish entry to this year's competition. Pan-European broadcasters Eurosport are using their standard sting, thus demonstrating that someone at the BBC likes the song contest.

BARB ratings for the week to 30 July, which was another excessively hot week. Gosh, remember the excessive heat of this summer? Anyway, In It To Win It - featuring the £100,000 win - has 6.65 million viewers on Saturday night, and is the top show for the second week running. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? came straight in to the runner-up position, taking 5.15 million. Big Brother is losing viewers, down to 4.95 million for its most popular broadcast - the Thursday night edition. Friday's shows came third and fourth. We can't remember the last time that the eviction show wasn't the week's most watched.

Outside the top three, Celeb Weakest Link had 3.85 million, Bad Lads' Army sent 3.15m away chuffed. Story of Light Entertainment scored 2.5m, UC Pros 2.1m, Weakest Link 1.9m, Mastermind 1.8m, and Eggheads 1.5m. Over on C4, Big Brain had 1.85m, and Come Dine With Me attracted 1.5m. Even though Deal is off the air, there's no place for Countdown in the top 30.

The Big Brother slide continues, Big Mouth on Friday got just 455,000 - barely half the score it was getting a few weeks back. Suspect snuck back on CBBC (do wish they'd trail this a bit better), making the channel's top 10 with 140,000 viewers. Deal or No Deal on More4 has cycled back to last November's shows, and has 155,000 watching. Challenge's top show was the 9am Sunday transmission of It's a Knockout, making 70,000. For completeness, we should mention a show on Men 'n' Motors featuring Lea Walker, who (apparently) was a contestant on this year's Big Brother - it had 75,000 in the midnight hour.

Next week's Week looks at the problem of Maria.

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