Weaver's Week 2014-03-02

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Two short reviews of new CBBC productions this week, then we get on to BBC2's quizzes. And we address the Dara O'Briain thing, and we're going to annoy everyone.

The Dog Ate My Homework


The Dog Ate My Homework

CBBC in-house, from 17 January

The first panel show in CBBC history is hosted by The Amazing Iain Stirling, and it takes school as its theme. The programme begins with "school announcements", or "silly commentary on funny photos" as seen at the end of Have I Got News for You. The panelists aren't so much introduced as called on the school's register. The teams of three are headed by a young person, and include names from comedy and/or CBBC shows. One show featured Susan Calman, Ashleigh Butler from the performing dogs show, and a comedian from spoof news programme DNN.

The format of the programme is loose. Some rounds are irregular features, others come back most weeks. Usually, we'll see Iain Stirling dip into his dressing up box, to give some spectacularly accurate impressions of famous historical figures. Because, of course, Boudicca regularly dressed in a red frightwig, wore a feather boa, and talked in a Scottish accent.

The Dog Ate My Homework Another amazing impression there.

For some reason, the panellists don't appreciate these high-quality impersonations, preferring to laugh at the clues, and suggest that the host's ability to raid the dressing up box is somehow lacking. There's an awful lot of laughter in this round, not all of it coming from the suggestion that the host has gone on to dress up like Tommy Cooper. "Ask your gran," advises the host to viewers who are about ten years old.

Another regular round is the Creative Writing Class. The audience calls out four unusual words for each team. The players are challenged to come up with a story as to why they're not handing in their homework, including all four of these words. "Elephant" is a tricky start, "horse chestnut tree" gets surreal.

For no obvious reason, the show stops at some point for a School Disco. Then it picks up where it left off.

There's usually some sort of Missing Words round, a statement is shown on screen with some facts blanked out and the teams are invited to fill in the gap. As yet, none of the facts are taken from this week's guest publication, "OMG! It's the Wit and It's the Wisdom of Jedward!!"

The Dog Ate My Homework This round is about making shapes of letters.

The Amazing Iain Stirling isn't alone in this show. He's joined by Mr. Smash, a brutish PE teacher who is incapable of speech, and the titular dog, and one of two young messengers who bring in a note from the headteacher. Smash will be responsible for doling out punishment to the worst-performing team; there's been a winner for each round, and further points are awarded in the quick-fire finale. This can be a swift game of charades, or it can be a round of answering questions incorrectly, or something equally silly.

"We didn't learn much — but it was fun trying," proclaims the host before signing off. It's an entertaining half-hour, nothing tremendously novel, nothing groundbreaking. Entirely silly fun for a Friday night. And why not.



Boom Kids and Cube Interactive for CBBC, from 20 January

Back in 2012, we reviewed Y Lifft, a show of tabletop games played in Welsh. It turned out to be a moderate hit for S4C, it's difficult for any programme on the Welsh channel to become a breakout smash.

The same show has now been converted to the BBC. It's still played by teams of three, with solo and team games. Rather than a cash prize (up to £300), this programme features the children playing for members of their family.

Ludus These people have been kidnapped... for now!

According to the back-story, the family members have been captured by a space alien, and turned into holograms. The players fly from level to level, transported aboard The Herculeum, a small spaceship in the shape of a cube. In each game, the children can attempt to save one of their family members. Succeed, and the person will be downloaded into a holobox and restored to life when the craft returns to Earth. Fail, and the friend or family will be trapped for ever.

It's a cogent back story, a little more logical than anything the Welsh show ever came up with. The games themselves are familiar – some of them are direct lifts from Y Lifft, others are derivatives from that programme. All can be played on the Ludus application, available from the Peartunes store and Giggle Play. The app is sufficiently clever to recognise which show is being watched, so long as it's being watched live on the CBBC channel.

Ludus A brave young person steps out.

Best part of the show? It's got to be the character of Ludus, a cocky, over-confident, and ludicrously camp baddie. The competitors aren't competitors, they're "Earthtwerps". It's a tremendously camp performance. But we said that about The Dare Devil, and Ludus certainly isn't a similar character. Both are setting challenges, both enjoy it when they see their opposition squirm and suffer, both are good sports and accept defeat with honour.

The Dare Devil Dan Antopolski as The Dare Devil.

Different styles of camp come from the characters' styles, and the actor's abilities. Dan Antopolski as The Dare Devil plays to his physically dark appearance: a melodious voice, a glint in the eye saying to the audience "However scary I look, however hard I'm challenging the team, we all know I'm acting." Tom Bell as Ludus is dressed up so that we couldn't recognise him if we saw him in the street, he's a caricature of the evil space alien overlord, covering up his personal insecurities with a veneer of nastiness that verges on the absurd.

Ludus engages in banter and trash talk with the Earthtwerps, and threatens to upload holograms into his game for evah! He uses an instantly recognisable hand gesture, perhaps the most iconic new finger signal since the invention of 3-2-1 in 1978.

Ludus For evah!

The other jokes bear less repetition. The visual gag about the pilot being a monkey is used a little too often, while the ship's computer (voiced by Louise Ford) makes up over-precise statistics about the children's performance. "I detect 86% confidence and 82% bravery," all delivered in a slightly processed vocal line. There are filmed inserts between levels, giving the children something to do and an opportunity to pad out the programme. We noted that the players on the opening episode were provided with cake, and rather hoped this would be a portal for references to other video games, but it turned out not to be.

Ludus Yes, the pilot's a monkey. Ha very ha.

By the final game, the children will have played for all of their friends and family. Some will have been saved, some may have been uploaded into Ludus's game for evah! The final challenge is for the Earthtwerps to book their own passage home. They're shown three blobs, one of them has a ticket. The three blobs swap positions, and the Earthtwerp is to pick whichever blob they think has the ticket. It's certainly a more fitting and logical endgame than the code-cracking Mastermind on Y Lifft, and we're surprised at just how bad the players are at it. Even by guesswork, they'd get one-in-three right.

While the winner flies away home, the losers are stuck, tasked to mop the levels of Ludus for evah!

Overall, we find Ludus works for viewers playing along at home, on their phone or their tablet or their iEyePlant. From a passive viewer, we put the show under "entertaining distraction" and not "must-see television". There's nothing wrong with it, it's just become stale rather quickly.

University Challenge

Group Phase 3, Match H: Somerville Oxford v Southampton

Right, to clarify where we are. Trinity Cambridge have won in phases 1 and 3, and made it to phase 5, the semi-finals. Cardiff have lost in phases 1 and 2 and made it home. SOAS won in phase 1 but lost in phase 3, so they will appear in phase 4, where they'll play next week's winners. Manchester lost in phase 1 but won in phase 2, so they appear in phase 4 against this week's phase 3 losers. The winners of this week's phase 3 match will also have won in phase 1, so will be in phase 5, but not the same semi-final as Trinity, because the phase 3 winners don't meet again until phase 6, the final. We also note that Southampton's captain Bob de Caux is studying for a PhD in complex systems simulation. He should be right at home here.

Last time, Somerville beat Clare Cambridge, Southampton crushed Queens' Belfast. Somerville prove better in the early stages, knowing that an early version of the internet was known as Harponet, named after the inventor's favourite Marx Brother. There's also a question about a fictional character called George Osbourne, readers will insert their own quip. Southampton get off the mark with Pristina, the capital city of Kosov@, but they're 55-20 behind at the first visual round.

Someone will explain why Thumper sniggered when someone suggested NHK was the broadcaster in North Korea. The answer's Japan, the joke's not obvious. For no obvious reason, Thumper embarked on a long and confusing edition of Chain Letters, and then exploded at Somerville for daring to find some of these questions a bit easy, because they were on economics and the captain's taking – economics. He then goes on to suggest that Somerville need not confess their knowledge of Herb Alpert instrumentals, during the audio round on 60s lounge music. With this level of snidery, Ludus must be worried. Somerville's lead has reached 105-30.

Somerville Oxford Laughing at the host: Sam Walker, Zack Vermeer, Michael Davies, Chris Beer.

"If typed into {a leading advertising brokerage}, these historical events may autocomplete from states", says Thumper in one question introduction. May we suggest, "these historical events begin with state names"? Shorter, and doesn't require anyone to swear on national television. Somerville's lead has reached 175-55 at the picture round, and Southampton require snookers. Beer gets Private Eye, and that's just about game over. Somerville's lead touches 160 before Southampton ekes something out of the rubber with the apposite answer "it's dead". The final score is a big win for Somerville, 215-95.

Which means that Southampton will play in phase 4 against Manchester, with Somerville Oxford waved straight into phase 5 against SOAS or the winner of next week's match between Clare Cambridge and Queens' Belfast.


Second round, match 1

We got there, eventually. Five contenders for each match in the second round: 90 seconds of specialist, 120 on general knowledge. Only the winners will progress.

  • Paul Philpot (Factory Records) had a whistle-stop tour of Manchester's coolest record label of the 1980s: they had OMD and Happy Mondays, they gave label numbers to a lawsuit and a building, and they were headed by Tony Wilson of Remote Control. Shorter questions in the second round allow him to reach 11 (0).
  • Nick Harrison (Novels of Carol Shields) took a subject we were less familiar with. Shield's characters include one who drinks egg nog, another who poisons her mother-in-law with badly-preserved runner beans, and a man who can recite the entirity of Jane Eyre. 10 (1).
  • Carol Atkinson (Homer's Odyssey in English) has one of the absolute classic Mastermind subjects, and one of the absolute classic subjects overall. For the record, this is the epic Greek heroic tale, and in spite of an error that visibly annoyed her, the contender sails to 9 (0).
  • James Ludden (Roald Amundsen) answers very quietly and softly, and the round seems to address almost everything except his run to the South Pole; this reflects Amundsen's career, which was mostly about Arctic exploration. 10 (0).
  • Michael McPartland (Life and Career of Michael Jordan) is speaking on the high-scoring basketball player; his own score is compromised by some questions that are noticeably longer than the others. A perfect round, though only 11 (0).

Mastermind Our first five semi-finalists.

Carol Atkinson won her heat on 6 December with 26 points, answering on Richard Hannay novels. This time around, there's a bit of a general knowledge failure, and the round reaches 17 (3). Nick Harrison also made 26 when he won with Wes Anderson's films on 10 January. Second time in the chair, he also stumbles rather, closing on 18 (2).

James Ludden qualified on 8 November with 30 points from the rugby union world cup, and here has a reminder of one of the greatest game show moments ever. When Roy Hattersley was unavailable for a recording of Have I Got News for You, he was replaced by something giving about as much value and made of similar substances – a tub of lard. That episode's also memorable for subverting the Missing Words round by introducing foreign headlines. 20 (1)

Paul Philpot got here with his knowledge of Seb Coe, worth 28 points on 27 September. His early-90s comedy moment is Gus Hedges, the paranoid manager from Drop the Dead Donkey. After a strong start, the points start to dry up, and the finish line remains just out of reach: 19 (0).

Michael McPartland also scored 30, when he took Father Ted on 4 October. Ten in two minutes is in the corridor of doubt, and the contender takes the tactical decision to pass and hope to get an extra question in. Mired on 14 for a long time, the score suddenly takes off. It's just in time; the contender finishes on 21 (1).

Which means that Michael McPartland goes through to the grand final in April. Who will join him? We'll find out the next finalist in two weeks' time.

This Week and Next

Eurovision Song Contest selection shows have happened this week, and there's been a certain familiarity about some of the names. Ruth Lorenzo (The X Factor 2008) has been chosen to represent TVE, and goes straight to the Grand Final because it's Spain.

Somewhat to our surprise, Eoghan Quigg (The X Factor 2008) failed to get the nod for RTE, he was beaten by Can-Linn, a traditional Irish group with modern elements. This formula worked well for Denmark last year. The final was marred by sharp words from judge Billy McGuinness, who objected to Louis Walsh being on the panel, because he'd worked with Eoghan and the lead singer of Can-Linn. Fellow judge Linda Martin waded into the debate, then host Ryan Tubridy stood between the bickering songwriters in case anyone threw a glass of water or some eggs. See, we just don't get that in the UK, people don't actually care for the BBC's entry.

We were hoping to give details of the BBC's selected entrant, but information is not officially available. We know that there will be a show on Super Ceefax (DTTV channel 301, Cable Corp channel 991) from 7.25 on Monday, which suggests the announcement will be made on The Nod Show. Reports suggest that the BBC's contracted act is younger than the 2012 and 2013 entrants, which just about rules out Status Quo and Barry Cryer.

But we have an exclusive! According to sources we made up at lunchtime yesterday, the performance will be from another X Factor alumnus, Wagner. The song, "A better world for my best friend", is a soulful ballad with elements of house music, and just wait till you see what's behind that revolving staircase.

Can i Gymru Mirian Evans from the winning duo.

The UK's only televised contest for songs (rather than performers) took place this week. Can i Gymru seeks the cream of Welsh-language songwriting talent. There was a Robbie Williams lookalike, there was an Ed Sheeran lookalike. There was a fragile indie band, there was an all-out rock band who seemed to leave something on the table. There was a soul singer with her own guitar, and there was a woman bringing the fiddles to be the most Irish entrant; this formula worked well for Denmark last year.

As seems to be traditional, last year's winners provided the interval act, and Jessop a'r Sgweiri have improved from last year (when they were clearly the best in the show) to this year (when they were better than anything on last night's Top of the Pops '79), playing a traditional blues rock song with modern endowments. Next year's interval act will be provided by Barry and Mirian Evans, whose song "Galw amdanat ti" ("Calling for you") was most popular. It's the relaxing one, starting like a mountain stream and finishing like a bracing walk on the moors on a warm spring day.

Exciting news for all Britain's Got Talent fans! Alumnus Piers Morgan is set to leave his current job, and his chatshow on CNN, which means he'll be available to lend his wisdom and insight to the UK's festival of ova flying over.

School of Hard Sums Spot the sexist.

Promoting the new series of Dara O'Briain's Beer and Pizza Club, the comedian confused correlation with causation. Speaking to the Rusty Old Radio Times, he said, "Stand-up comedy, by its nature, has a larger share of men". As a result, women comedians are "less experienced, which makes it even tougher for them". Mr. O'Briain makes the error of treating the poor treatment of women as being "natural" and normal, rather than the result of long-standing sexism, so deeply ingrained that it's difficult to see. Mr. O'Briain needs to provide evidence to support his claim, and rebut the counter-argument that casual misogyny tells women that they're "not as funny" and "less quick-witted" and generally "not a bloke".

Called out on this bizarre idea, Mr. O'Briain changed tack, and said that the BBC shouldn't have announced it, it just makes the women on the show look like tokens. He will doubtless be able to remind us when Mock the Week last had a show with two women on. Or when Have I Got News for You last invited two women to the studio. It doesn't necessarily make a bad programme, as Ed Morrish has found. The producer of Dilemma on Radio 4, Morrish deliberately invites a spectrum of people: his panel of four has two comedians, two women, a mix of ages, and isn't all white every week. He does something similar on The Dog Ate My Homework.

Mr. O'Briain's final argument is that there are even fewer women in computer coding. This is true. This is completely irrelevant. He's not invited on television for his skills in computer coding, we watch Dara O'Briain because he's a comedian. He has power and influence in the world of comedy, and we see that he chooses to preserve male privilege. His eponymous School of Testosterone returns to UKTV Dave this week, with a panel consisting entirely of men. This column won't be watching, not because Mr. O'Briain has the appearance of a sexist, but because we don't wish to support shows that only invite a fraction of the population.

BARB ratings for the week to 16 February.

  1. 8.75m for The Voice UK, still behind Call the Midwife (10.15m), still well clear of the next game show (Who Dares Wins, 5.6m).
  2. Dancing on Ice is tailing off badly, just 4.75m for this week's show. Splash! finished with 3.5m, just creeping ahead of University Challenge (3.4m).
  3. Three million people watch Dragons' Den. A rare network outing for Mastermind netted 2.45m; an unscheduled transfer for Pointless gave it 2.45m on BBC2.
  4. Channel 5's puff piece Jim Davidson At Least I'm Not Boring {inadequately cited} brought in 1.45m, ahead of Channel 4's top game – the Saturday repeat of Come Dine (1.35m). The quarter-millionaire on Deal or No Deal boosted its ratings to 1.11m.
  5. Top of the satellite listings was Duck Quacks Don't Echo on The Satellite Channel, it's lost over 100,000 from its debut last week to fall below half-a-million.

While Superstar Dogs reaches its conclusion, BBC2 launches the utterly unrelated Sport Relief's Top Dog (6.30 weekdays). There's also the over-hyped Timeline on the Challenge channel (9pm Thursday). More Shouting Rounds on BBC The Voice of Holland (Sat 7pm), and a heads-up for the very last Dancing on Ice final (ITV, 7pm next Sunday).

Photo credits: BBC, Boom Kids, Granada, Thames, Avanti, Wild Rover. The fake Eurovision entry is based on a geegaw at escinsight.com.

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