Rent Free: BBC Choice, 27 January to 21 April 2002
Get Staffed: BBC Three, 4 to 19 August 2003
We like David Young shows at this site. They tend to be at least moderately entertaining (or moderately rubbish in the case of Your Kids are in Charge) and excellently, they're pretty much all the same which means that to write up another one all we really have to do is take the review to Friends Like These, change the names and some of the jokes and we're pretty much there.
Wouldn't you know it? Rent Free is another David Young show. Two teams of four will compete as individuals in the challenges, the results of which give one team an advantage during the all-important end game.
Let's give it a chance though. It's on BBC Choice and the prize is worth having - a year in a luxurious flat completely rent free, a prize worth £15-25,000. That's a LOT of cash for a minority digital channel (especially one that's licence funded) and predictably it caused a bit of a fuss when it was announced.
The set is very nice. The show is broadcast from "Richard Bacon's Flat" because the host is none other than ex-addict, ex-Blue Peter and Big Breakfast host Richard Bacon (who actually isn't that bad a choice as you'll see in a moment). It's meant to resemble a flat of a minor celebrity in that it's got all manner of cool stuff in it (a mezzanine, mini bowling alley, breakfast bar, pub quiz machine, table football, fireman's pole etc). It's a fairly spacious set, the main focus being in the main living room area to the left where the teams gather. The table in-between has a large widescreen monitor in it, which is nice.
Quick word about the host: he's actually not too bad. The main joke being that he is a minor celebrity and our contestants are not. However being only a minor celebrity, the exciting things he has in his home are only quite good rather than excellent but they are his and the contestants would be reverent. There's quite a clear feeling of "look, this prize is a bit above you" in the description for example he might end it with "the only thing we can't provide is the ready charm and wit you'll need to entertain all your new and exciting friends you'll be having round a place like this." He has a thing about minor details: "That means you've won the house for a year! You've won the chrome mixer taps! You've won the heated towel rails! And not only that you've won the halogen dimmer lights!" Having said this though, he does genuinely seem to want the contestants to do the best they can and is very encouraging whilst the games are being played.
The rules, then
Two teams of four flatmates all from a certain city compete to swap their normal everyday rubbish home into a grand exquisite one for a year - rent free (it is quite annoying how many times the words 'Rent Free' are uttered during the show. They have to drum it into you for some reason). The four players in each team compete in a solo challenge each and it's very important to win your challenge because if you lose you can't help your team in the all important pub quiz final, the winners of which get to move into the house the next morning.
The first three challenges rather excellently are all based on popular skill games and pastimes like Pacman, Donkey Kong (actual arcade machines!), Perfection, Ten-pin bowling et al. Each game is proceeded by a round of Scissors Paper Stone to determine who chooses to go first. Not vitally important but in the board game bit there's usually an advantage in going first. Typically these are accompanied by the synthgoth music we've become accustomed to by now. However, marks taken off for using a tune that's already used on Friends Like These (If anybody from the production team is reading: DON'T think we don't notice these things because we very much DO). In a nice touch, the name badge of a winner turns green after a game whilst the loser's turn red (done during a cut no doubt). The theme tune and sting between rounds reminds us of Rolf Harris on a stylophone for some reason.
Text your mates
The fourth individual round is a bit different because it's played for the Rent Free token. It's very useful to have because they can use it to buy back one of their eliminated team mates or they can use it to change a question in the all-important pub quiz. Handy, then. And the way they will win it is in a rather ingenious little game called "Text Your Mates". Richard will read out a question then give the teams a phone number. Using the phones provided, the teams have to text the question and number to as many people as they can. The number leads to one phone on the desk, "it's in a mod styling and it's very much the sort of phone The Barenaked Ladies would be likely to have."
As soon as the phone rings, the teams put their phone down and Richard picks his up. The ensuring conversation goes something like "Hello Richard Bacon... yes, you got the question? And have you ever spoke to anyone as important as me before? No I didn't think so. Right I'm going to put you on speaker phone now the first thing we want to hear is your name..." Speakerphone on, one team is very happy. If they then answer the question correctly then their team they're representing win the token. If not then the phone is slammed down and they can continue messaging. Continue until someone wins.
Quiz to the death
In the end game, the losers are confined to the mezzanine where they can only look on, the winners take their place either side of the pub quiz machine. It's a best out of 5 match with the higher scoring team winning the keys to the new flat. The losers leave with nothing. At the beginning, the team with the token have to make the decision as to whether to buy back a team member or save the token to change a question. Teams take it in turns to answer and Scissors Paper Stone is again used to decide who begins. Then Richard uses his remote to turn the lights down and the music up, "and I'm going to talk to you for the rest of the game in a quiet, confident manner, much like you'd get from BBC Royal Correspondent Jennie Bond." The questions are commendably pub quiz like (i.e. tough and a bit dull) and they're multiple choice (three answers). It also manages to be quite exciting. Which is good. Winners win the keys to the flat delivered using a special effect or prop, while the losers just leave - during the credits we get the normal David Young post-game celebrations/sulking.
However it's never going to escape the fact that although it is quite entertaining, it's highly derivative and this always nags at you whilst you're watching. This is Friends Like These with board and arcade games. Simple as, really.
N.B. Get Staffed - essentially the second series of Rent Free - was almost exactly the same show except the contestants were about five years older and the prize was to have home help of some kind (a chauffeur, nanny etc.)
"Text your mates"
"It's in a mod styling and it's very much the sort of phone _____ would be likely to have."