Weaver's Week 2003-04-19

Weaver's Week Index

19th April 2003

Iain Weaver is on holiday. Guest reviewer Nick Gates reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.

It's Easter!

Hello, I'm Nick Gates and I'm a manual worker.


Previously in Not Weaver's Week:

"Well now, you see, I'm finding it very difficult to get excited about this really to the point where I haven't actually watched it yet. I have them both on tape though and I hope to watch them and the third episode in time for next week's column which I'm also writing (probably)."

Now read on...

I spent yesterday watching all three episodes of The Murder Game and I quite enjoyed myself. I quite enjoyed myself because I went down the pub and commanded the jukebox all evening. The Murder Game on the other hand left me with a somewhat empty feeling, much as you would with a really nice takeaway Chinese meal half an hour after you've eaten it. Like that really nice takeaway Chinese, it looks absolutely delicious and it smells really nice too (although for the purposes of this analogy, let us pretend you have Synaesthesia and you hear smells. Thanks.). However, you have chosen sweet and sour prawn balls and special fried rice (truly the Chinese choice of champions) but you've put too much emphasis on the sweet and sour sauce so it's a bit too strong and can't face eating it all. Or something.

The production values of the show are terrific. Really nicely shot intro sequence (various shots of an incident room notice board with moving bits). Lots of neat aerial shots of the fictional village of Blackwater (for it is Maldon in Essex), including a standard aerial sweep which includes a big church. This is good, churches are very televisual buildings and as the centrepiece for the murder can't be overused and indeed isn't. The music too is very nicely constructed to add to the modern gothicy feel the show has gone with. The show scores bonus points from me by going down the modern gothic route. However points are being removed for overuse of the slightly pointless two small shots side by side playing simultaneously technique. I particularly like the computer graphics the show is using for the maps and some such, they're very simple but give the show a modern feel that doesn't detract from the atmosphere. I approve.

Where the show falls down is that real life detective work generally is a rather tedious affair involving a lot of hard ground work and interviews (I imagine), not much of which is very interesting. The contestants in The Murder Game will get to do all of these things. So whilst there is the occasional quite clever and exciting bit (planting bugs around a person's house) the follow up bit isn't quite so interesting (the sit and hide in a shed for hours listening to the bugs bit) which is apparently made more interesting for viewers because one of the team needed the toilet and didn't want to urinate into a bottle in front of colleagues and camera crew (the exciting premise for a talking head interview in fact). Meanwhile, an expert in the field who is watching them declares them as useless. Our amateur sleuths are of course being rated on several hidden tests each day - act as a proper investigator would and earn a reprieve from the elimination vote. Mess up (and we see a lot of uselessness) and you do not. Should the contestants mess up, Big Chief Bob Taylor will send the boys in get the evidence that should have been collected. This is simultaneously a bit silly and a good idea.

And the reason it's a good idea is because the story is really quite good. The actors playing the townsfolk are largely believable. As viewers we are treated to set pieces of conversation between characters that the investigators aren't privy to. There are car chases. Things blow up. People inadvertently fall out of storage areas. Most importantly, the Killer wants to 'be' Kevin Spacey from Se7en and is proactive, arrogantly leaving big cryptic clues as to their identity (example: whilst looking for evidence in a church, the killer hangs a noose up outside the front door and attaches a message to it), scaring the contestants (example: watch this video. IT IS THE KILLER FILMING YOU EATING YOUR DINNER.) and making things happen. Whilst leaving blood everywhere. Each day there are three lines of enquiry made apparent from the evidence found from the previous day which as previously mentioned may have to be forcefully given to the investigators. It's almost as if, in fact, the game gets in the way of the story which is much more interesting.

But what of the game, eh? There is after all £25,000 at stake for the eventual winner. Each week there is a lead investigator who splits the other investigators into teams. Big Chief Bob Taylor sends each team somewhere to investigate something twice over two days. With each line of enquiry there is a hidden test. The Killer is playing with the investigators and sets a game up for them, somehow he'll convey two different locations to the team. At one there is a clue to their identity. At the other is the Killer themselves. Just like a real police investigation, the Chief will send one person out to each of these places with a torch and a zero light camera in the hope that one of them won't get killed. If a team passes both hidden tests then they are exempt from The Killer's Game group vote for - no, but yes! - there's a group vote cast in secret to decide who the most useless/unpopular member of the group is. The lead investigator chooses the other person and has a free pick. These two contestants film their last will and testament in private naming who they want the new lead investigator to be in the event of their death (a good thing to be, as it makes you exempt from the next Killer's Game). Finally they are sent out to the places picked from unmarked envelopes, the Killer's location pre-planned and locked away in a safe.

And now it becomes The Blair Witch Project and to its credit it's handled rather neatly. It doesn't give much away as to who is going to be killed off, the two investigators are frequently cut between. They will both scream at least once. When the screen goes black, we cut to an investigator jeep being driven back to HQ and then with full dramatic effect they walk back in through the door with pure white light behind them so as to hide their identity for a moment longer. And then there is some cheering. We won't find out what the clue is until the next week. Unless you can 'do' interactivity with your red button.

This week's lines of enquiry then:

1) In episode three the Killer hacks into incident room computers with the locations for the next Killer's Game. Why did no-one think to check which of the suspects is a bit handy with a computer?

2) Big Chief Bob Taylor (an actual real chief of police donchaknow) is frankly great television, blustering around and telling the investigators off when they're being useless. However I can't take the show very seriously because of one thing (and if you do take this show seriously I suggest you move on to the next bit) and that thing is that investigating his speech patterns, he truly is the Yorkshire version of Michael Caine. Truly it would be ace if just once during the series he said (whilst telling off the investigators) something along the lines of "What were you doing? I thought I told you only to blow the bloody doors off!"

3) The Killer's Game is just silly isn't it? There's little wrong with it per se, but the idea doesn't really fit with the show at all. And yet it does provide quite a decent climax to an episode, if not a proper sense of closure.

The Murder Game, there. An interesting story and a reasonable reality vote-people-off game which don't quite work when mixed together. What possibly is the most damning thing is that I'll keep watching it for the story but I don't really care as to who wins or who the murderer is. And it IS so nicely made... not so much a flawed diamond as a not so flawed piece of Diamonique then. Or something.


Russian Roulette was on Tuesday night. "It's not a fair game," says Rhona Cameron. "It's not a fun one either," says me. I remain insistent that a Brit version of the US version, with reasonable prizes, would blow away the competition in a daily 5:30 slot. It is my job to be right all the time.


The idea of a daily Treasure Hunt still seems a trifle odd to me. Still, here we are and this week (and another week sometime) are international specials hindered by the fact we've had an abnormally warm week for this time of year so nobody's been in to watch it. Still, I think heat is useless so I've been watching them and they've been fairly enjoyable. I am over the new theme - it gets the idea of the show across pretty well although it's not Zack Lawrence - and the new set's OK if a bit empty compared to the 1980s series'.

This week we went to San Francisco on Monday, Mexico City on Tuesday, New Zealand on Wednesday, Alice Springs on Thursday and Melbourne on Friday. All very beautiful to look at and happily, the show's still as much fun as it always was although I feel it felt as if there was too much flying and not enough terra ferma hi jinks early in the week. The single biggest addition the new version of the show has bought along is that of having the treasure in the vicinity of the final clue. One of the biggest problems with the original of course was that if they get the fifth clue with only a few minutes to go you knew there would be no chance of them winning because the helicopter wouldn't get there in time. Now there is always a chance. Except on Friday's episode obviously, cunningly scheduled for right after I wrote that bit with the sole purpose of foiling me, clearly.

However, whilst in the original pilot week many of these final clues required a short run but needing to know an exact thing in order to win, a few too many of the final clues this time round have revolved around "Is Suzi fit enough to run from point A to point B, up a hill in time?" (the best example of this being on Alcatraz on Monday where she had to run up a large hill but Guy and Simon the technical blokes got to ride in a truck. Less about clue solving and more about physical ability. Lazy.) which is a touch disappointing.

There is also a rather pointless addition of sound stings for when they light up the map, when they start the clock, when they stop the clock and when time runs out. Fine normally, except they're barely audible (so I see them as irritants) and generally a bit pathetic. And there's no way the current time's up signal (a sort of wheeeeeeeee-[wind chimes]) conveys the same authority as the gong. Silly silly silly.

I like Treasure Hunt. But it isn't quite "there" yet. Dermot Murnaghan is growing into his host's role nicely and I've always quite liked Suzi Perry (although she doesn't quite "fit" as well this week as she did in the pilot week. Gosh that's an awfully vague criticism isn't it?). Let's hope they don't schedule the second international week of shows somewhere in the middle of Summer in the early evening slot when nobody will be in, eh?



Easter Monday - Takeshi's Castle Series 2 Premiere on Challenge TV. Watching people fall into water has never been so much fun!

Friday - The new series of Have I Got News for You. This week's Angus Deayton is Martin Clunes UNLESS I HAVE BEEN BETRAYED.


Rusty Lee is reputedly going to get a helicopter and gatecrash the I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! set because she was disappointed about being rejected from it. The new series begins on the 28th. That is all.

Doesn't Big Brother 4 start in a few weeks? Perhaps they're waiting for I'm a Celebrity to blow over.

It's been surprisingly hard work filling in for Iain so I'm never letting him go on holiday ever again. Bye!

Nick Gates' opinions are his own. Iain Weaver returns next week.

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