Weaver's Week 2008-03-23

Weaver's Week Index

Here's the problem with passing through the gate to the surreal universe of Name That Fruit. It's not Adrian Lush's purple glow, which we found most unhealthy last week. No, the problem is that everything in this dimension looks mildly bonkers afterwards. Moving people about in huge metal contraptions that are heavier than air? Never work.



Second round 6/6

Image:Square Mastermind.jpg

We'll begin with something entirely sane, a touchstone of normality for the past four centuries. It's the last second round match this week.

Gerry Waldron will tell us about the "Barsetshire" novels of Anthony Trollope. For the uninitiated, it's a series of six novels about the life and times of the inhabitants – mostly the clergy – of Barchester. The round has many close shaves – "Lady Petty Bag" and "Lady Privy Bag" are confused – and ends on 11 (0).

Jacqui Menzies has been swotting up on Mary Queen of Scots. She lived 1542-87, and was a trophy wife for many European monarchs, before being detained by the English for nineteen years as a political prisoner. The contender benefits from a question started after the buzzer, ending on 14 (1). This will not affect the result. (SPOILER! Oh.)

Kevin Moore discusses the Life and Career of William Sherman. He was a businessman and author, who gained fame as a General in one side (or the other) of the US civil war of the 1860s. Many of the questions revolve around his military experience, excluding his work outside the military. The round ends on 10 (1).

Sandra Piddock will tell us about the Poldark novels of Winston Graham. In these twelve books, we learn of the life in minute detail of Cornish people in the late eighteenth century. The books were adapted for television in a 29-part series in the 1970s; all hyperbole aside, it is worth noting that this run is shorter than the current series of Mastermind. The final score is 13 (1).

Mr. Moore is back in the chair, discussing Mr. Sherman's total warfare tactic, destroying everything that he could. Readers may wish to insert their own commentary here. Or they may not. He gets some old classics in his general knowledge round – which letter is represented in Morse code by a dot – and progresses to 23 (2).

Mr. Waldron tells us that Mr. Trollope wrote 47 novels, at the rate of 2500 words per day. Before breakfast. We're reminded of a writing course that insists on a page of stream-of-consciousness writing per day, except that some people manage to write coherently before eating, and some of us are incoherent at any hour. His simple question is on a definition of the palindrome, and the round ends on 18 (4).

Sandra Piddock points out that the television series doesn't allow the characters to deliver their streams of consciousness, to let the viewer get inside their heads. The simple question here is the business of Steinway and Sons, and the Hidden Goliath Indicator of the Week comes in a question asking the nickname for a country with an economy relying on the export of fruit. The final score: 23 (2).

Jacqui Menzies needs ten to win, nine to potentially force a three-way play-off. Mary Queen of Scots found that her father had died when she was a few days old, and the chats on tonight's show really have been perfunctory. Sitter is the man who landed at Whitby in 1897 in the shape of a wolf. The final score is 21 (7).

We have a tie. What happens here is that the strongest link in the last round — no, that's not right. What happens here is that we have the rarest of rara aves: a Five Question Play-Off. It's only the second on the BBC2 series since the revival in 2003.

Mr. Moore is first to the chair: he misses a literature question, hits on one from the musicals, misses a geology and cookery question, and is incorrect on the entertainment question. Just the one right.

Sandra Piddock gets the first two right, which is going to be enough to win; she adds the question about the topping of a Simnel cake (the Hidden Transmission Indicator), and the plug for Waterloo Road, to win the tie-break comfortably.

All of which means that next week's show will be the Grand Final. It'll begin at 7.30, but do set your videos carefully, for the show will last one hour.

Basil's Game Show

The Foundation for BBC1, Friday afternoons

It's a case of good presenter, bad presenter here. Readers will, no doubt, already be aware of the complaint against Basil Brush by various representatives of Romany groups, following the recent repeat of an episode first screened in 2002. Readers may not be aware of the huge levels of praise for a recent edition of Barney Harwood's Go For It programme, in particular for an episode dealing with bereavement. Put the two together, stir in a good helping of Melvin Odoom, and see what emerges. We've actually sat through two episodes of this show (well, it was this or The Gardening Quiz With Anna Ford), and we reckon we've got its measure. Twenty-nine minutes, and a belly laugh in most.

Basil's Game Show is, as the name suggests, a game show hosted by Mr. Brush. Three teams of two appear: for reasons that are never adequately explored, they're names after animals. Those kings of the savannah, zebras; those kings of the jungle, tigers; and (er) those kings of making honey in English country gardens, bees. We meet the teams during a section called "Trash talk" in which the pairs explain who they are, why they'll beat the others, and just why it is they have to film this bit outside the back of the studios next to the dustbins.

Round one is Dunk Beds, and is a straight lift from that well-known children's game show Takeshi's Castle. One player lies on a bed mounted on rollers, the other tries to push them so that the bed comes to rest in a fairly short zone between the zero point and that rather large vat of mint-flavoured BBC ice cream at the end of the runway. Being BBC ice cream, it's served at room temperature and has melted into a liquid mess; being mint-flavoured, it's green. Two rounds of this, with the scores put on the doors of a fridge by another cast member in a furry animal costume. Lowest score on the door gets a wheely-bin pencil sharpener and a gorilla ride home.

By this point, our surreal-o-meter showed signs of overheating, and we were rather glad to see the games pause for a comedy sketch. We were even more pleased one week to find that the sketch was called Disastermind, in which Mr. Brush gave silly noises in response to questions.

Round two varies each week – there's been a swinging ball to knock down crockery (that'll be the Great Wall of China), there's been some nonsense involving fish that we didn't even begin to understand. Whatever the challenge, Mr. Odoom plays some character or other, and builds up the silliness. Losers get their wheely-bin pencil sharpener and the gorilla ride home. After this comes another sketch, "Zeroes", about three people who think they're able to save the world, but would have trouble saving 10p with a money-off coupon at the checkout.

The final is the Gunge-u-lator, which is a conveyor belt that the contestants have to run against. The object is to construct a meal out of five large foodstuffs borrowed from the BBC canteen. Being foodstuffs from the BBC canteen, they're made of polystyrene and hence completely inedible, and that's why they're going back after the programme. As the rounds progress, there are additional obstacles – things to jump over, soft missiles thrown from the sides. Should the contestant fall, they could end up in the over-large pool of BBC ice cream left over from round one. The winning side will get a prize, larger if they get further. And, of course, the inevitable gorilla ride home.

Basil's Game Show is a mixture of comedy and competition, hosted by a veteran of children's television, with a leading comedian and a straight man. There are nods to The Generation Game and many other BBC series, and the whole thing has that madcap end-of-the-week feeling that says one thing: it's Friday, it's (er) four o'clock... Fine in small doses, though we can't really say that we'd like to see this sort of bonkersness every week. (That "Zeroes" sketch has legs, though...)

Stake Out

BBC Scotland for CBBC, Wednesday and Friday 5.15

From a show that never pretends to come within a million miles of reality to one that gently twists the normal into something a little strange. Your host for the ride is Pete Firman from Channel 4's Dirty Tricks show, quite clearly the second most brilliant thing to come out of Middlesbrough in the last three decades. He's young, he's got bags of energy, and – most importantly – he knows when to shut up and let the scenes take their course.

The principle behind Stake Out is familiar: hidden cameras. Over the course of one day, someone is going to be put in five unusual situations, and they'll react in the way they think best. The added twist here is that they've been set up by three of their friends, who are predicting just how they'll react. If the friends guess correctly, they'll win points, and if they win points, they'll all be winning prizes.

It's clear that a lot of thought has gone into these skits, even if the show's formula becomes a little predictable after a while. The unsuspecting victim is given a silly thing to do on their own doorstep, another daft task at or near their school. There's something done over the phone in the car, and one or two events in the outside community. All the while, the friends are listening in, usually from the next room, heightening the sense of conspiracy. And adding to the tension, for if the victim finds out that they're being filmed, the game is off.

Why is this show clearly superior to such failures as Make My Day? Two reasons spring to mind: first, the game mechanic is so simple a child could understand it, which is all rather good when the show goes out on a children's channel. In fact, it's so simple that an ITV viewer could understand it. What will their friend do? Sing the national anthem of Stakottia? Refuse to talk to the country's wrestling champion Igor? Guess and earn! That's far more easy to follow than Make My Day's ambiguous moral quandaries, especially when the "right" answer would tax the combined intellect of all the ethicists in the country.

The second, and far more compelling reason, is that the set-ups are generally of very high quality; we were particularly impressed by one in Northampton's great tourist attraction, the Museum of Shoes, where our probably-not-as-unwitting-as-she-was-in-the-morning victim tries on lots of unusual shoes that (shock!) actually fit, and ends up putting on Cinderella's glass slippers and knighting the tour guide. In the wrong hands this would be silly, but Firman and the team are able to build up the tension, hold back the waves of surreality, and ride the moment like experts. The effect reminds us of some of Beadle's best set-ups – just getting the balance right is difficult enough, making us laugh in anticipation of the result is even better. And, unlike Beadle, it's clearly done in very good humour – the tricks don't have an ounce of malice, just bucketloads of bizarre.

In the UKGS review of Oblivious, there's record of a "24 Hours" feature, where a victim has been subjected to various bizarre situations, and their relatives predict what they did. "So much more could have been made from it," we wrote at the time. Stake Out demonstrates how the Oblivious people should have done it: bring the relatives to the next room, and tone down the nastiness.

This Week And Next

We were rather amused to read Hans Zimmer fulminating against the poor quality of many contemporary film and television soundtracks. We have just three words to attest to the high quality of his compositions: Going for Gold.

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Two game shows won Royal Television Society awards this week. The Entertainment award went to QI (BBC2), and the Daytime award to Come Dine with Me (Channel 4).

The BAFTA Television Award nominations were published this week. The game shows up for gongs are:

Entertainment performance — Simon Amstell – Never Mind the Buzzcocks (BBC2); Alan Carr and Justin Lee Collins – The Friday Night Project (Channel 4); Stephen Fry – QI (BBC2)

Interactivity – The X Factor – Robert Marsh, Oliver Davies, Sophie Davis, Richard Holloway (ITV1/TalbackTHAMES)

Entertainment programme – Britain's Got Talent – Richard Holloway, Andrew Llinares, Ben Thursby, Georgie Hurford-Jones (ITV1/TalkbackTHAMES in association with Syco TV); Harry Hill's TV Burp – Spencer Millman, Peter Orton, Harry Hill (ITV1/Avalon Television Ltd); Have I Got News For You – Jo Bunting, Nick Martin, Richard Wilson (BBC One/Hat Trick Productions Ltd); Strictly Come Dancing – Martin Scott, Sam Donnelly, Clodagh O'Donoghue (BBC One/BBC)

Audience award for the programme of the year – The Apprentice; Britain's Got Talent; Strictly Come Dancing

Promoting the new series of The Apprentice (Wednesday, 9pm, BBC1), Alan Sugar mooted the prospect of a Junior version of the show. Haven't we already got that particular segment of the market cornered by Saira Khan's Beat the Boss, a show far more palatable and downright interesting than anything Mr. Sugar's been involved in.

In the week to 9 March, Dancing on Ice's semi-final was seen by 9.15m, Antan Dec pulled a series-best 7.5m, and the Weakest Link special had 4.65m. After all the promotion, Duel still only took 4.35m viewers. Nick Hancock did beat Jeremy Paxman, 3.55m saw the University Challenge final, only Crufts was more popular on BBC2. On the digital tier, Pop Idle US led with 720,000. RTS Daytime Show of the Year Come Dine With Me had 560,000, with QI on Dave and America's Next Top Model on Living both recording more than half a million viewers.

In addition to the Mastermind final, next Monday sees literary quizzes The Write Stuff (Radio 4, 6.30) and The Book Quiz (BBC4, 8.30) return, as does music show Counterpoint (Radio 4, 1.30). ITV begins the Daily Cooks Challenge (weekdays 3pm). Saturday the 29th features the University Challenge Boat Race (Eurosport, 5pm).

Normal service (or something approximating normal service) resumes next week, when the Week will be one to cut out and laugh at in May, as we attempt to discern the result of the Eurovision Song Contest based on the results of the performance-order draws and this "political voting" lark we hear so much about.

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