Weaver's Week 2011-09-04
At a fete last weekend, we came away from the tombola with an old ABBA record. Looking at the label, we found we had an Epic win!
BBC1, Saturdays from 20 August
Let us begin by defining a term. "Epic (adj) Pertaining to that species of poetical composition represented typically by the Iliad and Odyssey, which celebrates in the form of a continuous narrative the achievements of one or more heroic personages of history or tradition."
So, this new Epic Win show is going to be a continuous narrative, celebrating the achievements of a hero? Which probably explains why it's hosted by Alexander Armstrong, whose continuous narrative has stretched from comedy, to not being the regular host of Have I Got News for You, to having Pointless promoted from BBC2 to BBC1, and now a Saturday teatime show.
Alexander Armstrong is not the hero of the show. Could it be Joe Lycett? He's a hot-shot in the comedy world, having gone from his debut gig in 2008 to Best Student Comic in 2009, and now a supporting role on prime-time BBC1. Aged 21, Lycett has been described as part Dudley Moore, part Frankie Howerd, and with a remarkable impression of Peter Dickson in his Mission 2110 voice. But he is not the hero of the show.
Instead, it's a bunch of people who we've never heard of, who come on for ten minutes tops, and do something moderately entertaining. In the opening episode, we were treated to a display by a man who can inflate hot-water bottles to bursting point purely from the strength of his own lungs. There was a man who could identify lawnmowers from the residue they left after cutting, a woman with the ability to recognise Take That songs from very short snippets, and a man who can balance a football on his body for ages.
All of this is very good, but it's hardly heroic. People aren't going to discuss the programme on Monday and think, "Gosh, I must watch this on the Pear Player tonight. I will have seen the man who can burst hot-water bottles just by blowing into them really really hard. And then there will have been a point to my existence!"
No, no-one's going to do that. At best, in the most generous interpretation, they're going to think, "Ah, an end-of-the-pier show. Something to cool down the brain after Only Connect." More likely, the person who didn't see the programme will muse, "Oh. Glad you enjoyed it. Can't say I missed very much." We're not talking epic. Remarkable, yes, because not everyone can identify a lawnmower purely by the cut of its ... well, the cut of its cut. But not epic.
There's a very fine line between acknowledging the ridiculous nature of some of these challenges, and laughing at the people undertaking them. It's the line between the Fabulous Eccentric and the Ludicrous Timewaster, dividing Dick Strawbridge from Dick Dastardly. Sad to say, we found the first part of the opening show fell firmly on the wrong side, quite overtly jeering at the hot-water bottle man as he prepared to show his party piece. We found the tone more acceptable later on in the same episode. In episode two, the presenter's script had got rid of the snide tone, but one of the panel was a bit of a tightwad, as if he was donating his own fees in prize money.
Ah, yes, the bit we've glossed over. Not only do these contestants have to prove their worth by (for instance) identifying ten John Travolta films purely from his haircut, with the risk of being ejected through the Fail Door with nothing more than an "Epic Fail" sticker. Should the contender succeed, they are then faced with a challenge so banal, so completely alien to the rest of the programme, that we wonder if they've only shoved it in because they got it in error and lost the receipt.
It's The Bong Game, in which the critical panel type in a number between 1 and 1000, being the amount of prize that they believe the successful contestant should take home. These amounts are then summed, to a figure between £3 and £3000. Joe Lycett proceeds to announce a series of numbers, and the contestant must buzz in when the total reaches a prize they believe represents fair value. If their total is less than or equal to the panel's estimation, the contender wins that much money, and an Epic Win winner's trophy. However, should the contender bid more than the panel, they win no cash. All they get is the golden sparkling goodness of the doorstop.
What's the point of this round? We're not entirely sure. It certainly acts to extend the programme, turning what would have been a 30-minute festival of eccentricity into a 45-minute show of eccentricity with only a quarter-hour of obvious padding. It creates classes of people, those who can't perform a silly task about their specialist subject, those who can but can't predict the panel's verdict, and those who can do both parts. Does Epic Win really believe that the market knows everything? Do they realise they're indulging in political propaganda?
In better news, there are plenty of catchphrases in the show, almost as if they're trying to throw out as many memes as they can, in the hope that some of them stick. Alistair has plenty of bad puns, referring to the "epic centre", and suggesting that successful players can "turn their powers into pounds". This latter effort comes complete with some hand signals.
But it's Joe Lycett who has the show's most blatant attempts at memorability: the shouts of "Epic win!" whenever someone does something right, the mournful "Zero pounds" when a winner exceeds the panel's ratings, and that strange head-tilting looking thing he does while assessing the value. The hallmark of a good catchphrase is that it sneaks into the brain, and emerges at the most unexpected moment. For instance, when someone writes about their new puppy, "Bought him a really nice bed but clearly, duvet on the floor is an epic win." (Clears Joe's stentorian boom out of brain.)
We'd like to construe the phrase "Epic Win" as a narrative phrase, describing the victory of a hero. The show tries to turn it into a phrasal verb, and the language doesn't support that usage, not at the moment.
We'd like to think of the show Epic Win as an entertaining way to spend half-an-hour on a Saturday night. Again, we don't think this quite happens: the cash game is out of place, and the show doesn't quite treat its heroes as heroes, more as disposable players. We found the first two shows to be decent entertainment, but both left a slight aftertaste. Nor did we find ourselves with any inclination to watch a third edition in the hope of a show that properly gelled.
Heat 9: Manchester v Selwyn Cambridge
The correspondence regarding all-female teams continues, with UKGS contributor Andy Watson refreshing this column's fast-fading memory of three such teams. He writes, "One was a team from the then-University of North London, who appeared in 1994, another was an Open University team who appeared in 1995, and the other was a team from Harris Manchester, Oxford, who were in the 1998-99 series. The latter team made it into one of the repechage matches, in which one of the ladies had been replaced by a man, but the team was certainly all-female in the first round. However, none of these teams reached the second round." Thanks to Mr. Watson.
For the second week running, it's ten blokes on this edition, and no-one sees that as notable. Well, no-one except us. And dannybirchall: "Shouldn't University Challenge have some sort of rule against two all-male teams on the same show?"
There's an interesting addition to the chairman's script, in which he reports that "Manchester won the title .. in 2009." Readers may recall that Manchester actually lost the final, and history was only re-written in their favour through the inconsistent application of an unjust rule. The change of victor wasn't acknowledged at the start of the following series, nor in any of Manchester's matches. Two-and-a-half years on, Thumper has finally been given permission to mention the change.
Right, off our hobby horses, and on with the show. Otherwise we'll upset Victoria Coren, and we're not making that mistake again. Manchester get off to a good start with a bonus set on cafes, and the distinction between eau de cologne and perfume, and with plays within plays within Little Billy Shakespeare's opus. Selwyn ... they've picked up a few missignals. The first visual round is Name That F1 Racing Circuit, from which Manchester score 15 points out of a possible 25. Next year, this round is much harder, because it only shows the straight track and the left-hand bends; coverage of the right-hand curves will be available on satellite for a very reasonable £9000 a year. Manchester is already ahead by 100-(-10), and we're resisting the temptation to write "Game over" in our review.
Oh. We just did. And Selwyn promptly got a full house on place names differing by one letter. To the microblogs, where we read from NatalieFraser81: "Sometimes I don't even understand the questions on University Challenge" It really is very simple. (Listens to Thumper giving a 15-second description of a catfish.) Actually, no it's not, it's all deliberately deceptive and confusing. For instance...
- Q: A long-legged wading bird, a bottle-stop obtained from the bark of quercus subor, and a twisting force that tends to cause rotations...
- Selwyn: Stork, cork, torque
- Q: No... all rhyme with the name of which city of Northern England?
York, the answer there. All of which means that Selwyn are the first team in donkey's years (read: we can't be bothered to go through our records) where every member has picked up a missignal. No-one recognises the theme to "Jaws", so Manchester's lead is 155-5. We maintain that "Czechia" is a perfectly valid name for the country between Slovakia and Austria, but no-one else seems to use it.
Poppythecat tells the world, "University Challenge is easy today". Going to audition for the next series, we trust. Thumper is asking questions about the area of Scotland, which is just wrong. As everyone knows, the accepted international unit of measurement is the Wales (crumpled). It did offer the prospect of the answer to a starter and its direct bonus being "Czech Republic".
Erinsophiee07 is unhappy about "the way i'm not allowed to speak when kate and dad are watching University Challenge" We could tell the, erm, E07 family about the BBC's Pear Player, allowing them to catch up on quizzing goodness and spend time with their daughter. And from kaayleigh "omg i love it when people on university challenge get questions wrong and i get them right. makes me feel clever." High fives!
Petergolton asks "What is it with teams from manchester this weekend? Now they're walking University Challenge!" We assume this is referring to some events in football, though it wasn't in the top-flight league as won by Arsenal last Sunday. In this game, Manchester leads by 195-25 as neither side is able to identify wives of Henry VIII.
Selwyn pick up a couple of starters in a row, then the teams start spelling "Edinburgh" and "Middlesbrough" with too many Os. We'll set The O Men on to them. Kidderminster and Tamworth appeared on the show, and that's made people in those places happy. Local questions tend to do that. Do people really confuse "incense" and "incest"? Apparently so. At the gong, Manchester have won, and won big: 255-70.
A large number of dropped starters made the edit, perhaps so that Manchester didn't run up the score even more. They finished with 37/65 correct answers, and got two right from eight of their 14 bonus sets. Selwyn Cambridge closed with 13/43 correct. Random Punter o'the Week is Hannah_Slater: "3 answers right on university challenge :)"
Next week's is the last edition of University Challenge to go out on analogue BBC2 here in ATV-land. The Week's palatial residence has been inundated with literally no publicity about the forthcoming analogue switch-off. There have been no leaflets through the door, no street signs, and the only thing on the billposters is disposible pop inviting us to go "No". The doorbell has been silent: no-one has offered to sell us a cable, no-one has staged the aerial doorstep challenge, and no-one's come up trying to flog a wok we can watch television on. It's almost as if they want us to watch UCL v York and then switch off. Forever.
Heat 3: Analysts v Editors
"I want my pain. I don't want my pain taken away." Has Victoria been listening to too much Jimmy Eats World and gone all emo on us again? Let's meet the Analysts, all of whom seem to have been on Brain of Britain in the recent past, and like their odd nuggets. Crikey, two women on the Editors team, who are trying to predict the clues before even seeing them.
"Ho" is the word for the Analysts, and they spend an awfully long time thinking whether they need to see more things. They see three clues, work out that it's things said in triplicate, and score (er) two points. Behind the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom is some audio for the Editors, and they get "1, 2, 3, 4", "1, 2, 3", "5, 6, 7, 8", and "5, 4, 3, 2, 1". "They're all to do with numbers, in sequences" is the answer that has to be dragged out of the captain for a merciful point. They listened to Steps. It's the Wick o'Twisted Flax o'Doom!!!!
Women who were executed, a 2-point link for the Analysts. This is Only Connect, unlike certain other shows this is not just a man's game. The Editors have the picture clues: the left-hand piano pedal, a runny boiled egg, and some cards that make a "soft 17". Two hard points. One hard connection for the Analysts, until they reach a ref's whistle. It's got a P in it, Bob. One of the Editors mutters "blind" as soon as they see the first clue, but should be put off by Alice Cullen and Fiver. The former is from the Twiglet series of chocolates, the latter isn't the closed television channel but is a rabbit in Watership Down, and they can all see the future. The Analysts have this game by the scruff of the neck already, 7-3.
Round two is upon us, and the Analysts are going for three on the picture clue, on Churchill's speech about "blood, sweat and tears", except it's "blood and toil and tears and sweat." No points there, but 650,000 viewers are better educated, and Lord Reith will not be spinning in his grave. Children from The Cosby Show is the answer no-one gets to the second set, though we can see why they might be dragons from BBC2's moderately successful game show Dragons' Den.
There's a category classification in the next set, and it's not about vegetables, but about fireworks. If you're planning a display for the opening weekend of November, do make sure you know the difference, and don't let off some rocket when you meant a rocket. Scottish First Ministers for the Editors, beginning with the late Donald Dewar, and who's the incumbent? This show was recorded before Alex Salmond won a renewed mandate, and the Editors secure a pair of points.
Physical attraction for the Analysts, from Strong to Weak and eventually down to Gravitational, which is the weakest of all for objects of a similar size and distance. The Editors get some words spelled out: THREE, SEVEN, EIGHT. Their response is FORTY, being the next five-letter number, so they get TWO points, reducing the gap to 9-7.
To the walls, where the Editors are working on battles in the US, and on car rental firms, both of which involve the clue "Alamo". What about clues like Helena and Tuvalu, which they're completely ignoring. A group of something comes out, words borrowed from Latin, is that? The car rental firms come out with ten seconds to go, allowing just one speculative jab for the final set. Ah, the first set are spells in the Harry Potter books, apparently. A car rental firm called "Hijack"? Not going to happen, and there were some US Civil War battles after all. Four points!
Is it too obvious that The Barber of Seville and William Tell are operas? No, it's not too obvious, though it's really that they're operas by Rossini. Nor is it too obvious that four other people were Swiss, from Switzerland. The team solve the wall in about no seconds at all, and Victoria fills with an anecdote about the time some beau took her to the opera. This was an error, unlike "The ___ Man" for film titles, and things that have calves. Ten points!
Not as tight going into the Missing Vowels, the Analysts lead by 19-11. Both sides have been using the online games to practice this round, and Victoria reckons there should be better rural broadband. Purely so that the 650,000 viewers can play the online walls, and not waste bandwidth by watching Channel 5. But do remember, there are more people watching this than seeing Channel 5, and that's a BARB-proven fact.
Er, where were we? Routine medical tests opens the round, and ends in a 2-2 draw. Art supplies is good for the Editors, 3-1 in their favour. But then comes Sporting Controversies, 3-1 to the Analysts. Sci-fi characters and their home planet, that's got to be good for the viewers of Futurama, where Dr. Zoidberg gets a namecheck. The Analysts have won this one, 26-17. They're through to the next phase, and (according to a comment at Life After Mastermind) will return on Hallowe'en.
No digital switchover malarkey for this channel, not until later in the month. Joggers and Technologists go at it.
This Week And Next
It was the Edinburgh International Television Festival last weekend, which means it's the Edinburgh International Television Festival Awards. ITV won the Channel of the Year gong, BBC3 retained Best Digital Channel, and Talkback Thames won Indie of the Year. The Cross Platform Innovation Award went to Endemol's game for The Million Pound Drop Live, and that's entirely welcome recognition for the programme's unique selling point.
Oh, D-I-S-A-S-T-E-R-F-O-R-C-H-A-N-N-E-L-5. And that could spell disaster for Channel 5. BARB ratings for the week of 21 August, when Celebrity Big Brother launched, are captioned, "There is no data available for this channel for this week". For the shows we know, The X Factor won the ratings race, 11.05m saw the first auditions programme. Family Fortunes had 5.6m viewers, and Sunday's Millionaire 4.25m. Dragons' Den led on BBC2 with 3.7m, plus 290,000 on BBC-HD. The Great British Bake-Off returned with 3.1m, and University Challenge was seen by 2.8m. Channel 4's great spoiler, the movie Twiglet, was seen by 2.5m; top game show was Come Dine with Me on Friday night, with 1.65m viewers. As for BBC1? Not a single game show in the channel's top 30.
The X Factor's return also dominates the digital channels: 1.32m saw Xtra Factor on ITV2, 1.13m the main show on ITV-HD, and 710,000 the narrative repeat on ITV2. Elsewhere, Come Dine With Me was seen by 670,000, Hell's Kitchen Us picked up 666,000 (yes, really), and Only Connect's return had 650,000. Other highlights include Britain and Ireland's Next Top Model (485,000), Three In a Bed on More4 (365,000), and Hole in the Wall on CBBC (335,000). Big Brother's Bit on the Side on 5* recorded 200,000 viewers. Camp Orange finished with 63,000 viewers, repeats of The Block on UKTV Home had 45,000 tuned in, and Strongest Man Champions' League on Eurosport HD (but not analogue) 26,000. Amongst the microchannels, repeats of World's Strongest Man 2006 and The Superstars attracted 15,000 viewers to ESPN Classic, and we finally have a viewing figure for Around the Horn on ESPN America: 5000. More people have read our review.
The new autumn season starts here! Masterchef Australia kicks off on Watch (7pm Sunday, and continuing all week), and Masterchef Ireland comes to RTE2 (9.30 Tuesday, also Thursday). There are new episodes of The Chase (ITV, 5pm weekdays, including Scotland), and Celebrity Big Brother reaches its conclusion (C5, 9.30 Thursday). The News Quiz (Radio 4, 6.30) is back on Friday, so is Would I Lie to You (BBC1, 9.30), civilian Big Brother (C5, 9.30), and QI (BBC2, 10pm). Strictly Come Dancing has its launch show (BBC1, 6.10 Saturday), and Red or Black tries to give away Simon Cowell's millions (ITV, all week).
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