Archives for posts with tag: panel shows

Sometimes, I am very on the fence as if to whether I like a programme or not. I can see the germs of something I like, but also see a lot that I don’t. These are often the hardest shows to review, as I end up writing something that justifies to myself why I’m watching, rather than selling it to you.

The Ranganation falls into this category. The format is that Romesh Ranganathan gathers a cross-section of the British public to talk about the week’s news. It is a blend of Gogglebox and Have I Got News For You, although I’m not sure it has captured the best of either.

The show is at its best in one of two scenarios. First, a member of the Ranganation says something so daft that they become playful cannon fodder for Romesh, who often unleashes the grumpier side of his personality at this point. The second is Romesh’s interactions with his mum, who is very good at innocently stealing the show.

When either of these two things happen, the show really flies. Ranganathan, like many comedians, is better when unscripted and he can just riff off someone. Sometimes the debate within the audience can actually get quite funny as well.

Where the show falls down is when the opposite happens and everything feels boxed in with a script. The opening prelude feels lazy and full of cheap shots. Even worse, it is stilted. The panellists are like coiled springs waiting for the actual show to start.

Of course, the biggest question is around the sincerity of the panellists. Are they really how the come across on camera, or are they putting on affectations, hoping to be the next Scarlett Moffatt? There are also a handful that seem to force themselves to be more prominent than others, even if they have less knowledge of what they are talking about. This show feels ripe for a fact checker to be employed on.

Overall, it’s enjoyable enough and currently uncontested for me in its time slot. But for me, the jury is out on if it deserves a second season or not. It falls in that awkward category of I would watch it if it did, but not miss it if it didn’t.


Panel shows are surprisingly difficult to get right. The best of them are like dropping in on a conversation between friends, full of sparkling repartee and witticisms. Sometimes you can even find out something new along the way.

When they are done badly though, it is painfully obvious. The sparks that seem so easy to manufacture elsewhere never materialise, the jokes fall flat and everyone appears wooden. All of which results in a very painful half an hour to an hours viewing.

Hypothetical very nearly veers into the second category. The concept is that guests are set hypothetical challenges and must come up with the best way to complete it. For example, how would you make an S Club 7 musical a runaway success on Broadway? Would you rather wear a big hat or a little hat for the rest of your life? As with a lot of panel shows, there is not a lot at stake.

It is hosted by Josh Widdicombe and James Acaster, the latter also acting as points giver. Widdicombe in particular doesn’t quite fit as a host, not least because he falls into that common trap for comedians, not being able to read an autocue. Considering it is the job of a stand up to be able to ad lib, I don’t know why they are forced to read from one anyway.

Acaster is better, but flourishes when he is allowed to go off script and just converse with the guests. In fact, it is a bit too obvious that the show doesn’t need two hosts and that Acaster could carry this by himself if needed.

The quality of the guests matters. To be fair, both episodes so far have at least had a few good ones on. But the whole show only zings when the guests almost forget what they should be aiming to accomplish and just start riffing off each other. Which is fine, except it makes the whole point of having a concept pointless. Whilst all panel shows rely on a particular tangent catching fire, most still seem to be able to stick to the central point without detracting from the fun.

Overall, you get the feeling that the show isn’t quite there as a finished product. It’s a bit like when someone gives you a deconstructed dessert – you can see all the bits are there, but it would me much better if it came as a whole thing. But it does show promise. Some smart fine tuning to the basics would see it really fly. Let’s hope they get the chance to do so.

I am a fan of Jon Richardson. I like the fact that his comedy stretches beyond that stereotypical Northener, a trap many of his colleagues with similar accents fall in to. His foibles, though irritating, are relatable. He has actually done documentaries on his OCD tendencies, including one very moving one a few years ago.

He is now fronting Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier, a panel show where he and his guests try to rank worries in order of importance. Over the course of the show he discusses three of his own worries, his guests get one each and the audience has one at the end. Jon being Jon, this means people who don’t stack the dishwasher right are more anxiety inducing than the threat of nuclear war. It is a twist on the Room 101 format, except there is no competitive element.

There are things I like about the show. Richardson is as good as expected, which is very. Although a lot will depend on the quality of the guests, the format seems solid and some laughs do happen. My biggest came from Suzy Ruffalo’s horrifying puppet. They even have an expert on to discuss some of the worries, which is a nice touch.

But there are many things I need changing to really enjoy it. The sketches are awful and seem to be added to make what is essentially a 30 minute show into an hour. Richardson is also not a natural talker direct to the camera. Like many comedians, he is better at ad-libbing than following a script. He could, and should, just get on to meeting the guests and getting cracking, rather than taking us through an opening monologue.

My final thing isn’t really a thing that can be changed, and probably isn’t even a real bug bear, but I can’t stand when comics laugh at each other’s jokes. It isn’t a problem on some shows like As Yet Untitled or any other show that is heavy on banter, light on format. Maybe the problem is that I don’t believe them to be sincere laughs or that they are a form of canned laughter, a marker telling us what to laugh at.

So yes, it needs tinkering with. It needs to feel smoother and more natural, and tighter editing. But it is funny and interesting, which buys it enough credit with me.

It seems weird to be discussing a show as lightweight as 8 Out of 10 Cats, but I have good reasons to. The first is, to put it bluntly, there is little else on TV at the moment that I haven’t analysed to death, although if someone wants to know my thoughts on New Girl for the umpteenth time I am happy to divulge. The other is that it is a prime example of a successful satirical panel show, and is worthy of dissection as a representation of the genre.

I always see Cats as the teenage grandchild of Have I Got News For You that is enjoying its first few trips to the pub with its mates. The jokes are not as deep and there is no Ian Hislop to offer some thought provoking monologue but it shares some basic genetic material. There are the digs at those in power and popular culture, the latter of which hit home more. It is always more convincing when you hear someone under 40 bemoan modern life if you are in that age bracket. Paul Merton dissing, say, Lady Gaga always comes across as the older generation patronising the younger. Rob Beckett doing it feels more genuine.

The change of captains from Sean Lock and Jon Richardson to Beckett and Aisling Bea is welcome. Not that Lock and Richardson weren’t great, but there was a danger of the show slipping in to the very problem described above with Merton and Hislop – complaining about modern life only works if people genuinely believe you are aware of what it is you are commenting on. Besides Beckett and Bea are hilarious. I am a particular fan of Beckett’s long-running insistence that Jamie Oliver has a kid called Spaghetti Pete. It’s not the cleverest of jokes, but you buy into it because it only stretches the truth slightly.

I do think the show shares a limitation with HIGNFY. Both of them in their satire paint an almost consistent negative picture of politics. There are two camps in satirical thought – one that it exists only to ridicule the powerful and the latter that it should offer guidance on how to improve. I belong in the latter. HIGNFY does have Hislop sometimes giving such a patch of light. Cats does not. You could argue that is not the show’s remit, but with it being so youth oriented, and that generation proving to be so crucial in elections (as the last few years have proved), it almost owes us a duty to encourage engagement in social issues. The Last Leg does this so well without being preachy, so it can be done.

Still, as a diversion it does its job and it isn’t the worst way to spend an hour with the TV.

A bit of a different post today, as rather than reviewing a show I am instead going to give my view on a piece of news connected to one. Today Stephen Fry announced he was leaving QI at the end of this series, with Sandi Toksvig announced as his replacement not long after. So what to make of it all?

Well, firstly, although I am surprised, I’m also not at the same time. It was always going to be an ask for either Stephen or Alan Davies to last all 26 series, although I must admit I saw Davies as being the first to exit. Still, Fry will be missed, but not for his natural headmaster manner. Rather, it is his anecdotes that will be the gap that needs to be filled. Fry is the sort of man who has lived several lives whilst others have journeyed through just one. He’s met everyone, knows all the stories and is a true raconteur. You feel as if he has little left to experience, which makes him so good at hosting a show that is so all-encompassing in its subject matter.

Despite this, I am optimistic about the decision to replace him with Toksvig. For a start, she isn’t shy on life stories herself, having lived in several countries and also mingled with a good share of who’s who. She has a dryness and self-deprecation that is also rather Fry-like, and is also every bit as charming as her predecessor. Nor is she inexperienced as hosting – her 10-year-stint on The News Quiz will do her no harm, giving her a razor sharp edge to her humour. All-in-all, I feel the BBC have made a smart choice.

There is one final thing to address I feel, which is the question that has been buzzing round since the announcements were made. Why has it taken so long for a woman to get to regularly host a primetime British panel show? Perhaps the biggest barrier has been sheer numbers – even though female comedians and presenters are growing in volume and quality, men still outnumber them. Ensuring women are on the panel only goes so far, and it is giving more hosting opportunities to women that will truly begin to open doors.

The other factor to consider is that some panel shows can trip over all too easily into borderline misogyny. 8 Out of 10 Cats is one of the worst culprits, although again the growth of female comedians is challenging that. It is far harder to make a joke about rape when you are in the same room as someone like Sarah Millican who can, and will, cut you down to size. QI has suffered from this problem less, but it will still be interesting to see where the lines of ‘banter’ are drawn.

I expect there will be an outcry from some quarters over Toksvig’s role. It will be seen as political correctness gone mad, feminazism at its worst, and people will refuse to give her a chance just because she isn’t her predecessor. But I will. And I think she will be bloody brilliant.

Panel shows seem to sprout up like weeds at times. There must be whole meetings, perhaps weeks of them, dedicated to just thinking up a new format. Then there are hosts and team captains to allocate, and a USP to find. So many fail, because quite frankly when you see them executed to near-perfection (Have I Got New For You, QI, Would I Lie to You) anything that falls short of that just looks like a mess with a bunch of ego’s fighting for airtime. Besides, all the best formats have been done. Haven’t they?

It turns out not, and there is still space for genuinely new takes. Taskmaster, currently being shown on Dave, is a panel show with the constraints loosened. The format is deceptively simple. Host Greg Davis, sets five comedians bizarre tasks to complete and awards points based on their success. These tasks range from high-fiving a 55-year-old, to emptying a bath tub of water in the quickest time possible. Obviously the humour is derived from the varying levels of incompetence the comedians perform these tasks with, as well as the subsequent banter.

It is hard to get across how funny this actually is, especially as the humour builds with each episode. You see, each week it is the same comedians, so patterns emerge, and the banter gains power by the fact they learn and use each other’s weak spots. For instance, there is a running theme of Romesh Ranganathan constantly running a constant low-level rage that explodes on certain tasks. Tim Key meanwhile, is constantly portrayed as sneaky, Roisin Conaty as ditzy and Frank Skinner as a calm, elder statesman, governed by logic (even if this logic rarely works).

I have genuinely cried laughing at times at this show, for reasons it is impossible to explain. It is daft, stupid, and ultimately pointless. Yet it is also a stroke of genius, and just the right side of twisted to stop it slipping into uncomfortable territory. At the end of the day it puts a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s all I want.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being a Brit who enjoys American TV is the gap between programmes initial transmission date and when we over the pond actually get to see it. Yes, I know there are internet sites to cater for that, but I find these a frustrating experience, full of pop-up ads reminding me the secret to happiness is a flat stomach and lots of money. Having said that, my most joyous moments seem to be stuffing my face on something overpriced, so maybe these ads haven’t quite hit the nail on the head on that front after all.

Anyway, back to my main point. A good example of the pain this delay in transmission causes is Don’t Trust the B—-, a delightfully snappy comedy that is shown in the UK alongside the Mean Girls/Real Housewives inspired sitcom Suburgatory, which I have waxed lyrical about previously. Don’t Trust the B—- is silly and sharp in equal measure, with every barb at pop culture balanced by a crass or surreal line or piece of physical comedy. Sadly, the show didn’t find an audience over in the States, so the second season will be the last.

This saddens me. It saddens me because it is yet another show where the lead characters are funny, intelligent women, yet for some reason the ratings are saying to execs ‘no thanks, we would rather screen some all-male buddy comedy with a casual layer of misogyny, where guys get all the banter and their women look all disapprovingly for 30 minutes, you know, like the film Grown-Ups‘. Whitney has likewise been axed, and even though The Mindy Project has been renewed, I fear that it will suffer a similar fate soon. 2 Broke Girls is looking like the last hope of some oestrogen to be on the box, and it seems a shame to have just one comedy flying the flag for 50% of the world’s population.

Having said that, we do no better in Britain. We produce far fewer sitcoms, but a look at the panel shows tells a similar story. There are a lot of funny women out there, yet even Mock the Week and QI, the most left-wing of shows on mainstream TV, seem to have difficulty most weeks getting past the token woman problem. And don’t get me started on 8 Out of 10 Cats, which although is filthily funny at times, deliberately hires female panelists like Jamelia and women off TOWIE so there can be at least one moment where they can say something daft and Jimmy Carr can get a few cheap laughs. Yes, there are dumb men as well, but they are treated more like sweet (or creepy) imbeciles putting on an act, the court jester even, rather than as genuinely thick.

It would be a shame that at a time when so many intelligent women are fighting to be heard, both in fictional shows and in real life, that they be shooed off because some overly loud men who don’t like it. I mourn the loss of funny, sharp women from the media,  as they bring light and shade to a testosterone driven world. And let’s face it, recent events have shown we don’t exactly have an excess of men to take their place.