Archives for posts with tag: Richard Ayoade

Another difficult week to find anything to talk about, so I thought I would write about one of the most infuriating episodes of TV I have ever watched. I mean, we all have yell at the TV moments, but this was one where I had to more than once walk away into a different room because it was getting to me.

I am referring to last week’s episode of The Crystal Maze. It will go down in notoriety for being the first ever episode where the team ended with zero crystals. They got themselves locked in three times. One contestant managed to be so appallingly bad, they got locked in twice.

The die was cast early on when they bungled through the opening riddle by shouting random numbers. Then, in their very first proper task, the team captain got locked in. There seemed to be a repeating pattern throughout the show of not understanding what the task required until it was too late. At least one of the lock-ins were down to not being able to understand simple instructions or listen to advice. Several other tasks resulted in a zero result for the same reasons.

I admit that there is the pressure on you at the time. People are watching and your brain will go to mush. But even with far more extra help then the average team receives (Richard Ayoade virtually gave the answers in some games) they were still shockingly bad. Nobody seemed to know what a synonym was. How? It is on the school curriculum to learn such things!

This reminds me of when Brian Belo was on Big Brother and didn’t know who Shakespeare was. I found that hard to believe – you can’t move for Shakespearean references and influence in this country.

And the worst of it is, we seem to actually find it endearing. Belo won Big Brother for being ‘nice’ but I wonder if his niceness would have been so evident if he had been smarter. Likewise, the team on The Crystal Maze were applauded for standing by each other. Whilst this is a lovely virtue, it is almost like saying ‘well done’ to someone showing a basic human trait we should all have anyway.

There is nothing wrong with kindness or loyalty – God knows some of the people at the top could do with learning these qualities – but we are creating a dichotomy between those of average intelligence or below are the good guys and anybody with smarts is at best morally questionable. We seem to be fearing rewarding intelligence and shrewdness. A team that had won all 10 challenges or a contestant on reality TV who is proud of their education faces a drubbing far worse than those at the opposite extreme.

Basically, we need to celebrate the nice and the smart. We also need to stop tearing down those who dare to exhibit smartness for the slightest infraction. It will make us better off in the long run.

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The nineties are making a big comeback at the moment. It seems the decade of choice to go to analyse retrospectively and plunder for ‘new’ ideas. Some are less new than others. Take the return of The Crystal Maze. It doesn’t seem to fit with any modern programming anymore – not gladiatorial or particularly humiliating like Ninja Warrior, nor that highbrow.

I have found memories of the show from my youth. I even had the board game and was jealous of my friend who had the PC game. So this was going to be a big test for me. Would I cringe at the things I used to delight in? Would they change it too much and leave me heartbroken? Would it pick up new fans?

I can’t answer the third question to be truthful. But I can the first two. No, it wasn’t cringe inducing in the slightest. There was the right balance between gentle mocking of the show and a sincere love of it to make it enjoyable. And little has changed – new games yes, but nothing that wouldn’t have fitted the original series.

Speaking of new – the big talk is, of course, the choice of host in Richard Ayoade. For me, he is the perfect fit. He has a streak of Meta in him that suits the show. “You will look different in the next room, don’t worry it’s editing” is one example. He is clearly having fun in the slightly robotic, straight-faced way he does.

It is a smart move starting the show off with celebrity specials as it allows us to settle back into the concept without fear of wooden contestants. Joey Essex was a surprisingly good booking, the interplay between him and Ayoade such a source of joy that I almost want them to have their own show.

Of course, the test will be when the show moves on to ordinary members of the public. Ayoade is an acquired taste and not everyone understands his deadpan humour. It will be uncomfortable viewing if we have an hour of the public stonewalling him. I also wonder if he will be forced to tone down some of his more acerbic comments for fear of causing an upset, which would mean the show loses one of the planks of the success the revival has been built upon.

It has to be said though that this is wondrously joyous, if tense, hour. It may not have been the bravest commissioning idea that has been made recently, but it is one of the smartest. Making TV that is fun is challenging and under-rated. Hats off to Channel 4 for looking like they have got this one right.

Christmas TV is a challenging affair. Firstly, the schedules are all out of whack, meaning the purchase of a TV guide and some highlighters are essential if you want to stay on top of the soaps, the news or any other regular TV event that gets shunted round. Then there is the odd balance of repeats of previous years’ Christmas specials with new, costly specials or one-off dramas. It does feel as if both the BBC and ITV spend the entirety of their Christmas budget on just 2 or 3 baubles and fill the rest of the airtime with any tapes from times gone by that still work.

Still, there are always things to look forward to – Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife all give their audiences what they want, although there will be a Downton­-shaped gap next year. I hope ITV have something good up their sleeve, or Christmas Day night is going to feel very long.

Personally, my favourite Christmas TV event is Channel 4’s knockabout The Big Fat Quiz of the Year. The format is deliberately simple; Jimmy Carr presides and asks six comedians/celebrities questions of the year’s events. Nothing too serious – think David Cameron putting his genitals in a pig rather than ordering air strikes on Syria.

Of course, so much is dependent on the guests. Mel B did her best to kill the mood last year, while in 2012, Jack Whitehall and James Corden went almost too far in their humour. The best duo ever has been Russell Brand and Noel Fielding as ‘The Goth Detectives’, although frankly both have been strong without the other when teamed up with others.

This year saw a good balance. Rob Brydon provided a strong first half running joke of trying to take over the show from Carr and launching a pseudo-political revolution. As that joke reached its crescendo and ebbed away, Greg Davis and Richard Ayoade started their own long running joke of answering everything with ‘Bad Dong’. Claudia Winkleman brought a more genteel pace, and was paired nicely with David Mitchell.

Mitchell and Ayoade are always good bookings for anything like this. Both have a geeky obsessiveness, with Mitchell having a nice line in biting satire and Ayoade a surrealism that slowly builds throughout the show. Strangely, the weak link seemed to be Jo Brand, who I normally love. Maybe the mood wasn’t right for her to be at her best. She has never been one to compete to be heard, and increasingly looks more comfortable on shows where she is in the driving seat and playing individually.

Still, the mood was still jovial and refreshingly lacking in cruelty. Perhaps as the show has been on for more than a decade it is starting to grow up. But hopefully not too much. It still needs its silly, absurd edges. In an increasingly serious world, it is nice to end it with a smile on your face.