Weaver's Week 2017-10-15

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A content note. This edition of the Week contains more innuendo and smut than normal. If this sort of thing is going to offend you, skip right now to the BAFTA awards.

Still with us? Good. Three questions remain.

Gladiators, ready? (cheers and shouts)

Lions, ready? (growls and roars)

Archimedes, ready?



Electric Ray for ITV2, from 14 September

Bromans Novum Romanis est. Ecce! Novum Circus Flavius.

It's ancient Rome! It's ancient Rome! The ancient Roman hippodrome!

Octo iuvenis intrat... quis?

(Archie, mate, we appreciate you translating this show into Classical Latin. It's really not necessary to translate the entire review, otherwise we'll both be here until XIV Kalends Novembris. And your girlfriend's spent so long in her bath, she's just about to surpass Helen of Troy.)

So, while Archimedes goes off to shout his approval of Ulrika, we'll continue.

Bromans Civii Romanis in agoram sunt.

We begin on a lavish set. Seriously, this set looks the part. It has cobbled streets, there's sand in the arena, some imposing city gates. Everyone is dressed in togas and wearing sandals.

Everyone? No! Eight young men have come in civilian clothing. They wish to train to be gladiators. They wish to fight in the Emperor's games, they wish to win a prize of XV denarii. Which, thanks to the workings of compound interest over two millennia, is now worth about 15 euro cent, or £10,000.

Bromans Bromani intrat, ad portem australem.

Dominus, the master of training, has identified a problem. Civilian clothing from the XXVIIIth century AUC? This will cause a time paradox faster than one can say Isambard Kingkong Brunel. To resolve this paradox, the young men will have to remove their modern garments. "Now?" "Now would be ideal," deadpans Dominus. We cut to an old woman, rubbing her hands and smirking.

Bromans And the crowd goes wild!

Welcome to the world of Bromans. It looks accurate. Dominus, and the gladiator trainer Doctore, feel like they have stepped out from an Asterix book. It looks hot, on screen we only ever see people drinking water out of small clay pitchers. The whole programme feels plausible, we can't fault the execution one little bit. It's a realistic fantasy setting, we reckon the most convincing since Raven visited India.

While the young men are stripping, eight young women arrive on the same lavish set. They are also required to remove their modern clothes, but are provided with some suitable replacements. For the lads, nothing so modest.

Bromans Oh, that's a lovely tackle.

In fact, for the lads, nothing. Eight young men, shackled to poles in the blazing sun, as nude as the day they were born. Someone is going to have to find clothes for them. And by "someone", we mean "the women", because each of these women accompanies one of the men. The opening task is for the women to dig around in wet sand, looking for a buried pouch. In this pouch are some clothes, and a key to free their man.

And so the scene is set for Bromans. On the surface, each episode falls into four parts.

  1. A training challenge, the minor part of assessment. No-one's going to be leaving the show here, but a good impression will help to keep someone in.
  2. Something for the women to do, like learning about Roman wines, or making plaster casts of their bodies. While this might appear to be educational, it's not.
  3. A serious challenge; the winner will be safe, and poor performances will be punished.
  4. Discussion with the Emperor (he's not seen on camera), and banishment vote. The worst two challengers argue their case, and the other couples line up behind the person they want to stay. The secret ballot, at this early date, has not been invented.

Bromans Mores in A-XVII, quod in vias quadrigae sunt.

Slotted in between these challenges are reflections from the players, and some honest discussion about their relationships – both within the existing couples and between the pairs.

The set looks lovely, and the vibe feels authentic. It's the Ancient Rome they don't teach in primary school: all sweat and physical exertion, and often coarse. We first meet the Bromans in a humiliating position: they're chained up, and they will not be freed by their own efforts. The emperors knew to give their citizens "bread and circuses": the entertainment came from young men wrestling, perhaps even from young women digging in the sand.

Bromans These gladiators play Slingshot.

We're less struck by the editing. There's a predictable style: upbeat pop song, the lyric is undermined by something we see on screen, and the song grinds to a halt. Roman Kemp's narration is low-grade snark, and the puns are groansome. "Who will be ancient history? All roads lead to home."

The banishment (elimination) scenes could be atmospheric and moody, but haven't quite brought out that emotion. The climax – when Doctore burns that Broman's image – rarely packs much of a punch. It's set decoration, it's Mark Austin saying, "Fire represents your time on the island."

The challenges are interesting in their own right and they feel credible for ancient Rome. There's wrestling, there's work with catapults, there's hauling a chariot. There's swimming, and there's some jousting with pugil sticks over water. Didn't all gladiators use pugil sticks?

Bromans In arenam, uti bromani pugilsticulos.

But the women are not just decoration. They took responsibility for clothing their men. In a later episode, some will represent their men in challenges, or speak for him during the elimination segment.

More of an odyssey

And there we come to something interesting. Most other shows take the patriarchy for granted, they assume that men are "real" men, women are "real" women, with the assigned roles in life determined precisely by genitalia.

On the surface, Bromans takes this notion of masculinity and ramps it up to XI. Most of the show concentrates on the competitors. It shows them jostling for position, their pecking order within the group. And it shows them living in a hyper-masculinised society.

Bromans Bromani.

And then, it very subtly undermines its macho posturing. When we first saw Doctore, we heard the women talk about how "gorgeous" he was. Doctore was subjected to the female gaze. We didn't hear the contestants talk about how "fit" their girlfriend was, even when she was wearing a golden bikini.

In episode two, we hear from one contender saying how he's very frustrated, and how his lady will "have to put out tonight", as though she's only there to service him. In the next shot, we see last week's leading gladiators in the garden, eating a bowl of porridge. The way to satisfy all sorts of cravings. Indeed, the minor plot of this gladiator not getting action in bed will continue for at least two more episodes.

While we're encouraged to admire the young men's achievements, we're also invited to laugh at their excesses. The one who can make friends and entertain the group, he's coming back. The one who gets in a huff when he doesn't listen to the rules, he loses friends and is out of the contest.

Bromans Hic! Haec! Hoc!

Feminist thinkers reckon there are some indicators of a macho culture. Does Bromans encourage aggression and violence? Only in a controlled fashion: it teaches young men that violent behaviour has consequences.

Does Bromans repress emotions? We'd say no: the young men are encouraged to talk about their relationship, with their girlfriend, with fellow competitors. The ones who respond best seem to be winning the battle for viewers' hearts, and might get the benefit of the doubt from Doctore and Dominus.

Bromans Doctore and Dominus.

Is Bromans a one-dimensional representation of humans? More than we might like; the women are mostly seen as an appendage to their chosen man. The men are more rounded, they're being directly tested on physical ability, and indirectly tested on their emotional quotient.

And finally, how does Bromans treat relationships? We reckon it actually tests relationships, in a way The Getaway Car promised to do but did not. We can feel the friction between couples, and the tension. Not just from young men not able to release their testosterone, but from "disappointing" their women by not winning. Losing is not a problem: not trying, or being a dick, that causes trouble.

We saw earlier how one Broman expected "his girl" to "put out tonight". Though it's stopped being a topic of conversation, we viewers weren't privy to the end of that story. We did see that men need not be slaves to their tackle, that sexual impulses are a) normal and b) can be ignored through willpower.

The women control some agency: someone could say, "I don't mind having fun, but I will decide who with, and when." But we haven't seen any of the women take the lead, asking their man to join them in the triclinium for a round of hide the sestersii. Overt female sexual agency, for this series, is still a bridge too far.

Bromans The set has many visual puns.

Same-sex attraction is also absent. All of the couples are rampantly heterosexual. None of the young men appreciate each other's physical attributes, or Doctore's good looks.

There are two reasoned excuses for this: I) let the format establish itself, set expectations before trying to subvert them. And II) if one aim of Bromans is to subvert extreme masculinity, then they don't want to give the target audience any reason to avoid the show. The merest whiff of homosexuality will be a lightning rod, it'll allow macho men to wimp out and say, "hur, not watching that gay show, it's got teh geys in it." If there's a series four, we might expect something different.

We'd like to be optimistic about Bromans. The series tells a story of young men, and young women, and a story of men and women. It follows couples and relationships, through good times and bad.

We can hope that some of the viewers will come for the action and drama, and stick around through the talky bits. Some viewers might see themselves reflected on screen, in the Broman who is beastly to his girl. "I'm better than that..." It's a small step, one man pausing to think, but small steps are a very good way to smash patriarchy.

The only person responsible for a Broman's behaviour is the Broman himself.


Si fractus illabatur orbis, impavidum ferient ruinae

After five weeks, we do still have a few problems with this show. There's a new Broman introduced most weeks, and the end is nowhere in sight. We don't know how the finale will work: if it's a task that rewards selfish behaviour, then our cautious optimism will be dashed. (And we'll be very disappointed.)

But let's give praise where it's due. The show is historically accurate, and experts agree that it reflects Roman society. Tom Bell is just the right sort of snark, he voices what we're thinking. And we'll cheer for any show that barracks for a more considerate world.

This Week and Next

Thanks this week to Yung In Chae, Andrew Sillett, Dan Freedman, Nick Romero, and forty wildebeest.

BAFTA regional award season is in full swing, and we begin with BAFTA Scotland. While T2 Trainspotting and In Plain Sight dominate the film and television categories, a few games are up.

The Dog Ate My Homework

"We didn't learn much, but we had fun trying": The Dog Ate My Homework is up for the general Entertainment award, against Robot Wars and Mrs Brown's Boys. There isn't a separate Children's category, so Dog has to slum it with these shows for old folk.

BAFTA Scotland's award for a video game is between [email protected], Red's Kingdom, and Stories Untold. Winners to be announced in early November.

BAFTA Cymru gave its awards last Sunday. The Live Broadcast went to the Young Musician of the Year 2016 final, the only game show nominated. Aberfan: The Green Hollow was the big winner, with three awards.

Richard Thaler won the Swedish Academy prize for economics. His specialism has been irrational decisions, with methods to "nudge" people towards a desired outcome. Does that have application towards the game show world? He's previously written a (very readable) paper about Deal or No Deal.

Deal or No Deal Olly Murs in 2007.

The new panel for BBC The Voice of This Territory has been announced. Panellist-for-life will.i.am will be joined by Tom Jones, Jennifer Hudson, and new critic Olly Murs. The Deal or No Deal regular replaces Gavin Rossdale. BBC The Voice returns early in the new year; we await a scholarly paper by any of the stars.

Might Supermarket Sweep be back? Fremantle Media has bought up all the rights everywhere, and will be hawking the show at next week's MIPCOM event. The final round will, of course, be for each team to complete a shopping list and bag it through the self-checkout in under a minute. Cash will be lost for each call of "Unexpected item in bagging area".

Supermarket Sweep Dale Winton in 1993.

A bad week for John Humphrys, host of Radio 4's Today show. His programme, a light entertainment for the Westminster village, takes itself far too seriously, and debates serious topics. This week, the hopeless host asserted that, because someone hadn't been convicted of a crime, the accuser had to be lying. This is such utter poppycock that our flabber is gasted: all it means is that the judge or jury have found a plausible alternative explanation.

Not only does this undermine his Today show, but it makes Humphrys look like a fool. If he doesn't understand the basics of criminal justice, how can we believe he understands anything he says? Indeed, we begin to doubt that he's capable of reading the questions on the Mastermind card, and adjudicating on the answers.

The BBC has decided that its two most prestigious television quizzes are to be hosted by old, cranky, and opinionated newsreaders. Both Humphrys and Jeremy Paxman of University Challenge have massive gaps in their knowledge, and cover up their ignorance with practised bluster. It detracts from the spectacle, and we reckon both of these shows would be improved with new hosts.

Mastermind John Humphrys in 2004.

University Challenge continued. St Andrews (Euan Grant, Christina Fell, George Davies, Matthew Leighton) lost to St John's Cambridge (John-Clark Levin, Rosie McKeown, James Devine-Stoneman, Matt Hazell) by 120-255. Had the BBC2 scheduler a little more wit, they'd have put this match out on 1 November.

Mastermind was won by Kyle Nagendra. He scored 14 on the Films of James Cameron, and advanced to 26 after the general knowledge round. Terry Quy scored a Perfect Round on Henry IV, but faded in the second pass. Traci Whitehead knocked back 17 questions in her general knowledge section, a tremendous score. David Cheshire scored 20, which is 20 more than we've ever made.

No host problems on Only Connect, Victoria Coren Mitchell doesn't pretend to know anything, and lives down to her reputation as a dilettante. Detectives (Ian King, Tim Hall, Tim Harrison) played Theatricals (James Kinsley, Vikki Nelson, Caz Slota), and the Theatricals impressed by scoring three on the music question. Islands in the Spanish Main and things to pull followed later in the show, The Detectives won 23-20.

Extreme smart-alecs quibbled over the One-Point Safety in NFL-ball, it can only happen on a two-point conversion that's intercepted by the defending team, and then their player is tackled in the end zone. This is so improbable that it's never happened in the senior game. And if you thought that was complex, let's explain the Only Connect series structure.

We now know the two highest-scoring losers from the first round: Escapologists and Cricketers. These two teams will join us again in December, but first we must play the second round between the heat winners. Winners of these six matches go through to the Group Phase. The six losers join the Cricketers and Escapologists for a two-round tourney and the last two slots in the Group Phase. This tournament structure is confusing on paper, but has the brilliant effect that no-one is eliminated after a win and a single loss.

BARB ratings in the week to 1 October.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1) is television's top show: 10.8m for the Saturday performance, 9.35m for the Sunday results. Doctor Foster (BBC1, Tue, 8.8m) the top non-game.
  2. Bake Off may have stabilised (C4, Tue, 8.05m). The X Factor continues to draw decent numbers (ITV, Sat, 6.25m), but Pointless Celebrities does well on about 1% of the budget (BBC1, Sat, 4m).
  3. Dragons' Den is BBC2's top game (Sun, 2.65m), just ahead of University Challenge (BBC2, Mon, 2.6m). The Crystal Maze (C4, Fri, 1.35m) has its second-best Friday show, but still behind part-networked Mastermind and Only Connect (BBC2, Fri, 1.75m and 1.65m).
  4. Top digital games: Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu, 945,000), A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel, Thu, 920,000), Taskmaster (Dave, Wed, 625,000).
  5. Of interest below: Chris & Kem Straight Outta Love Island (ITV2, Sun, 630,000). Duck Quacks Don't Echo (The Satellite Channel, Fri, 290,000), and Masterchef Down Under (W, Fri, 275,000). Bigg Boss (Colors, 42,000) is India's Big Brother, in series until the new year.

The third (count 'em!) series this year of !mpossible (BBC1, weekdays). QI reaches the O-series (BBC2, Fri). Landscape Artist of the Year begins (Artsworld, Wed), and Breaking the News returns (R Scotland, Fri).

Photo credits: Electric Ray (some via ITV Breakfast Broadcasting), BBC Scotland, Intial Productions, Talbot Television / Central Television, BBC.

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