Weaver's Week 2018-09-02

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Over the last couple of weeks, we've reviewed some very obscure shows that no-one's watched. Paradise Run, True Love or True Lies, Eurovision Young Musicians. This week, another very obscure show that no-one's watched.


The Crystal Maze

The Crystal Maze

A game-by-game review

We threatened to do this last series, but there are still three episodes from the last series they haven't shown on Channel 4. They have shown all the episodes of this series, so we can review all of the games. We've given each game a name, which isn't an official name.

Do these games look fun to play? Are they good television? Do they add value to the programme? Do we want a go? Might we try to recreate the game at home? All of these will factor into our deliberations.

These we loved

The Crystal Maze The one we'd love to play.

Blowing Maze (industrial) Blow a plastic sphere containing the crystal around a maze, using a compressed air gun. Player can only blow their gun in certain places. The game we most love of the series: utterly obvious what has to be done, most teams can get close to the finish, and a win or a very near miss is assured. We want a go.

Path Drop (industrial) Work out the sequence to close gaps in a gutter, and time perfectly so the gaps don't open again. The game our brain most likes, as it naturally evolves as it plays out. This starts as an experimentation game, to find the sequence. Then it's a memory game, to remember it. And it's a timing game, to reproduce the right sequence at the right time. There's added pressure because there's just one shot for the crystal – time is not the enemy, over-confidence might be.

The Crystal Maze The one our head thinks is best.

Ball Drop (industrial) Catch the balls as they fall out of machinery. Do it properly and it's hypnotic, catch this pair, catch this pair, pocket all four, go over to the other side. Do it badly and it's three minutes of someone running around the room like a headless chicken. We'd love to play – we'd lose, but we'd have such fun. One way to make this even better television: make the target a secret, concealed from the player. We don't need to know how close someone is to winning.

Boulder Dash (aztec) Like "Bridge" from Gladiators, the contestant avoids swinging rocks; they're to take water from one end to the other. Falling in the water gets the player wet, that's all. A simple idea, perhaps a shade too simple, and the required amount of water made this an easy game. But there's always the jeopardy of someone falling off a log, and that's always entertaining telly.

The Crystal Maze Wobble. Wobble.

Jewel Mine (mediaeval) Fine nine jewels in the sand, put them in a cart, and drag the cart up to the jewel box. Another very simple game, with a generous time limit. (This column has no objection to Incredibly Easy Games, so long as they make good telly.) This game looks impressive on screen, and they get some telling camera angles in a square room: seeing someone struggle as they pull a cart up a slope, sweat appearing on the brow. We can see this game appearing in the London and/or Manchester attractions, as it's a doddle to reset.

Vine's Ring (aztec) Crawl through ivy-covered rings to reach the crystal, then return the same way. Touch the floor and it's an ALIS (Automatic Lock-In Situation. We won't explain this again). The task is easy to understand, physically demanding to execute. And, because the player's got to come back the same way, they've got to turn around in a very restricted space. Getting the crystal is only half the battle.

The Crystal Maze Gotta climb through 'em all.

Colour Sort (future) A hundred coloured balls drop into the room. Sort them perfectly into their various colours to win. There is a clear path for "Ball Drop" in industrial, the best player will move like clockwork. The best player here will jitter about the floor, collecting some of the red balls, then some of the green ones, a couple more reds, some yellows... Vacuum tubes add an exotic frisson, and the player needs almost all the time available to complete the challenge. Tough but fair.

Reflecting Mirrors (mediaeval) Reflect light on a series of mirrors to a target. Just squeezing into this top class category because the game didn't come across well on screen. It was easy to play, easy to understand as a concept, but the footage somehow made it look more difficult.

These we liked

Laser Buzzwire (future) Drag a ring along a laser path, passing through obstacles and balancing on a springy thing. Technically an ALIS, except that it's also legal to just give up after losing a life. And that ruins the jeopardy: the only way to get locked in is to literally go for it and fail. Works well on screen, and another one we would like to take a shot at.

The Crystal Maze Pass the hoop along the wire.

Planet Walk (future) The planets from last series have now been placed on springy things. Contestant is to walk along these planets and their rings. Touch the floor brings about an ALIS. Last year, the planets hung from the ceiling, and the infinite void of space was convincing enough. This year, the planets are clearly held in place by gravity, and the effect is less. The game appears easier, too.

Ten Buttons (industrial) Swing on a small disc and hit buttons on the wall. All ten must be hit in ten seconds to win. ALIS on touching the floor outside of a safe platform. There's a technique for this, and not everyone got it, in spite of Richard saying "you've got to push off the walls". Looked good on screen, and encouraged players to have just one more go.

The Crystal Maze Colour Sort: all the balls drop.

Beat the Totem (aztec) Match nine symbols to a grid on the wall. Played in the water tank, and the player will get wet. This one's functional and colourful. We like the shot direction, very easy to tell the story from a couple of overhead positions. With everyone shouting at once, the contestant just might miss Richard's countdown to escape.

The Incredible Shrinking Room (mediaeval) Free keys from a metal path puzzle before the walls close in. A very good idea, marred by the path puzzles all being incredibly easy. It would take a complete buffoon to get locked in here, as Richard Madeley demonstrated. Shot direction could have been a bit better.

The Crystal Maze Have you tried putting the coffee in the percolator?

Blue Doors (industrial) A confusing and disorienting path of rooms, linked by doors that swing open halfway along their length. Back in the 90s, this game always had doors hinged at their edge; these doors are different. We think the aim was for this to be a confusing watch, we didn't see the path illustrated on screen, and (for some reason) the team outside couldn't shout directions to the player. That bar on shouting made the game just too hard – and we do have a problem with Incredibly Difficult Games.

Flippin' Words (aztec) Form six-letter words given two alternative letters in each position. The last letters of each word anagram to the solution. If any game needed a bar on shouting, this was it – with five brains outside, the word puzzle was easy. Easy to get a good shot of the word grid.

Jane and Freddy (future) Arrange coloured rods so they form a perfect rainbow. Do not bungle. This game is made for HD-TV, the subtle colour differences don't quite work on standard definition. Well played in the bright future environment, this wouldn't work in the dark industrial zone.

The Crystal Maze

See-saw (industrial) Boxes tilt when a player shifts their weight to the left or right. Align on three levels to win. Turned out to be far too easy, but we see exactly where they were going with the idea. Had the contestant needed all the time, it's a game they would have played to the last few moments. Another one we'd love to play, another one they might consider for Manchester or London.

Fossil's Spiral (aztec) Uncover pieces of a fossil, reassemble it to a template, then bring the crystal out round the spiral. Again, too easy, and "burying things in the sand" hardly counts as an extra layer of play.

These were OK and a bit boring

Coloured Chimneys (industrial) Connect coloured production plants to their chimneys along lines by filling in a jigsaw. It's a jigsaw, we've seen this somewhere on Crystal Maze before.

The Crystal Maze

Coloured wheels (aztec) Match the symbols on adjoining spinning wheels. A direct recreation of a dull game from Mediaeval in 1992.

Get 100 (future) From a rotating spaceship, fire a laser at targets to reach exactly 100. Does not contain Reggie Yates. All we saw was the player spinning round, then a gun camera showing their dizzyating view. We needed establishing shots of the various numbers, perhaps concentrating on the ones that would be used in that week's playing.

These are interesting only because they're flawed

9½ Keys (mediaeval) Grab keys using a long pole – two of them will open a chest. The difficulty: it's a long pole. Why couldn't they make it easier to hook the keys, but have something that might jiggle the key off the hook? The correct keys were just hidden at random, there were no clues as to which were needed – they could have added a layer by setting short riddles to identify the correct keys.

Payday (mediaeval) Complete verbose maths puzzles. The Rebus (mediaeval) A long rebus spells out where the crystal is hidden. Take these together because they're both frustrating and dull. The teams understood what they had to do, but the task was beyond them. It was clear from the beginning that they were nowhere near victory, so the whole game was wasted for everyone.

Jarhead (mediaeval) Adam Buxton's head is now in a wooden potion shop. This joke has gone far enough. Having these as untimed events saps the tension from the event, there's no jeopardy for the team.

The Crystal Maze Some of the lights on the right are blue. Some of the buttons are on. The reflections -- GAAAAAAAH!

Blue Lights (future) Buttons change some of the lights on a display panel from white to blue – find the one combination of buttons that will change all the lights. The producers wanted to play this as a game of logical deduction, but teams just banged buttons and hoped for the best. Looked abysmal on television, because there was no contrast between the white and the blue. When they cut to a close-up of the player pushing buttons, we couldn't see what they were doing, and couldn't catch up – they needed to keep the main display on screen at all times, even if it's a picture-in-picture.

Skull Swing (aztec) Use a small boulder to knock white skulls off as they rise and fall. Knock three black skulls off and it's an ALIS. Another game that felt untested: almost impossible to complete, and we don't think any team used more than a minute to give up or get locked in. Had there only been three black skulls, or "knock all the black skulls off and you're locked in", it might have been a more interesting game.

Pelmanism (aztec) From a grid of 100 symbols, the player is to find three that don't repeat anywhere. For our money, the worst game of the series. Couldn't play along at home, because we barely saw the grid. You could remove all the waves and all the suns from the board, but teams didn't do that – were they told not to?

The Crystal Maze What is this strange landmass by my sinister hand?

Where in the World (mediaeval) Identify five countries from clues, then thread string to form a pattern. The crystal's in the suitcase with that pattern. There's a major problem playing this game in mediaeval: it features a continent to the east which Richard called "America". In the mediaeval era, this landmass has yet to be discovered. There's a major problem playing this game anywhere: it's the same concept as a filler they played on one of the Ed Tudor-Pole children's specials. A game that was good for children in 1994 is good for adults in 2018? That's progress??

Kinder Crystals (future) Complete a well-known word or saying from many options, then find the one plastic ball containing the real crystal from a drum containing possibles. Celebrity teams were allowed to confer; civilian teams weren't. The two parts of the game didn't work together, and we're going to explain why in some detail.

Go into a cell, pass through a one-way door, and grab the crystal. To get out, first complete the phrase; this will release a tool necessary to complete your escape.

Or go into a cell and see balls spitting into the machine. There's a big red "OFF" button, all you've got to do is screw together these lengths of rod / reach the button on the ceiling / fling cushions at the button. That'll stop the balls from arriving, then you can open them and find the crystal.

Both elements could be used in interesting games, but the total was less than the sum of the parts.

The Crystal Maze Complete task A to start unrelated task B.

Destination data, Richard?

Basically, The Crystal Maze needs a complete re-think. We'd pilfer some ideas from the co-owned Fort Boyard.

Two-player games could allow double lock-ins, and allow two crystals. Changing zones would help the programme move on from its roots. Wild West, Steampunk, Fairground, Ancient Rome, write your own. The zones need to be coherent, and distinct, and – because sets are expensive – need to last three or four years.

The Crystal Maze Plant the TNT.

The bulk of the show is "crystal games", to buy advantages in a final challenge. Change this final challenge and have it fill the entire fourth act. Just as in an escape room, the team needs to solve one final task to win a prize, but crucial parts of that task are kept locked away behind other tasks. (One task is to release any prisoners, because anyone still locked in doesn't win a prize.)

This final space needs to be large, and well-dressed, but not necessarily too elaborate. The set could be kept the same for one series and then re-dressed for the next. Tasks within the room may change from show to show, and there's nothing saying "five crystals must always release these five elements". Yes, we may have just replaced the Crystal Dome with The Krystal Maze Super Round. So be it.

The Krypton Factor Just a quarter-century before its time.

There's general consensus that the visual approach is wrong. We expect micro-cameras in the game equipment, helmet cameras so we can get a sense of what the contestant sees. The producers say that it's fine to cut bits out of dull games, so we can demand they slow time when something big is about to happen. And what's with the colour palette? Mediaeval is dark, Industrial is washed out. Dull colours lead us to expect dull television.

But the essential change is of style. This column likes Richard Ayoade and his ironic, detached, "it's only a trivial game show" approach. We are in the minority. But we don't need Richard saying "Tuck in! Tuck in!", not when Passepartout will gently and silently shepherd his team into the right shape. Olivier Minne works because he's on the player's side, he could so easily be amongst this week's explorers. Richard Ayoade is not.

The Crystal Maze Richard stands with his team

If this is the end – and with viewing figures of under a million, it might be the end – what lessons can we learn? It's clear that there is a market for nostalgia, but it's very shallow – one or two episodes was enough for most people. If a recommissioned show is to work on modern television, it has to work on its own merits, and it has to work now. Fifteen-to-One has reinvented itself as a combined quiz and friendly chat, we almost expect Dame Sandi to whip out the tea and salmon sandwiches between questions.

The Crystal Maze hasn't changed its look, has become more insular, and is almost afraid to have fun. It's difficult viewing, in a slot where we want something easy and accessible and fun. We need escapism, we get drudgery. The civilian teams are well-cast and fun, the games are a similar curate's egg to the later Richard O'Brien years, but the show has stopped being fun.

This Week and Next

What's Australian for "Holly Willoughby"? The host of This Morning with Schofe and Holly will go down under during the autumn, as she co-hosts I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! with Declan Donnelly. Regular co-host Ant McPartlin is still unavailable, and we don't expect him to appear with the silver fox on This Morning. But which telly megastar could co-host? Anyone seen Roland Rat lately?

Also available to host The Crystal Maze, we hope.

A couple of announcements from the Edinburgh TV Festival. Channel 4 went big on new reality series The Circle. According to the controller, it's "the reality show where the contestants never meet". Maya Jama and Alice Levine host the autumn transmission.

Over on BBC2, Race Across the World tries to re-enact ITV2's The Race (1). Get from That London to the Far East without taking a single flight or using a smart phone. It's a six week show, the first five weeks will be spent waiting for Crossrail to open.

BARB ratings in the week to 19 August.

  1. Coronation Street still the top show of all (ITV, Wed, 7.25m), and Pointless Celebrities returns to top the games listing (BBC1, Sat, 3.65m).
  2. Some way behind are Dragons' Den (BBC2, Sun, 3.15m) and The Chase (ITV, Fri, 2.95m). Celebrity Big Brother launch scored very well (C5, Thu, 2.5m).
  3. University Challenge (BBC2, Mon, 2.15m) just beat Great Local Menu (BBC2, Tue, 2m). Catsdown stays strong (C4, Fri, 1.85m).
  4. Blind Date (C5, Sat, 1.05m) remains ahead of The Crystal Maze (C4, Fri, 890,000). Big Brother's Bit on the Side (C5, Thu, 740,000) is ahead of Win Your Wish List (C5, Sat, 690,000).
  5. Love Island Down Under does great guns for ITVBe (Mon, 380,000). Come Dine with Me (More4, Sun, 295,000) and QI XL (Dave, Mon, 290,000) round out the digital top three. MTV's True Love or True Lies finished with around 160,000 viewers, well down on the launch.

Autumn brings a new season of television. ITV gives us a new series of hit smash 5 Gold Rings (Sun) and old stager The X Factor (continues Sun). S4C enjoys Y Gemau Gwyllt (Wed). Conchita Wurst has a concert on Radio 2 (Fri).

All of your daytime faves are back. New series of Tenable (ITV) and Antiques Road Trip (BBC1). And there are new episodes of Tipping Point, The Chase (both ITV), and Pointless (BBC1).

Last Night of the Proms and Strictly Come Dancing Launch Show make BBC1 big on Saturday night. They've also a new Pointless Celebrities with stars of The Eastenders and Grange Hill.

Photo credits: Fizz, Granada, TV-am.

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