Weaver's Week 2020-10-25

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

The Cube

"The cube flashes electric blue, with red wavy lines."


The Million Pound Cube

Wildcard Television (part of Objective Media Group, an All3Media company) for ITV, 17-24 October

"The Cube is back!" shouted Colin McFarlane last weekend. This site's Best New Show of 2009, The Cube had a loyal and fanatical audience, until it left our screens in 2015. Many things are the same as when we first looked at the show.

The Cube Get the ball round this ring — in the cube!

The central conceit of The Cube is that players are asked to do some simple things — in the cube!
Throw a basketball into a bucket while standing on an oversized record player — in the cube!
Blow a ping-pong ball into a beaker of water — in the cube!
Walk in a straight line while wearing the Helmet of Justice — in the cube!
Retrieve the Used Snotrag of Invisibility without disturbing the Custard of St Olive — in the cube!
Make a cup of tea — in the cube!

The Cube Pot all of the red balls — in the cube!

Every task is simple to explain, but difficult to achieve. In some cases, accuracy is the enemy: walk in a straight line while blindfolded, and not deviate from the line. In other cases, the task is simple, and something else is the complication: can you tell when water is boiling simply by listening to a kettle?

One of the defining elements of The Cube was its stylised look. They've retained the stark, sleek appearance: picked out against a black background, the colour palette of white and red.

The Cube The star of the show, and a television legend. And Phillip Schofield.

Phillip Schofield still hosts, cocking his eyebrow and pulling his face like he's been taking lessons from Dodge T Dog. Colin McFarlane's gravelly voice announces the scores and explains the challenges.

Some things have stayed the same. Some have changed. What with one thing and another, there's no audience, apart from a few friends and family. With no audience looking on, it's even more isolated: the cube is in a black void of nothingness.

The Cube It's just the contestants and Schofe, alone in the universe.

The biggest change: the game is now played by teams of two. The majority of the games are still one-player events, but there are quite a few where both players work together at the same time. It's given the producers a greater range of things to do, reduce the amount of duplication. All of the challenges – single player and double player – are still difficult but doable. More difficult and less doable as the money increases.

And how the money increases! £2000 for the first challenge, then £5k, £10k, and £25k. But then they rush off to the stars – quadruple your money to £100k, then to £250k, and the top prize of a million quid.

The Cube That's a big jump!

With bigger stakes come bigger decisions. That's a huge leap for challenge five, and most teams are capable of seeing challenge five. Is it worth betting all of your £25,000 to turn it into £100 grand? Are the odds in your favour?

There's still no safe point: if you run out of lives, then you'll leave with nothing. (Unless you're a celebrity playing for charity, in which case you'll get the house minimum of £2000.) It is a true all-or-nothing decision.

And they've got this money ladder. The rewards are great enough to encourage people to have a go at Walking In A Circle While Blindfolded – in the cube!

The Cube When you're ready, helmet down, and go.

But they've taken away one of the lifelines from before. Trial Run has gone the way of Studio Seven and The 49ers, it's been consigned to Schofield's History. What was Trial Run? Have a go at this new game: if you win it doesn't count, and win or lose you don't have to play on.

So there's no Trial Run, though Simplify remains – play this lifeline to make a challenge just a smidgeon less difficult. And there's still no safety net. Would you stick at one year's wages or hand it back to try for four years'? A trial would help encourage people to play on; whether by accident or design, they're recommending conservative play, stick with what you've got.

The Cube Throw balls everywhere — in the cube!

Like it or not, we've become accustomed to a safety net, a consolation prize from going that bit too far. Left to our own devices, we'd set the net at three steps down from the game you're playing – lose the £100,000 challenge, take home £5000. Others suggest that players can set their own safety net, declared either before playing a game (as on ITV's new Millionaire) or after finishing it (as on S4C's Celwydd Noeth).

It's been five years since The Cube was last on air, and technology has improved. We no longer see camera lenses reflected in the walls of the cube. Instead, we see streaks and dirty marks on the wall of the cube: it looks grubby.

The Cube For £10,000, can you clean the glass — in the cube!

Most pleasantly, we no longer get motion sickness from the show. Back in 2009, we found the red-and-white quite spewsome; as much as we'd liked to have liked the show, we literally could not watch it. Whether it's better technology at our end – we're now watching in widescreen High Definition not analogue cutout – or at the makers', this problem is fixed.

The Cube still looks like few other shows on television. It's got a stark and foreboding design, only Mastermind can instil the same shiver down the spine. And like Mastermind, The Cube has no audience, it's a one-on-one challenge in an isolated space.

The Cube Throw a cube in a cube — in the cube!

The Cube also has those visual effects. Time is sped up and slowed down, sometimes for dramatic effect, sometimes so we can clearly see what Schofe is about to say. A series of cameras around the cube let us see the action from any and every angle. There are still no replays of anything. Of all the shows in the years since, only BBC1's Reflex has tried to make trivial events last so long.

The show felt both familiar and fresh. Like The Crystal Maze, it's been away for long enough that we forget the details, but it's recent enough that we remember the emotions, going through the ups and downs with the players. Adding in some two-player games gives extra variety, though it makes the new "Swap" lifeline almost useless. And it still looks a squillion dollars, by far the best-looking show on television.

The Cube Success!

For all that, we think it was an error to strip the series across a week. We understand why ITV did it, it's a week where everyone knows what's on ITV at 9. It's two Saturdays sorted at a tricky time of year. The tactic worked for Beat the Chasers in May, it was a success for Millionaire in September. Here? The Cube does not benefit from stripping.

The Cube We mean it, Phil. Let's explain why.

Every question on Millionaire is a different little one-minute drama. Every player on Beat the Chasers had their own self-contained little episode. The Cube repeated itself too often, some of the games on Saturday's opening episode returned on Monday's show. And while The Crystal Maze can get away with some repetition because it's got lots of energy, The Cube is staccato, it stops and starts with lots of downtime.

And while we were buoyed up by Beat the Chasers, and traditionally happy after Millionaire, we still found The Cube a draining watch: after we'd gawped at the special effects, there wasn't enough to hold our attention. It's a good show, but it's not appointment to view television every night for a week.

The Cube ITV introduced the show with a lovely and relevant ident, created by King Owusu.

You're Chopped

To quote media commentator Louis Barfe, The Chop is "a reality TV series based on woodworking skill, it was cancelled after the first episode because one of the contestants was belatedly realised to have white supremacist face tattoos."

Rick Edwards and Lee Mack host a show where people build big things out of trees. The first episode asked the contestants to work as teams and build furniture. The show was a co-production with A&E Networks, a rugged and outdoorsy channel in North America. This showed in the theme of "wild frontier cabin". Future weeks were to add saloon bars and furniture for other rooms around the home.

Our notes from the first episode: "very blokey, smell the testosterone, lots of plaid shirts and chainsaws. Rewards hard work and graft as much as artisan craft – doubt it will be teams throughout." Nothing much to write home about, nothing to complain about. It's an adequate, competent show on a niche pay-tv channel. It was going to attract a niche audience. A second series was possible, if the stars align.

The Chop Rick Edwards and Lee Mack, they've made a cup of tea — in the chop!

As was the fashion in 2020, the producers grossly overhyped their show. They told us to expect wood chippings to come out of the set!! It would do for woodwork what The Great British Bake Off did for cookery!!!

This didn't happen. The Chop did for woodwork what The Apprentice did for recruitment.

I'm a lumberjack, and I'm not okay

Five days after the first episode aired, someone on the internet looked more closely at Jimmy Goosestepper, one of the contestants – specifically, the one with lots of face tattoos. To summarise their findings: "Hey, that's 88, a coded 'heil Hitler' tat. And that one might literally say 'white power'. And what's with this 'homegrown' stuff? Are Sky absolutely sure that this man isn't a fascist?"

The Chop The sort of contestant they wanted to show.

Let's turn the floor to some actual experts in the field. The Anti-Defamation League tells us how numbers are a common hate symbol for white supremacists. Why the number 88? H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, so 88 is HH which means "Heil Hitler". The ADL notes that "88 is used throughout the entire white supremacist movement, not just neo-Nazis. One can find it as a tattoo or graphic symbol."

Jimmy also has the numbers 23 and 16 on his face, which correspond to W and P. As in "white power". Sheesh.

The ADL also remind us that white supremacists use their symbols as a way to signal solidarity while maintaining some plausible deniability. Gosh, it's a complete and utter coincidence that all the numbers on Jimmy's fizzog just happen to be nazi symbols, and the only numbers and symbols we can see are those abused by the far right.

The Chop An artis's impression of Sky's press office on Tuesday.

Sky said, yes, they were completely certain that Jimmy Goosestepper was not in any way a far-right sympathiser. A spokesheet issued a statement on Tuesday lunchtime.

"The tattoos denote significant events in his life and have no political or ideological meaning whatsoever. Amongst the various numerical tattoos on his body, 1988 is the year of his father's death. The production team carried out extensive background checks on all the woodworkers taking part in the show, that confirmed [Jimmy] has no affiliations or links to racist groups, views or comments. Any use of symbols or numbers is entirely incidental and not meant to cause harm or offence."

So, if this chap's father died in 1988, how come he was registered to vote every year until at least 2011? And if this chap's father died in 1988, how come he was booked and appeared in the series final? Did they revive Most Haunted, have a seance with Yvette Fielding and The Late Derek Acorah?

The Chop Jimmy Goosestepper's father (allegedly).

And what, exactly, were these extensive background checks? Did they stretch beyond a researcher asking, "Are you a far-right sympathiser? No? Fine. Had to ask, you see."

Another bit of research found Jimmy as a contributor to Channel 4's eco-friendly show Dumped in 2007, promising to set up a tattoo parlour and "never go green again".

Sky tried to defend their show all afternoon, in the face of mounting evidence that something was wrong. Around teatime, Sky gave up, and said that there might be something to answer for. The show was pulled off air, while they stage a proper investigation into the background of the series winner. It's not good. It's not at all good, is it.

Much of the blame has to go to the independent producers Big Wheel Film and Television, who quite clearly did not take care in their casting. From this performance, we must ask if they take greater care with anything else.

But at best, Sky (and its partners A&E Networks) look incompetent and amateurish. They're busily defending horrible racists, and undermining all the good work Sky Sports is doing to demonstrate how Black Lives Matter. Sky's first instinct wasn't to say "hang on, you may have a point," but to mislead and lie to us. We're reminded of Sky's previous owner, a newspaper magnate who doesn't give a flying fig about society.

And it's symptomatic of a greater malaise. Across the media, extremist and intolerant opinions go unchallenged, too often used as pseudo-"balance" against more mainstream opinions. We can draw parallels with the kid glove treatment offered to xenophobes wearing sharp suits, used as ratings bankers until they became too toxic.

We don't expect to see The Chop again. We hope to hear a full and frank explanation from Sky, or someone, about what went wrong.

In other news...

Brain of Britain

BBC Brain had its final, modishly behind closed doors and without an audience. Tributes to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rachel Hayhoe Flint were in the first round, as was some gobbledegook. That prevented contender Hugh Brady from picking up a full five, instead gifting a point to Graham Anderson. Nobody got their starter question in round two, Graham Barker picked up two of the bonuses to trim the lead to two points. A bonus on the voice of Lady Penelope meant Graham Barker and Hugh Brady were level going into the Beat the Brains interlude

Guess a poet: ee cummings gives Graham Barker a useful point, and by the end of the round he's a three-point lead. Hugh comes up with the names of Francis Bacon and Hello Kitty to trim his opponent's sails, only to yield a question about John Cocteau and Edith Piaf in the other direction. Michael Smith scores a point a round, not quite championship form. In the final round, Graham Barker remembers when Save the Children was founded, and that tips him over the winning line, even if Hugh Brady got the lot.

In the end, Graham Barker is our winner, defeating Hugh Brady by 16-12. Graham Anderson came third, Michael Smith finished fourth. Well done to all of them, and we look forward to Brain of Brains at the start of the next series.

Brain of Britain Russell Davies, host of BBC Brain.

The clocks haven't even gone back yet! Channel 4 have got the sleigh bells out already, releasing their Christmas highlights this week. Game show highlights include Snackmasters Christmas Special where they make their own Quality Street chocolates, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year with Jimmy Carr, and a Big Fat Quiz of Everything to follow in the new year. Christmas night is complete with The Great Christmas Bake Off, and a new year edition too. The Countdown final will be on 18 December, and three special editions will go out in the following week.

Awards season continues, with BAFTA Scotland's nominees. Only one game show nomination, Test Drive in the Entertainment category, up against Selling Scotland and Scot Squad The Chief's Election Interview. 8 December for the awards event.

We'd normally celebrate the BAFTA Children’s Awards at this point, but they've decided to pause the awards for 2020, pending a full review of BAFTA children’s activity.

In other news, we're chuffed to hear from Sam and Mark that new episodes of BAFTA-winning show Crackerjack are being made. Expect a Christmas special before the end of the year.

Quote... Unquote returns to Radio 4 this Monday, don't forget to miss it. The Voice of Holland of This Territory returns next Saturday on ITV, and Su Pollard goes for it on The Chase.

Photo credits: Wildcard Television (part of Objective Media Group, an All3Media company), Big Wheel Film and Television, BBC.

To have Weaver's Week emailed to you on publication day, receive our exclusive TV roundup of the game shows in the week ahead, and chat to other ukgameshows.com readers, sign up to our Google Group.

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

A Labyrinth Games site.
Design by Thomas.
Printable version
Editors: Log in