Weaver's Week 2021-03-21

Last week | Weaver's Week Index | Next week

A few thoughts on the biggest entertainment show of the still-young year.

Saturday Night Takeaway


Saturday Night Takeaway

ITV Studios / Gallowgate for ITV, from 21 February

Saturday Night Takeaway is back. That is an achievement in itself. For the first time in years, Ant and Dec have set out a plan for the series, and it's surely going to run without an interruption, without changing course mid-run, without them taking away elements of the studio until the series finishes on sofas at home.

Saturday Night Takeaway Live on ITV, and all is that little bit more normal.

The big technical point is the virtual studio audience. About 300 families are watching the show on the internet, and reacting to it as it happens. Ant and Dec are able to interact with the audience, talk to them and hear what they say. We're able to hear the audience's laughter and cheers through the show.

Some slightly churlish people were critical when the audience didn't sound brilliant in the first moments of the series. As hard as anyone can rehearse, a real performance can take a bit of tweaking. By the first ad break, things sounded perfectly fine, and things have remained fine ever since. Saturday Night Takeaway compares favourably to the virtual audience on Can i Gymru, which clapped rather than cheered, and sounded quite tinny and horrible.

Saturday Night Takeaway As loud and as raucous as the usual studio cheering.

All of the regular features are present, though some of them have changed and mutated. Sofa Watch, for instance, has become The Takeaway Rainbow: if you can see the shining coloured lights from where you are, stay at home and leave your details on the website. Fleur East could come round and give you a Takeaway Getaway late in the show.

Saturday Night Takeaway Fleur with a pot of gold.

Takeaway Getaway? Yep: the traditional end of series finale in a Florida theme park has been abolished, and there are no Places On The Plane. Winners – a mixture of lucky and deserving – are instead given a family holiday for a destination of their choice over the next two years. The Happiest Minute of the Week lives!

The show usually opens with a star performer, during which Ant and Dec lark about a lot. We note that Crackerjack hosts Sam and Mark respect their opening variety act, and watch the performance. We think it's a stronger show when Ant and Dec deliver a comedy routine of their own.

Saturday Night Takeaway Let's get this show rolling!

Singalong Live has come back, with even more internet delay than usual. They've had the delay down to nothing for many years, now it's suddenly become big enough to drive a bus through. Read My Lips came back, the game where people exaggerate their mouth to communicate words. This fell flatter than a pancake, though most of the blame comes from studio player Gordon Ramsay – mild swearing, casual racism, and criticism of contestants' looks. Not what we want from any show, really.

Saturday Night Takeaway There's a running joke about Andi Peters in a bubble.

The recorded segments have been the usual mixture of comedy and cheerlessness. We're not enjoying Double Trouble, the pre-recorded serial where every ITV star on the network makes a cameo appearance: the digital effects are wonderful, but the plot is lacking. Get out me ear – where celebrities follow the ideas communicated through their whisper clip – is perpetually a curate's egg, and the segment with Davina McCall and the gym class stretched truth in a fun way.

Saturday Night Takeaway Davina McCall, slowly bending from fact to comedy.

The Hit Squad confuses people at a drive-through coffee place, though seeing as how we weren't aware that drive-through coffee places existed, we're easily confused. Gotcha Oscars to Cat Deeley, who surely must have expected something from her erstwhile co-workers. Pandas Bam and Boo engage with children, it's like What Would Your Kid Do without the parents fretting – and without Jason Manford, so swings and roundabouts.

Win the Ads continues in the same vein it's tapped since about episode four: an entertaining quiz, the pile of prizes is desirable, but not the climax to the show. Sadly, The End of the Show Show isn't the climax to the show, either: Ant and Dec have reminded us of the joke so often that it's lost the power to be funny.

Saturday Night Takeaway A prat of gold.

Stephen Mulhern continues to amaze, hosting inventive ideas on Ant Versus Dec. This year's included football golf (though the giant head of Stephen Mulhern), and a variant of Grandmother's Footsteps played behind garden fences. It was a lot easier to watch than explain.

The heart of the show is in the opening segment, where we've had some audacious projects. The series opened with a ten-minute tribute to a primary school teacher, with loads of ex-pupils doing something nice for her and signing off with "Thank you, Miss". We've had a Would I Lie to You? variant, where Lee Mack and guests try to work out who is the real daughter of the mothers on screen. And families acting out movies from behind their sofa.

Saturday Night Takeaway Dec tries to kick a football through a lifesize replica of Stephen Mulhern's Big Giant Head.

Most importantly, Saturday Night Takeaway feels like it's barely changed. Ant and Dec still lark about with the audience, call out and gently embarrass people. It's a gentle 68 minutes (plus loads of adverts) slap bang in the middle of your weekend.

Eurovision Song Contest news

Set your diaries, prime your calendars. Junior Eurovision will take place on 28 November. The contest will (Paris) take place at (Paris) an unknown location (Paris) in its usual late-afternoon spot. In Paris, probably.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Where else will you get a swaying Eiffel Tower?

AMPTV have withdrawn from this May's Senior Eurovision Song Contest. The broadcaster cites "the latest events, the shortness of production time as well as other objective reasons" for its late exit. The withdrawal guarantees the BBC entry a place in the contest's top 40.

The entry from BTRC has also been ruffling feathers. Obscure rock band Galasy ZMesta was plucked for the big gig in Rotterdam, performing the song "Ya Nauchu Tebya" (I will teach you). Part of the lyric has been interpreted as a commentary on the unsettled domestic politics:

Look forward, forget what's been. Yesterday's stuff has to be dismissed.
Without the past, everything will be easy. You just have to obey me.
I'll teach you how to dance to a tune, I'll teach you how to take bait,
I'll teach you how to walk along the line, You'll be contеnt, happy with everything.

The song continues in this vein for several years, a remarkable feat for a tune just three minutes long. Anyway, it's a clear snub to elected president Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and in favour of the defeated ex-president Alexander Lukashenko, who clings to power in spite of the popular will.

The EBU issued an unusually strongly-worded statement, and concluded that it put "the non-political nature of the Eurovision Song Contest at risk". They said the song had to be changed in order to be accepted for the contest in May. BTRC said late this week that they've got a new song, but, er, it goes to another school.

Eurovision Song Contest Frank Naef (centre) prepares for the votes in the 1991 contest.

We have a theory. Martin Österdahl, the new executive supervisor at the EBU, wants to build the Eurovision Song Contest on firmer foundations. His predecessor, Jon Ola Sand, made his name by tinkering with the contest and letting the rules slip a bit. Like a new headmaster keen to make his mark on an unruly class, Österdahl harks back to the sharp discipline of an earlier supervisor. You wouldn't catch Frank Naef putting up with this rubbish? You won't catch Martin Österdahl putting up with this, either.

The anglophone entries, plus winners

Four broadcasters – SBS (shown on screen as "Australia"), RTÉ ("Ireland"), PBS ("Malta"), and BBC ("United Kingdom") – operate with English as their primary language. We'll review their songs, and those of the most recent Senior and Junior Eurovision winners. The versions we've heard were the official videos as published on the Eurovision Song Contest web channels this midweek.

In tribute to television's Dancing on Ice, we'll be marking the songs both for Artistic Impression (would we consider voting for it from the first listen) and Technical Merit (considering the jury elements, and whether this song feels like a winner in a competition). In tribute to ESC Insight's Juke Box Jury (coming soon to a podcast feed near you, and The Podcast Radio), we'll rate the songs Hit, Miss, or Maybe.

First listen

"Embers" is the BBC entry, performed by James Newman. The still-fashionable croaky male vocal, straining in what could be a very painful way. Most of the vocal work is being done by the backing group. It's an uptempo song, jazzy breaks, the brass section is a refreshing 80s flashback. James can't quite hit the high notes, it's a decent song, but we fear we've heard all this song has in the first 70 seconds. Being a bit generous, this gets a Maybe.

Eurovision Song Contest James hides away in the night.

"Birth of a new age" defends the title for NPO/AVROTROS, Jeangu Macrooy sings. Soulful bass voice, an instant gospel feel, "your rhythm is rebellion" repeated and repeated by a big choir. Not sure what language the chorus is in, but it melds well with the anglophone verse. Last minute or so is mostly held by the choir. This is uplifting, moving stuff, enough to get viewers reaching for their smsjes. Hit.

"Je me casse" is the song for PBS, Destiny the performer. It's an absolute wall of sound, relentless jazzy rhythm and blaring horns, with Destiny using her voice to power through. There's a lot of Beyoncé, the effect sounds closest to one of Christina Aguilera's tracks from about fifteen years ago, The song is very much female empowerment, all about women standing up and taking control of life. Loud enough to stand out in a crowd, not convinced it's got the charm of "Toy" from a few years back. Maybe.

Eurovision Song Contest Destiny is taking over your planet.

"Maps" represents RTÉ, sung by Lesley Roy. Breathy female vocal, overpowering backing track. Chorus sounds like an achievement anthem. Lovely horse in the video: they're doomed. Fast song, racing through the verses. The sound in the video is horrible, they're burying the vocal far too deep in the mix: either they're hiding something or they've messed up. And yet... this could be a very decent song to fill the dancefloors, Lesley's made a very pleasant noise with her pop. Maybe.

"Technicolour" comes from SBS, Montaigne performs a danceable number. Clear voice, warbling between soprano and alto; heavy synth backing. "Time to take off your clothes" an obvious text painting moment, hides a change of key signature; the move back to square time is invisible. This is high tempo power pop, wouldn't be out of place on a quality chart station. Hit.

Eurovision Song Contest Montaigne performed at a big party in Sydney.

"Voilá" enters for France Télévisions, Barbara Pravi sings it. Solo female vocal, contralto range, over a gentle piano backing. From the first instant, this screams French culture, restrained and confident and swish and assured. Violins come in part-way through, there's a classical accellerando towards the end. Hugely lovely, we want to hear it again. Hit.

Elsewhere, SVT have returned to their formula of slick pop, RAI have chosen iCarly Does School of Rock, Íctimai marry their culture with infectious Western pop, and SMRTV have bought … what? Flo Rida, the famous and moderately relevant rapper? Let's hope he's more Justin Timberlake than Madonna, eh.

Second take

Three days later, we listened to the songs again. This listen is less about the emotional reaction, more on the analytical jury stuff – how good's the singing, is the song technically great, does it make a good show? We also ask whether this song feels like a winner in a competition.

"Embers" is going to lose a lot of marks for James Newman's singing. It's either processed vocals, or he really cannot sing without the rasp. The song's in a fashionable idiom, with callbacks to pop from a generation earlier. Can we see it winning? They'll need the greatest stage show in history, and then require most other songs to fail miserably. We really don't want to award a "miss" mark, but this song is going absolutely nowhere. Miss.

Eurovision Song Contest Mean 'n' moody 'n' Macrooy.

"Birth of a new age" Ah, the new language is Sranantongo, a creole used between slaveholders and slaves in Suriname – Jeangu's homeplace. That makes sense with the rest of the song. It's cautiously optimistic, upbeat, gently inspiring, the kids are alright. There's enough quality singing for the jury to get into, and we can be sure that no other song will get a bigger cheer in the hall. Hit.

"Je me casse" We're not going to get high notes from Destiny, soul vocals aren't about soprano excellence. She's an assured storyteller, brings us into her world and sells the possibilities. We cannot wait for the stage show during the middle eight. Did we mention the female gaze in the video? Hello, male nurse. Hit.

Eurovision Song Contest Lesley Roy, like Anneka Rice she never keeps still.

"Maps" We've changed sound system for this listen, and Lesley's vocal is a lot clearer. It's a more tense song than we first heard, Lesley's striving for a goal that might not be in reach. There's no obvious jury note to show her voice off, the song is in an inoffensive style. It won't be anyone's worst song, and it sounds more familiar and welcoming on second listen. Don't see a path to victory, the left-hand side on Sunday morning would be a very good result. Hit.

"Technicolour" Montaigne's going to deliver a perfect performance for the juries, hitting the notes in the verses. And Montaigne's going to deliver a perfect performance for the viewers, landing the emotional connection. The keyboard stabs briefly remind us of The Krypton Factor theme tune, and if there's a downside, it's that this song could come across as dated. Top quarter on Sunday morning feels a stiff target. Just about on the cusp, and we're marking generously, so Hit.

Eurovision Song Contest Mais oui, obviousement.

"Voilà" is an unusual song in this selection. It's the only one picked by the public, all of the others were internal selections. It's the only one by an act not entered for last year's contest. It's slow and sultry, we can jump into any part of the song and know a) it's a France Télévisions entry and b) it's beautiful. Sadly, we fear it's too beautiful for a competition. A massive hit with the juries, amazed if it connects with the viewers. Maybe.

What's our winner? Of these six, "Je me casse", by a neck over "Birth of a new age". Can Destiny win the Senior Eurovision contest? If the stage show is spot on. If it reinforces the song, rather than distract from it – as PBS have done in the past. Both of the leaders are proud songs, "Je me casse" has got to overcome slight sexism, "Birth of a new age" has got to climb over the bar of anti-Black racism, and that feels a little higher in the Grate European Public.

But this is only the winner from the six we've heard. We don't plan to hear the other 34 entries in full before the contest week, though a few will doubtless cross our radar as we shuffle Europe's infinite radio dial. "Je me casse" hits the note with the juries, it chimes with emotions, and it feels like it could be a winner.

In other news

Winners at the Royal Television Society awards included The Masked Singer (Entertainment), Joe Lycett (Presenter, for Sewing Bee), BBC1 (Channel). RTS Daytime Programme of the Year is Loose Women.

Gettu Betur has finished for another year. Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík The Team Everyone Wants to Beat lost their semi-final to Kvennaskólinn í Reykjavík, but the women's school lost Friday's final to Verzlunarskóli Íslands. It's the small Reykjavik school's second victory in Gettu Betur, eighteen years after their first.

The death of Murray Walker last weekend, one of television's greatest communicators. Even people who had no interest in motor racing were enthused by Murray's infectious style. His predictions had a knack of going wrong within seconds, which made him all the more endearing. An advertising copywriter by trade, Murray reached into all forms of television and was made to make your mouth water. His work included Driving Force where celebrities tried (and usually failed) to drive unusual vehicles. Murray Walker was 97; we will not hear his like again.

Murray Walker, 1923-2021.

The world of game shows continues. This is My House (BBC1, Wed) mixes property showoffs, deception, and Stacey Dooley. Great Local Menu (BBC2, from Wed) is back for another series, only feels like five minutes since the last one ended. All Star Musicals (ITV, Sun) features lots of great stars, and Robert Peston.

Footballers on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1), Bungalow house band McFly on Saturday Night Takeaway (ITV), and celebrities take on Beat the Chasers (ITV).

Photo credits: ITV Studios / Gallowgate, EBU/TVP/France Télévisions, EBU/BBC, EBU/PBS, EBU/SBS, EBU/NPO/AVROTROS, EBU/RTÉ, EBU/France Télévisions, RobiNZ under a CC-BY-NC license.

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