Weaver's Week 2021-08-15

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The Void

The Void

Gameface TV for ITV, from 10 July

We've had a letter. It's from a Mrs. Trellis of North Wales. She writes,

Dear TV Times, ITV's Saturday-night game show The Void, presented by Fleur East and Ashley Banjo, is dire. Can't TV execs come up with any original concepts?! It’s such a shame that The Void is devoid of any appeal.

The Void Ashley Banjo and Fleur East.

Do you see what Mrs. Trellis did there? "The Void", "devoid". Isn't she a wag! While our correspondent is correct that The Void isn't the most original show, she's wrong to intimate that it's dull.

According to the legend on the show, The Void is a large expanse of fresh water. It's large, dark, and spectacularly wet. Over the course of the show, every contestant will touch these cursed wastes.

The Void A bridge over a large expanse of water.

Every contestant? No! The strongest, swiftest, and most intelligent will be able to cross from the Left Bank to the Right Bank, and keep their trainers dry. During the programme, the original 15 contestants will be reduced to a single champion, who has the opportunity – but not the obligation – to win many thousands of pounds.

But let's rewind a little bit. The Void is all about getting from one side of an expanse of water to another, without being claimed by the dark forces lurking beneath. Folks, this is a cut-down version of Raven for grown-ups. None of that gubbins about lives or gold rings, it's far too complex for the ITV audience.

Raven Take care, young warrior.

Now, the producers of Raven knew that "get from one side of the river bank to the other side" was an interesting challenge, but wasn't enough to sustain a whole series. That's why they had mental puzzles, and dry land challenges, and all that gubbins with Nevar. The Void has committed to its massive prop, and it's going to use it at every opportunity. "Bridge the Gap" is exactly the sort of challenge that Nevar would put before a group of young warriors.

An uneven series of planks span the gorge: warriors are to move across the planks. The planks are suspended on gossamer threads, and will swing under their weight. There are gold rings to be collected as the warriors pass. Fall off the bridge and the warriors will be claimed by Nevar's demons. Or on The Void; the five who make least progress across the bridge will be eliminated (and they don't bother with gold rings).

The Void Down with this sort of thing. Careful now.

It's a swift challenge, most people will either cross or fall in within a few seconds. We're treated to some brief clips of the contestants in their usual life, and some clips of the contestants swimming out of the void after they've fallen in. Nick Heath does the commentary throughout, witty and acerbic: he's by far the standout talent on the show.

Ten warriors remain to take on the next challenge. Some weeks, the path goes through "Revolution Road", make their way through various revolving platforms: a spinning turntable, a peaked thing, a hoop to pass through, some crosshairs, and a tilting turntable. All of them spin in the opposite direction to the last. Again, whoever gets furthest progresses (and time will be used to break ties).

The Void The platforms move, there are gaps, and you can't see what you're doing.

Other weeks, warriors are invited to take the "Leap of Faith". Blindfolded, they are to go from tilting platform to tilting platform. These platforms don't revolve, but they do get smaller as they go on. And they tilt. And, with the warriors being blindfolded, they can't see what they're doing, and must feel where the edge of each platform is.

Only two players leave the contest after this round, it's simpler for the ITV audience to follow. The remaining eight are drawn into four head-to-head competitions. "Memory Lane" involves a forest of poles, arranged into two rows for each player. Some of the poles are duds, and will snap away under a contender's full weight. The objective is to get further than your opponent, either by crossing all the way faster, or getting past the point where they fell in.

The Void Remember where the bad poles are and avoid them.

Some people have suggested that the only winning move is not to play. But that's not quite true: by holding back, you risk the opponent guessing correctly every time, and you still need to complete the moves yourself. While this challenge isn't as physically exhausting as Hang Tough on Gladiators, it's not a cakewalk.

Memory Lane appears every week. "Target Dash" does not. It's a very simple game: throw a ball into each of five targets. Each target gets smaller as you go, and you can only carry one ball at a time. First contestant to throw a ball into all five targets wins, and their opponent is tilted into the water. Other weeks, they play with "Fire balls": collect all seven as they're fired at you to end your opponent's game.

The Void The spirit of Ole Einar Bjørndalen is alive and well.

Every week, the winners face the "Wrecking Ball", where the two survivors try to fling a giant ball at each other until one of them falls off. Hit by the ball? Overbalanced while pushing it? Doesn't matter, a fall is a fall, a loss is a loss.

The Void Nobody sits atop the ball, not in the pre-watershed version.

The winner goes on to face "Splashdown", where the winner tries to earn some gold coins of their own. A course is marked, in the show's colour palette of white, red, black. The course could be cargo nets, it could be big balls, it could be tyres hanging from the roof. Whatever it is, the aim is to follow the course from one bank to the other.

But there's added jeopardy: the course will literally fall into the void as time goes on. The nets, the balls, the tyres will all fall to the water. There's a £1000 prize if the contender makes it to the red zone before they fall down; it shoots up to £10,000 if they make the black section. Reach the end of the course in time and there's a well-earned £25,000 prize.

The Void Success can be rewarded.

This column got a lot of Raven from the show. Other people spotted elements from Total Wipeout, and ITV's more recent Ninja Warrior. The fake path and catching balls reminded some observant viewers of Takeshi's Castle. All have influenced the show, but we'd be fibbing to claim The Void was a direct descendant of any.

Nick Heath provides the commentary. Ashley Banjo and Fleur East are the named hosts, they're the people standing in the Liverpool Arena shouting encouragement at the contestants. To be blunt, we don't need both of these people and the commentator. Either Ashley or Fleur could host the show on their own, and we think it would be better with just the one host.

The Void A contestant descends, along with Fleur's lower jaw.

Would The Void be better with a Nevar of its own, an Evil Villain Overlord to set the challenges and cackle as people fall in? It's an option we hope they've considered. It would make a different show, it would be even more pantomime, and would appeal even more clearly to the young audiences. Perhaps they're doing enough already – The Void is already the number one ITV programme amongst children under 16, even beating Love Island.

We appreciate the coherent visual design: every journey goes from the white section, into the red section, into the black section. There are arrows, always pointing in the direction of travel. We appreciate the show's gentle positivity: while the commentary allows and encourages us to laugh at people in the first round, it gently and imperceptibly moves so we're in slight awe of what we're seeing. They've learned from other shows, and use the titular Void as much as they can – we're never more than a minute away from someone falling in.

The Void Little cameras on the helmet give us an extra angle.

And yet, and yet, and yet. There is only one game: get from this side to that side without falling in. The memory elements, and the throwing (or catching) of balls test additional skills, but so much of the programme is the same skill over and over. The producers of Raven knew to mix up their water games, and throw in some hot pursuit matches. Contestants chasing each other over floating stones on the surface of The Void? That would be different.

And The Void feels like it still has some rough edges. The editing is sharp when contestants fall, but too often there are cutaways to Fleur and Ashley where they're reacting to the story. There's a blast of dry ice and smoke when contestants cross the bridge; when seen from straight-on, this gives Wrong Sort of Shiny problems, and they've had to manipulate the picture – dim the brightness, and put a dark halo round the edge. They're right to take these corrective actions – we don't want to trigger illness on a light entertainment show – but they shouldn't need to make such edits.

The Void Unhelpful camera fogging.

Ultimately, The Void feels like a work in progress. With a bit of refinement, and some more imagination, it could catch on – just as Gladiators clicked in its second series, back in the day. Right now, The Void is OK to watch, which is fine for those weeks when there's nothing else on, and absolutely fatal when there is something wheely more compelling on the other side.

In other news

Raven James MacKenzie (left) is going to do something terrifying.

Leap of Faith Original Raven James MacKenzie is going to leap out of a plane, which strikes us as a spectacularly dangerous challenge, and one that Nevar would never countenance. The good news: there's a parachute attached. James is raising money for the Beatson cancer charity, the link is justgiving.com/fundraising/James-Mackenzie21

More names for the Strictly ballroom have emerged.

  • Sara Davies (Dragons' Den dragon)
  • Katie McGlynn (from Coronation Street)
  • Dan Walker (the inevitable BBC Breakfast Time host)
  • Greg Wise (comedy partner of James Morecambe, it says here)
  • Tilly Ramsay (from Matilda and the Ramsay Bunch, thus splitting the votes of the CBBC Massive)
  • Adam Peaty (swimmer)
  • Judi Love (comedian and Loose Women contributor)
  • Rose Ayling-Ellis (from The East Enders)
  • Nina Wadia (memory-training expert)
  • Ugo Monye (A Question of Sport team captain)

The kick-off show appears to be scheduled for the first weekend of September, with the competition proper to begin on 25 September. The final is on 18 December, and we expect FIFA will nick that idea next year.

Give Us a Clue Una Stubbs, with Lionel Blair.

The death of Dame Una Stubbs. Her television career included Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge, the co-star of Summer Holiday, Rita Rawlins in Till Death Us Do Part, but mostly as the unchallenged master of Give Us a Clue. Who can forget when she told the entirety of Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in less than two minutes? Or the times she produced coffee beans out of her hand just by shaking a closed fist? Most recently, the keen amateur painter co-hosted The Big Painting Challenge with Richard Bacon, Esq. Una was a wit, a raconteur, effortlessly graceful and stylish, and a friend to all who knew her.

On the blue wire, Jeopardy! has announced its new hosts. Plural. No one person is big enough to fit into Alex Trebek's shoes, and the Jeopardy! clue crew haven't quite ironed out the flaws in the computer host Alex Tre-Bot.

What is "cannot be replaced by any one human?"

Mayim Bialik will host the prime-time series and celebrity editions. You'll remember her from Blossom and The Big Bang Theory, and pioneering work in neuroscience. Being a busy person with many demands on her plate, Dr. Bialik has left the syndicated daytime show to Mike Richards. Mike Who was the host of Divided when it went out on the Game Show Network at 2am; he also produced The Price is Right where he was accused of discriminating against women.

For a domestic example, it's as if the Mastermind team had decided to appoint the intelligent and erudite and famous Alice Roberts to the primetime Celebrity Mastermind series, while the show's uncharismatic producer Andrew Greysuit handles the civilian show on BBC2. Fan reaction on the other side of the pond has been loud, and it's been uniformly negative. People believe they've been misled after the "guest hosts" were portrayed as a "Permanent host search".

Mayim is going to be the acceptable public face of Jeopardy!, on the handful of primetime shows, while the syndicated programme has someone far less attractive to the casual viewer. We will have to see how this plays out: the final metric is how many people watch Jeopardy!, and how many people watch the adverts surrounding Jeopardy!. It has a long way to fall, the current series will average around 8.5 million viewers, broadly similar numbers to Saturday Night Takeaway.

Quizzy Mondays continued. On Only Connect, the Muppets beat the Discothèques 23-19. The battle of two family teams was won on the walls, where the Muppets spotted four elements beginning with chemical elements, while the Discothèques didn't know so much about I-phone apps. We really enjoyed a sequence listing the countries in geographical Asia, beginning with letters A, S, I, and A. It's the episode where Victoria wore rose-tinted heart glasses throughout the episode, and nobody mentioned it. It's also the episode where one of the contestants wore trousers throughout the episode, and nobody mentioned it.

University Challenge continued its obsession with London, Cambridge, and Oxford. Queen Mary is part of the University of London. Oxford Brookes is independent of that other university in the city, and the only "former polytechnic" to regularly appear on UC. QML won the match, 115-90. The show began with a missignal penalty, and continued in that vein for the entire time; aggressive buzzing will usually pay off, but not this time.

Surprised that they allowed "Ruth Ginsberg" for the late jurist. Two-part surname, folks, and "Ginsberg" was her husband's contribution. It's like naming the host of Only Connect as "Victoria Mitchell". And the teams couldn't recognise some sewing stitches from diagrams, felt a bit like they were being set up to be laughed at. Would this have been more enlightening as a *video* round, rather than pictures?

It's coming home! Richard Osman's House of Games (3) kicks off a new series (BBC2, weeknights). Come Dine with Me goes round athletes' houses (C4, weeknights). A League of Their Own begins a new run on The Satellite Channel (Thu), and Cooking With the Stars crowns its winner (ITV, Tue).

Pictures: Gameface TV, BBC Scotland, Thames, Merv Griffin Enterprises / Kingworld

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