Weaver's Week 2022-06-19

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An online special this week. Thanks to one of our chums who subscribes, we've been able to see 1.75 episodes of a streaming show.



Nobody's Hero / ITV America for Netflix, 27 April 2022

A big and glitzy set, far too large for five people. That's all we see at a time in this quiz-bluffing-deduction show.

A host, a contestant in a pen, a panel in a line. And some graphics above the stage.

One of the people on the set is a contestant. It's a game show contestant in the typical American way, all shiny suit and sharp-pressed teeth. Three other people face the contestant. They're the panel, and are asked to judge if the contestant is telling the truth or not.

Each phase begins with a tricky trivia question. These are tricky, but not impossible – this column might know one per show off the top of our head, and be able to work out the answer to a couple more, and rarely be guessing outright.

Were you paying attention at the start of the month?

The contestant sees the question and four possible answers. The contestant picks one of the answers, in secret. A screen tells them whether their answer is right or wrong.

Which answer did the contestant pick? And can they provide a convincing argument for why they've picked the right answer? That's the basic question asked by Bullsh*t.

Truth accepted!

So the contestant's given their answer, and their explanation. Do the panel believe them? And will they give an explanation of their decision? Some will, some won't, there's a lot of heavy editing in the show, with beats hammered home through an unsubtle soundtrack. While there is a little playalong value, you'd need to be swift with the pause button to discuss these questions at home.

The contestant wins the question if they get the trivia right – and there's a one-in-four chance of guessing it. Or they win if any one of the panel believes they're correct. What's in it for the panel? The most successful panellist will take over as the next contestant, so it pays to both spot accurate answers and find the fibs. (They only get a few chances to win the panellist's challenge before being replaced, in Pointless style.)

Weird values of our time.

Right answers move along a very off-balance money chain. Starts at $1k (about 800€, £750), then up to $10k and $25k. Then it's moderate increments – 50k, 75k, 100k. Then a jump to 250k, 500k, 750k, and a top prize of $1m. From context, we find out that "k" is local shorthand for "thousand", and "m" for "million". Quite clearly, the producers want to pay out a lot of prizes in the $75,000 – $100,000 bracket.

How do we know this? They give each contestant a pair of "locks", a safe amount of money that they cannot lose. Play the lock after the third question, and you're sure of $25,000 – about eight months' average wage. To encourage contestants to play on a bit, the second lock can't be played until three locks after the first – so our $25,000 player could lock in $100,000 if they get there, but nothing sooner. The player can walk away at any point.

This contestant looks very slick.

On one level, Bullsh*t is a trivia quiz. Someone can win a million bucks from excellent knowledge. But mostly, it's a matter of lies and lie-detection. Are long speeches associated with truth, or lies? Does eye contact make a difference to your opinion. Smiles? If you're a convincing snake oil salesman, you can go far. If you're a trivia buff, you will go far.

And that's all it is. Some commentators have called this show Celebrity Squares for the internet age. Do you agree with the player in the box, or do you disagree? It's surprisingly flat and one-note, Howie Mandel is the Alexander Armstrong of the television show, in the sense that he could be replaced by an animatronic robot programmed with about thirty phrases. Maybe we're spoiled by European hosts, but Howie Mandel doesn't impress us. He's competent, keeps the game moving, and adds little to proceedings.

Howie Mandel, the regular host.

Mandel is one of few Black faces on the show, and the only one to win massively. Our friend promises that the series has a top-prize winner, a white mother-of-two who is as cool and aloof as Richard Ayoade. The episode we watched featured a man with blinding teeth and suspiciously good hair.

The show implicitly raises the question: should society reward the ability to flannel and fib to a big prize? And the show doesn't care to explore this moral question at all: is it just and/or fair to profit through lying, cheating, abusing, and being naughty? Honestly, we get more rigorous moral lessons from Swashbuckle and Hey Duggee than Netflix.

Casablanca is good, but it's not right.

We weren't impressed with the quality of the questions. Many were particularly American and inaccessible: does anyone care that they call chilli on spaghetti "Cincinnati chilli"? A question about the derivation of "balls to the wall" will have generated Correspondence: reputable dictionaries say it comes from jet fighters, others reckon it comes from steam engines but cannot provide evidence to substantiate their claim. Hope the folk at Netflix have a department to handle mail from people who believe what they read on Urban Dictionary.

Style note: Bullsh*t styles itself on-screen with the asterisk. Some captions in the show, and speech from all the contestants, inserts the missing I. Be careful if you're watching with maiden aunties / Mayfair debutantes / young children.

The best contender will be the next one into the hot seat.

The end to each show was – of course – a cliffhanger. Would the contestant's falsehood be called? Did the contestant give the right answer? It's a desperate attempt to get you to watch the next episode... and Netflix will show you the next episode before it shows you the credits to the current one. A most unfriendly way of working.

Another unfriendly thing they do: too much canned applause. A ripple of claps is always better than silence, but the Canned Crowd™ in the edit suite would whoop and holler at anything. Howie Mandel walks on set? Deafening cheers. A contestant tells a weak pun? Sounds like a Laurel and Hardy revival. Why is this bad? When the crowd cheers for everything, we can't tell what actually is worthy of applause. When someone wins a squillion, cheer to the rafters. When someone wins tenpence, don't.

Liar, liar.

Watch more

90-second trailer

Unsurprisingly, Netflix want you to see the show on their service, and pay 9€ a month.

Not that anyone's winning tenpence. The prizes are stupidly big. Every five minutes, they talk about the top prize of a million bucks. It's all about the money, nothing else matters. And, like so many other shows that make themselves all about the lucre, they forget to make an entertaining show out of it. We only had time to watch 1.75 episodes, and that was quite enough.

For all that, the basic game at the heart of Bullsh*t is tolerable. The version we'd see over here (hosted by Richard Ayoade, naturally) takes eight steps to 50 grand. Or it's a daytime celebrity panel game filler, with Phil Hammond, Kate Lawler, and Nicki Chapman swapping trivia and stories about themselves across the hour.

Pick Me! A fascinating ancestor.

Or it would be hosted by Stephen Mulhern, with contestants in fancy dress. The core idea – difficult trivia, information appears to one player in secret – was used on 2015's one-series wonder Pick Me!. The prizes there were low – holidays and garden furniture, not life-changing piles of cash – and the show was massively more enjoyable. Three reasons: it's played for lower stakes, fancy-dress costumes are always fun, and Stephen Mulhern is a very good presenter.

Tell Squid

One we didn't see: The Squid Game. In this fictional show, contestants humiliate themselves on network television by playing childish games. Losers may be taken out the back and dispatched to somewhere they'll never be seen again.

Chase the Case Why did this picture spring to mind?

Turns out they're planning to make a real-life version of the programme. Netflix's new programme will be made by Studio Lambert (Race Across the World, Love Thy Neighbour), and The Garden (24 Hours in A&E). Both production companies pitched separate ideas to create a reality show; Netflix suggested that they work together.

The producers will have to handle it very carefully: the original show is dark and menacing, dramatic without having any deliberate comedy. A show that's just grind and humiliation will get very old very quickly. Reality formats need both light and shade.

Big Brother It's how Big Brother lasted so long.

Challenges on The Squid Game are loosely based on traditional children's games. We expect things like "pass the parcel", except there aren't sweets wrapped up but instant eliminations. "What's the time, Mr. Wolf" only Mr. Wolf has laser eyes but can he get a good zap? "Simon says" you're out. "Duck duck goose" in the style of Lightning – you don't want to be standing when time expires. You get the drift.

We hope there's a certain glint in the eye of the producers. The show needs to move as quickly as De Alleskunner (which we really must review soon), and be edited as wittily as De Mol. But given that it's being made by Studio Lambert, expect it to be in the flat and dowdy style with confessionals ad infinitum.

Read more

Last year, we invented shows on the same theme.

"They asked Tommy to keep the balloon in the air for a minute."
"So I batted it up, it came down."
"And still so long to go."
"Up and down. Up and down."
"And then it came below his knee."
"Had to scoop it up. Batted it really high."
(continues in this vein for several times the original challenge. And probably straddling into the next episode)

Reader animadversion

A reader asked, What's the best "They 'kill' contestants, don't they?" game show? e.g. Release the Hounds, Killer Camp.

Release the Hounds The Chase is on!

Good calls on both of those: contestants who don't outrun the dogs / get caught by the snare will not be seen again. The show's tone is dark, and unsuspecting viewers might think that the contenders had really been eaten by hounds / been impaled on a giant phallus.

We remember ABC's Whodunnit had to have a cameo by the "murdered" contestant, reassuring the viewers that they hadn't actually been deaded, and still didn't know who had eliminated them from the game.

The Adventure Game Will not cause Noel Edmonds to disappear from your telly.

The Adventure Game gave this column the willies when we first saw it. Genuinely thought that Michael Rodd and Liza Goddard had been evaporated into nothingness by the combination of Ian Messiter and Moira Stuart. Mercifully, Michael was a guest on the teatime chat show What's On Wogan? that evening, so we could sleep easily.

More recently, there was nightmare fuel from Raven: The Island / Secret Temple / Dragon's Eye. On the main series, they were very careful to bring back the defeated warriors, and show that Raven had taken care of them. On the spin-offs, Raven was less powerful, and losing contestants just vanished into the clutches of Nevar and his demons.

Shows like Trapped and Take the Tower were so serious they looped-the-loop and became obvious caricatures of the genres. When you're pretending that someone has been removed from polite society in the name of entertainment, you can intimate "of course we're joking" by going completely over the top.

In other news


"One of them's got a proper job... You're not going to loaf around... Have you found a girlfriend since last time?... That's not a job, is it?... Why did you think you would get away with that?" Anne Robinson glowered over her second and final Countdown final, like a small and exceptionally grouchy thundercloud. This is finals week, and we'd love to concentrate on how brilliant the contestants are. But, once again, we're distracted by the host. Eighteen more episodes of this and then she's gone.

No upsets in the quarter-finals, so maths graduates Dan Byrom and Ryan Carlsen met in the first semi-final. Nothing to choose between them in the letters – both offered the same word in many rounds, including the same disallowed word. Only one of the numbers games was different, and that went to the lower-seeded Ryan. But Dan wasn't to be beaten: the conundrum fell his way, and a victory by three points was his.

Matt O'Connor beat Steve Hyde in the second semi. The duo were point-for-point for much of the game, but Matt came up with winners "Bouviers" and "Mopaine". No, Anne, he doesn't have to define them; just know that they are words and (to pick an example from this match) "louseing" isn't. Matt spotted the maximum in 11 rounds, and went into the final as the series' top scorer. Dan had scored 19 more points than Matt in the heats, Matt had bettered Dan's totals by 20 in the knockout matches.

Dan Byrom won the final, by three points. It was a to-and-fro match. Matt went ahead with "Octopine" in the first round, then Dan hit back with a 6-small numbers pick. "Empaestic" pushed him further ahead, but an incorrect gamble allowed Matt back in. The players had winners, "Evanish" for Dan, "Suzerian" and "Gopuram" for Matt. Still far behind, Matt had to risk "lionweeds" as an improbable nine. The conundrum fell Matt's way, but Dan had the victory sewn up, 81-78. Dan wins the series on aggregate scores, 1252-1250, and we hope they can meet again in a forthcoming Championship of Champions.

Hilary Devey

The death of Hilary Devey, the former Dragons' Den dragon, known for her warmth to the nervous and blunt feedback to the bigheaded. She later presented The Intern and Running the Shop on Channel 4. Devey made her millions from Pall-Ex, a multi-million pound freight distribution firm. Devey, who was 65, married twice and leaves one son.

Rare breeds of poultry has been on the Pointless finals board for years and years and years. When it first appeared, Richard Osman wore short trousers down to his ankles. But it's up there no longer: a team who had researched rare breeds of chickens picked the category, and picked up the jackpot. An "Araucana" chicken was worth the jackpot for the team.

That's not to be confused with Araucana, the late compiler of crosswords for Het Grauniad who took his nom de noir et blanc from the monkey puzzle tree.

Princess Elizabeth's wartime role? Mechanic.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Going for gold

Another hit from Junior Eurovision. Remember Sara James, TVP's singer last December? The young singer has tried her hand at NBC's Got Talent, and received adoration from Simon Cowell. Golden buzzer, straight through to the semi-finals.

A Song for Upper Bublington The Eurovision organisation has confirmed the inevitable. UA:PBC, the reigning champions, will not be able to host the Senior Song Contest in Ukraine. The honour and expense of organising the contest now falls on the runner-up broadcaster.

Eurovision Song Contest WHAT IS HAPPENING?! That's us!

A BBC statement said, "We have seen the announcement from the EBU. Clearly these aren't a set of circumstances that anyone would want. Following their decision, we will of course discuss the BBC hosting the Eurovision Song Contest." More on this story next week.

Coming up: The 3rd Degree (Radio 4, Mon) continues its tour of universities, six at a time. Taskmaster Champion of Champions (C4, Thu) finds the most unlikely winner. One Question (C4, Fri) sees Claudia Winkleman try to give away a hundred grand by picking the right answer from 20 possibles. End your week right with Apocalypse Wow (ITV2, Fri), the superhuman challenges are back once more. And, fresh from his success on House of Games, Bobby Seagull takes on Pointless Celebrities (BBC1. Sat).

Pictures: Nobody's Hero / ITV America / Netflix, Possessed, Bandicoot, Initial, Gogglebox Entertainment, Yorkshire, EBU / Andres Putting, EBU / Corinne Cumming.

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