Weaver's Week 2006-01-08

Weaver's Week Index

'Iain Weaver reviews the latest happenings in UK Game Show Land.'


The year ahead

8 January 2006

Readers are cautioned that this week's Week contains spoilers for the next series of Raven. There are people who won't see the show until October.

Coming Up In 2006

Everyone at UK Gameshows was very pleased to receive a "Find of the Year" accolade over the break. Thanks to all our readers for their support and constructive criticism. Here's to an even better 2006, and here's what we could be writing about:

  • Bullseye (ITV) - The host is variously reported as Peter Kay, or Vernon Kay, or Kaye Adams. Or, if we're to believe last week's press, The Ubiquitous Antan Dec.
  • Celebrity Football (ITV) - yes, it's a re-purposing of The Match on an obscure satellite channel. Those participating may include Deal or No Deal researcher Robbie Williams, Gordon Ramsay, and, because it's ITV, The Ubiquitous Antan Dec.
  • Celebrity Bowls (C4). Does this count as a game show? (No - Ed.)
  • Chess (BBC2) - UK v Russia. Does this count as a game show?
  • Dancing on Ice (ITV) - Torvill and Dean train celebs to skate. Caution: contains Bonnie Langford. Begins next Saturday, and does not include The Ubiquitous Antan Dec. Nor does it include Oona King, who was linked with this programme following her defeat by Mr Galloway at last year's election. Wonder what he's doing now?
  • Danny Baker's Sitcom Showdown (UK Gold). A panel game about the British sitcom.
  • Delia Smith's Apprentice (BBC). With a name like that, what do you expect? Probably transmitted in the autumn.
  • Finders Keepers (ITV) - Jeff Brazier is the new Neil Buchanan. Began 6 January, review pending.
  • Just The Two Of Us (BBC1) - celebs and pro singers team up. Shall we call it Strictly Come Singing and be done with it?
  • Petrolheads (BBC2) - hosted by Neil Morrissey, it's got to be Have I Got Cars For You?
  • Press Ganged (ITV) - You never know, stranger things have happened at sea.
  • School's Out (BBC) - Danny Wallace tests celebs on what they should have learned at school. Feels like a 6pm filler.
  • Star Duets (ITV) - Simon Cowell teams up pro singers and celebs. Shall we call it "Indistinguishable From Just The Two Of Us" and be done with it? Mr Cowell's lawyers think so, and have already been In Touch with the Beeb.
  • Tough Decisions (C4) - Patrick McGuinness hosts, the press release says that contestants don't need to know much. So that's what they'll be doing with the Space Cadets rejects.
  • The Wire (ITV) - Pushing contestants to the limit, thanks to host Jamie Theakston.
  • Untitled Andrew Lloyd Webber Musical Search Show (BBC), to find a star for The Sound of Music.
  • Untitled Simon Cowell Talent Show (ITV) with Piers Moron and Fern Britton in the judges' chairs.

And some old shows are due to return:

  • Celebrity Big Brother IV (C4) - from 5 January. You can tell this is a celebrity edition, because it doesn't feature the regular series' wannabes - instead, it's all has-beens and never-weres.
  • Celebrity Love Island II (ITV). Those rumoured to be taking part include German popstar Sarah Connor, TV's Adam Rickett, That Hunk From The Underwear Adverts, and Anne Widdecombe.
  • The Games IV (C4) - presumably over the Easter week, so mid-April there.

Thanks to Thecustard.tv for assistance in compiling this article.

Raven and Jungle Run

Raven: CBBC, November - December

Jungle Run: ITV (Granada (Yorkshire)), October - December

Two of the best game shows on television are still tucked away in children's programming. Jungle Run has quietly amassed seven seasons on air - more than The Crystal Maze ever managed - and this was the Fourth Tournament of Raven. Both shows had slightly dodgy first series, but the production companies showed faith, and they've gone on to greater things since. For the first time since Raven's debut in 2002, this column reckons Jungle Run was the better series. Let us explain why.

There's been a significant change to Raven this year. The old screeching-guitar title music has been completely re-orchestrated, and is more brassy and a tad more scary. There's been a more significant change. Where warriors (contestants) were previously allowed seven lives, there's been an outbreak of Life Inflation over the summer, and everyone now begins with nine lives. There's a similar increase in the number of rings required to regain a life, but only a slight increase in the number of rings available.

The games themselves remain a mixture of team games, physical challenges, mock combats, and tests of skill. The battles against fear seem to have been quietly eliminated from the contest, only the Leap of Faith remains. There's still a clear peg-back-the-leader element to the contest, and the increased number of lives at the beginning of the week should ensure that no-one ever faces elimination from lack of lives. That theory was put to the test one week, and the preferred resolution was clearly staged, and rather unsatisfactory.

There are new games, roughly at a rate of one per day. Some are very traditional games - most of us will have been challenged to use wooden boxes to cross a field, picking up the rearmost and using it at the front of the path. Some are familiar - one game is an almost direct lift from Gladiators. Some are new, there's a teamwork game requiring a description of symbols.

And there's the Demon's Causeway, which rather reminds us of the Dark Knight from Incredible Games. That was a winnable game; Causeway is not. Even with perfect play from all the warriors, the demons can guarantee to catch two of them. But these are youngsters of around twelve, they're not going to play the perfect game - and the allure of hidden rings can entice them to step off the logical path. The demons, regrettably, do play a perfect game.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment comes with the Leap of Faith. Previously, this has taken place from a very long way up a tall tree. This year, it takes place from the top of a very tall pole. For the contestants, the task is the same. For the viewer, we no longer have the birds-eye view, we can't look down on the contestant as they jump. Instead, we look up, into a bright sky, trying to pick out some very small rings. It's a very difficult task under perfect viewing conditions - for viewers at home, with a television set that's probably lacking some definition - it can be impossible to see how successful the leap was.

There's long been a thought that the final day of each week needs some work. High Walk was always dramatic, but this game is no longer played. Forest of Chains was a good start, but that's been off the route since the first tournament. This year, the final day consisted of Demons' Causeway, the unimpressive High Walk, the tedious Blasted Mountain (which still suffers from nauseating camerawork), and The Last Stand. The weekly final has now become the endgame from Run the Risk, inviting warriors to go through a physical obstacle course. There is a place for physical ability in the final, but to test nothing else can and does lead to unsatisfactory final results. Is it satisfactory to decide the entire tournament on who can run the fastest up an incline covered in goop?

It would be wrong to dismiss Raven as a poor show - it comes from a wonderful underlying concept, and the flaws in execution do not detract too much from the central idea. However, we can't help but feel that the fourth series was a retrograde step, and hope for something better next year.

Jungle Run, by comparison, has had a stellar season. There were a lot of new games in the 2005 series. There was a fantastic one with a gun throwing tennis balls, trying to knock statues off their plinth. Another game saw one contestant work their way through a mine, communicating to their colleagues on the surface. One particularly nasty game involved having keys in wooden crates, but they were carefully positioned so as to lock when the keys were retrieved - the team-member outside the crates had to decide whether to go for statues or free their team-mates.

There's a lot more adventure in this series. Where else would a team have to dive into water to open treasure chests that may contain monkey statues. Or slide down a Krypton Factor-style aerial slide from the roof, collecting statues as they go. Almost every week, the teams would visit The Maze, which contained walls that moved and hands that leaped out at them.

A few years ago, CITV sounded out people about making a junior version of The Crystal Maze. It didn't quite happen, but it's obvious that the channel learned a lot from the experience. Substitute "monkey statues" for "crystals", shave Michael Underwood's head, and the comparison is almost complete.

Jungle Run also has a more interesting conclusion than Raven, with four puzzles (a skill, a mental, a physical, and one that's a bit of a mystery) in separate rooms. Maybe the BBC could use the same idea, and have the finalists battle their way up the Wizard's Tower, completing a different puzzle in each room. This wouldn't place such an undue emphasis on physical ability, and would provide a better test of the all-round best warrior.

In the end, Jungle Run was just more entertaining than Raven. Too often, and particularly on the Wednesday editions, Raven just felt like any other television show. It can do better than that, and it will do next year.

Other Festive Highlights

Picking up with the ratings for the week ending 18 December, in which the Strictly Come Dancing final beat The X Factor by just over a million viewers, 10.8 million to 9.7 million. Millionaire took 7m, Millionaire Manor 6.6m. Deal or No Deal was again Channel 4's biggest programme, recording 3.1m on Monday the 12th. All five weekday editions beat Space Cadets by 400,000. The Weakest Link's best rating beat Deal by just 20,000.

Vorderman's Big Brain Game (Hanrahan Media / Sky Onc, 22 December) pitted Danny Wallace (comedian) and Pealy Maghti (doesn't look a day older than she did on Look Around You) against Darren Gough (dancer) and Lisa Rogers (Scrapheap Challenge). They were joined by a member of the audience, and played four rounds. A series of trick questions was followed by a stumble around in the dark game, reminiscent of Raven's "Thrall Demons" game, only not as good. Then came a series of questions about things words had in common, and a short memory test. Each of these challenges put numbers into a sudoku puzzle. Viewers at home were challenged to skip the ad breaks and SMS in with the numbers in the corner of the sudoku; the quiz winner got to solve the puzzle for £9000 cash. It was a better spectacle than July's Sudoku Live, but the phrase springing to mind is "Don't give up the day job." Apparently, there's a series in the works.

Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1, 28 Dec - 2 Jan) missed a bit of a trick. Five programmes over the festive period could have led to a proper Celebrity Mastermind final, surely to be won by Jeremy Beadle. The other daily winners were Monty Don, Graeme le Saux, Paul Ross, and Iain Banks. On one of the shows, Myleene Klass, formerly a member of ITV's house band Hearsay, scored 17/18 on her specialist subject of Sex and the City series 3, and just one point in the general knowledge round. However, the award for most unsuccessful contestant must go to Deal Or No Deal's Nick Bain, whose weeks in the studio ended on 3 January with him winning the grand total of ... one new penny.

The University Challenge celebrity special (BBC2, 31 Dec - 2 Jan) was remarkable for the grouchiness of the Politicians team, who berated Thumper for taking their first answer. They're not used to this from Mr Paxman, of course. The politicos fell to the News team, with their secret weapon Kate Adie. In the final, News were soundly defeated by the Writers, captained by Iain Banks, who had beaten the Actors in the other semi. Mr Banks must surely be the first person to win episodes of both Mastermind and UC within 90 minutes.

Challenge has had a couple of highlights. They've been repeating the climax to the 1988 series of Going for Gold, the series famously won by Daphne Fowler, when she was called Daphne Hudson. The standard of play was tremendously high, and there was a clear camaraderie between all the players. You certainly wouldn't catch contestants on Weakest Link sending in cakes for the production team, though maybe Countdown and Deal Or No Deal might inspire that sort of devotion.

Next week's Week will feature a review of the Hard Spell tournament. It'll also cover Challenge's other highlight, nine hours from the 2004 US Spelling Bee finals.

Before then, Countdown offers its (er) second Saturday edition, while there's Deal or No Deal overload - the hit new game show comes to More 4 at 6.10 weekday evenings, and the Saturday C4 episode moves to just before 6pm. Shipwrecked comes back to Channel 4 this afternoon, the first set of programmes since 2002. ITV launches Dancing on Ice, the BBC retaliates with a Weakest Link special.

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 Yahoo! Group.

Back to Weaver's Week Index

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