Weaver's Week 2014-05-04

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A pair of Saturday night reviews this week.

Amazing Greys


Amazing Greys

ITV Studios (Entertainment) and Eyeworks for ITV, from 12 April

A few weeks ago, we mentioned the little culture war that seems to be happening at the moment. It's a clash of generations, between the young – smiling, friendly people who believe that something will turn up – and the old – scowling, cringing people who reckon glory days are in the past. Amazing Greys is this antagonism turned into ritual combat and played out on the small screen.

ITV has picked a side in this battle, and it's based the decision on two rather obnoxious assumptions. First, that old people are incapable of doing anything well. As we'll see, the basic idea behind Amazing Greys is to pit contestants on their home territory against all-round challengers.

The second assumption is that Paddy McGuinness is capable of hosting an entertaining primetime television show. We've seen no evidence in the past, and none is supplied here. McGuinness does have a sidekick, the journalist and dancer Angela Rippon. She's officially the captain of the Greys, and she only ever talks to or through Paddy McGuinness – in our book, that makes her a team captain, but the credits have her as a full host. We're not going to argue, she shows more polish in her limited role than McGuinness.

Amazing Greys Angela Rippon and some other bloke.

The Amazing Greys transmission runs for an hour, during which two separate contestants stand to win £10,000. Effectively, it's two half-hour shows fused into one, though we reckon a half-hour edit would be too short and leave us wanting more. The young challenger, a 20-something person, walks onto the stage. Full of confidence and swagger, McGuinness encourages them to big up their ability, to tell the older contestants that there can only be one winner.

Eventually, we get to the challenges proper. There will be three possible challenges, and the player needs to win two of them in order to scoop the £10,000 prize. All of the challenges are conducted in the studio, there are no outside broadcasts. We get the impression that the Greys know roughly what's coming, or at least that they'll be called to play. There's no such advantage for the young contestant, all they know is that they'll face a physical exercise and a mental test on the route to the riches.

Once the game is announced, Angela Rippon announces which Grey will be playing it, and there's a short video package of that Grey going about their business. Then the contest starts. For a physical challenge, it can be to bench-press half your bodyweight 20 times faster than your opponent. Against David Hamilton, the requirement might be to identify hit singles faster. When facing a quiz champion, it might be to place pins on a map more accurately.

Amazing Greys The eight await.

And here we have another piece of the generational gap. By stereotype, old people will only be able to do the things they already do; young people will attempt anything once. It's why Blue Peter presenters are typically straight out of university and cookery show judges have been around the Sun a lot more. The Greys are competing on their home turf, on something they've already demonstrated they're good at. The contestant needs to be a complete all-rounder, to take on challenges they've never seen before.

Perhaps to even up the playing field, each contender is allowed one (and only one) head start. It's a small head start, one correct answer in the quiz, three repetitions in the physical test. Always, Paddy splutters "Is that it?" with a snort of derision. Was he expecting Angela to say that the Grey will give up, and the contender can have the point, gift-wrapped, on a velvet cushion?

On their own merits, some of the challenges are quite fun. Some of them, like the gym tests, are a bit repetitive, but they're completed in a minute or so, and feature a quality commentary from the lips of David Goldstrom. Many of the games would fit in well on quintessential German entertainment Schlag den Raab (Beat entertainer Stefan Raab), at least one is a direct lift from that format. And the whole contest is done in twenty minutes, then reset for the next player. When we're bored, there's always something else coming along soon.

Amazing Greys Weightlifting in progress.

But in the final analysis, we're uneasy about this programme. It's not enough for the Greys to be respected for their achievements, they have to rub their superiority in the face of the young people. It's "we are old, we are very important people", it's "don't laugh at me, I'm better than you", it's protecting what status they have. At times, the Greys (in matching blazer and tie) feel like the last bastion of a bygone world, vainly trying to cling on to their way of doing things. That just rubs us up the wrong way. So does Paddy McGuinness, quite frankly: he veers from trash-talking the old to insisting that everyone shakes hands.

It's a very watchable programme, but our mind wanders too quickly to the subtext, and we don't like that subtext.

The Guess List

The Guess List

12 Yard for BBC1, from 12 April

Somewhere in the ground between Family Fortunes and Blankety Blank lies The Guess List.

The premise is simple: Rob Brydon is joined by five celebrities. Good celebrities, mostly: they've got Harry Judd from McFly, Aled Jones, Gary Lineker from That Puppet Game Show, Julian Clary, and Mel C from Superstar. OK, they've also got some rent-a-deelister types (Carol Vorderman, Jason Manford) but they're the exception to the rule.

So, there's Rob and these five celebrities, and there's a couple of members of the public. These people will be asked questions based on press release science. You know the sort, a bunch of scientists do some research, put out a press release including a little piece of trivia, and the press picks up on that and completely ignores the main point.

The Guess List This week's panel: lairy, debby, campy, hatty, and Sporty.

"What should old people do three times a week to make them look younger?" The celebrities write down their guesses to this question, and Rob Brydon discusses their answers. This discussion is, of course, the heart of the show. Rob Brydon has been working in comedy long enough to be really good at it, and here he finds the sweet spot: taking the celebrities down a peg or two without actually being rude to them. "Are you doing more Vicar of Dibley?" he asks of Jennifer Saunders, deliberately confusing her with comedy partner Dawn French.

Eventually, through the fog of silliness and banter, five answers have emerged. The contestant (remember them?) thinks about the suggested answers, the titular Guess List, and picks one – or comes up with their own – to score. Repeat this four times.

The Guess List The guesses are on the board, for all the use they are.

There is a final round, pilfered from the back pocket of Play Your Cards Right while Brucey chatted with the Dolly Dealers. In this final round, the winning contestant is asked a question to which the answer is a number. The panel gives their number guesses, and then (and only then!) is the contestant given two possible numbers to choose from. The right answer secures a prize tailored specifically to the contestant's interests: someone emigrating to Western Australia will get a weekend in Perth, Scotland.

The Guess List goes out in a 40-minute slot at 9.30 on Saturday nights. We reckon it might work better in a slightly shorter slot, possibly in a half-hour on Friday nights. It's sad that this gentle smut has to go out after the watershed, but that's how OFCOM bullies the schedulers.

Don't watch this for the game: there is no game. The contestants don't so much have a walk-on part as a walked-by part. Do watch this for Rob Brydon being entertainingly and hilariously cheeky to celebrities, and powering the show with his relentless energy.

Countdown Update

A varied month in Britain's favourite parlour game. Ann Robinson made four wins, though she never looked tremendously secure in the champion's chair, and in one game recovered from 45-6 down to win on the conundrum. She fell to Bobby Johnson, who looked very strong, but was knocked out after three wins by Mark Murray. Mark joined the slim list of players to score a century in all their heats, and the slimmer list of 900-point champions; eight wins and 902 marks puts him clearly the number one seed. Then it was back to reality with Julie Devine and Ben Clark winning a game each, Neil Green has managed six wins; he's a little weak on numbers, but hot on letters.

The seedings so far:

1) Mark Murray8902
2) Andy Naylor8781
3) Bobby Banerjee6597
4) Priscilla Munday6586
5) Andy Gardner6580
6) Neil Green6so far
7) Cliff Lee5549
8) Rod Chatfield5475

This Week and Next

Channel 5 has been sold to Viacom. The UK's fifth most-popular television channel is now in the same family as MTV, Viva, Paramount, and Nickelodeon. The price is believed to be over £400 million, a handy profit on the £100 million paid by Richard Desmond four years ago. It's not immediately clear what this will mean for the channel's programme strategy; we understand that they have rights to Big Brother until the end of next year.

I Can't Sing is to close. The musical, based on The X Factor, was written by Harry Hill and approved by Simon Cowell. The show has been playing to a half-empty theatre. It's generally felt that it needed a bit more work before reaching the West End stage, and playing to the 2000-seater Palladium may also have been an error.

Nigel Harmon (star of the show), Simon Cowell (mentor), Harry Hill (writer).

Heat three of Only Connect featured Margaret Gabica, Stuart Hern, and his wife Chris Hern, all Welsh Learners. They played Stephen Mcintosh, Chris Howlett, and Anne Harrison, the Software Engineers. Other shows would take it for granted that aliens could see similarly to humans; Only Connect asks what happens if the aliens are gaseous, and the host gets into quite the philosophical discussion with one of the contestants. Points and bonuses are tossed around with abandon, the Welsh Learners end up ahead by 5-2.

A lovely question opens the Sequences round, on the specialities of Strictly Come Dancing judges. It's followed by one about the children who lived in the White House, both sides pick up three points. The Software Engineers suggest that, perhaps, we might have had a surfeit of questions about the London Spectacle of Jingoism. The Welsh Learners see "Rumantsch", take thirty seconds to talk amongst themselves, sound the Five Point Klaxon! "German" is enough for another go: "Deutsch" is right, the languages of Switzerland by population. They take a commanding lead, 15-5.

Walls 428 and 429 might make a difference, and the first one does as the Software Engineers get stuck on various connections – chocolate, Are You Being Served?, King's ____, and emerge with just five points. For the Welsh Learners, the key is working out that HP may not refer to a sauce; they secure the maximum ten points for a 25-10 lead. Missing Vowels increases both sides' scores, with the Welsh Learners winning by a very convincing score, 30-14.

BARB ratings for the week to 20 April.

  1. Britain's Got Talent remains the most-seen programme, 8.45m made it part of their Easter Saturday.
  2. Masterchef (5.35m) and HIGNFY (5.15m) did well on BBC1, with Pointless Celebrities (3.9m) the second-biggest show on Saturday night.
  3. Amazing Greys (3.05m) fell behind Catchphrase (3.15m) and Big Star's Little Star (3.75m).
  4. The Big Allotment Challenge stormed onto BBC2 with 2.75m; Mastermind had 2.2m, All About Two held 2.05m, and the UC Championship of Champions secured 1.95m.
  5. Celebrity Juice (1.47m) and Britain's Got More Talent (1.02m) broke the million; Only Connect came back with 820,000, and Monty Don's Real Craft attracted 800,000 to More4. That'll be level with the week's best Come Dine with Me over on Channel 4.

We've been prepping for the Eurovision Song Contest (BBC3, from Tuesday), marked this year with Radio 2 Eurovision (DAB and online from Thursday) and the Week's slight return to Saturday. Two new daytime shows begin tomorrow: The Link arrives on BBC1 (1.25 Mo, then 2.15), and Channel 4 has Draw It! (4.30 weekdays). Britain's Got Talent has a one-hour edition at 7pm next Saturday, BBC1 has Pointless Eurovision (6.20) with Dana Domestic, 50% of One Of The Bucks Fizzes, and Jemini – who were, themselves, a pointless answer in the past.

Photo credits: ITV Studios, 12 Yard, Stage Entertainment UK and SyCo Entertainment. Know your limit, back Finland within it.

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