Weaver's Week 2014-06-22

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Ctrl Freaks

Ctrl Freaks

Nerd in association with Holler for London Live, from 4 June

London Live? That'll be the local television channel for London, which began broadcasting earlier this year to an audience measured in, literally, hundreds. Three other local channels have taken to the air, but we don't know that the stations in Grimsby, Nottingham, or Glasgow have yet shown any games.

Ctrl Freaks is voiced by Jacob Edwards, one of the three titular "control freaks". The others are Bec Hill and Dave Gibson. Apparently, all three are big rising stars on the comedy circuit. We've heard of Ms Hill only because she appeared on "The Dog Ate My Homework" at the start of the year. The others could be extras from the Twiglet movies for all we know.

Ctrl Freaks Dave, Jacob, and Bex.

The basic idea is that the contestants have given up all their social media passwords to the production team. The players will be set challenges, and the better performer wins a weekend away in Europe. The contenders will only learn about these tasks when they appear on their twit-stream or The Face Masonry.

Before the challenges begin, the terrible trio get to know their players. To properly embarrass their quarry, the comedians need to think like them, and work out the limits they can push. They have a snoop around the contestant's existing social network. We viewers are treated to a short montage, where the player describes their life. It'll include all the areas that will be challenged during the hour.

To learn more, Bec and Alistair and Charles meet "the insider", a friend who knows roughly what's going on, and who will spill the beans about their chum. What are they like, what do they dislike, where are their personal edges.

Ctrl Freaks An insider.

Already, we're beginning to see where this show might be going. The video clips have set the scene, they've exposed the bits of the contestant's character that the producers want us to see. A friend has confirmed these snap judgements to the controllers, but we've only seen a couple of minutes from a lengthy chat. Any chance of dramatic irony goes out the window, as Bec and Colin and Brady set out exactly what they're going to do.

Let's work through a couple of examples... Felix is "a mix of Kensington and Shoreditch.. Shortington." He has a Bentley, and his mate wears a crushed velvet suit. We know that he's going to be made into a "Rude Boy", and his first challenge is to be made more boulevard. More street, sorry, by having hair extensions woven into a cornrow. Some of the most embarrassing shots are posted to Instant Gran, and Felix's granny is lost for words.

Ctrl Freaks Pictures or it didn't happen.

The other player is Carly, whose motto is "Don't let anyone with bad eyebrows tell you anything about life". She's resolutely single, and she's going to be dating twins. Her opening challenge is to tell all her friends that she's in love with someone, and – as she takes a lot of mobile phone self portraits – she'll announce it by selfie. Then she'll meet a friend to tell him all about her new love. Loves. She doesn't have enough information to fully convince her chum Lewis, but it'll do.

Back to Felix, and he's going to "Just Debut", a dance music event, where there's some "bangin'" and "poppin'" going on. "No 'g' on either of these," he notes from Dictionary Corner. "He's the only person there in a duffel coat," notes Tyler (or was it Mike). Taking part in a dance challenge, Felix is soundly beaten (of course), but we don't agree with the panel's comment comparing him to Boris Johnson. Felix would be able to descend a zip wire properly: he's just a complete novice at this skill, and his effort is acknowledged by the other competitor. But not by the critical panel.

Ctrl Freaks Carly's having pictures taken.

Next challenge time for Carly, and she's going to have some photographs taken with her new boyfriends. This is hardly the most difficult of challenges: the contestant isn't particularly leaving her comfort zone so much as shuffling a few inches within it.

For his grand challenge, Felix is given one hour to write and remember a rap of his own. He makes some basic mistakes – taking his lyric sheet on stage, and performing in an unconvincing not-singing not-rapping hybrid. He makes an effort, he's watched with incredulity and bewilderment in the hall, and the only chortlesome laughter is dubbed on by the hecklers in the studio.

Carly's grand challenge is to introduce all of her friends to the twins. And that's for values of "all" that are basically "three", and that includes the insider who spoke to the tedious trio at the start of the show. The studio feeds lines to Carly in the restaurant, and she weaves them into her conversation. Following this script will, yes, lead into a proposal of marriage in the restaurant. Embarrassing, yes. Squirmsome, yes. Good television, probably. As demanding as a complete makeover and performance to a crowd that might think you're being racist at them? Hardly.

Ctrl Freaks Rory, Vick and Posy are agog..

The producers go to lengths to stop us from getting a sense of time, so that it's not clear when each episode was recorded. We note that the players on each episode don't meet. We have a suspicion that each person's challenges were filmed over separate weeks, and the producers edited them together in order to make a plausible contest. On the other hand, we have no hard evidence to confirm this suspicion. What we have done, in this review, is merge Felix from one show with Carly from another. Had we not confessed, no-one would have noticed.

To be fair, this isn't a poor show. There are hidden cameras where there need to be hidden cameras, but often it looks like the contestant has been followed by one person with a camera, and that adds a certain layer of authenticity. The show hasn't had a huge budget, that's not very surprising for a local telly programme, and it's only apparent when we make the effort to look for it.

Ctrl Freaks Carly's restaurant scene used hidden cameras.

Ctrl Freaks helps to reflect London back at itself. It shows a rich white boy going to black areas he wouldn't consider. It shows ceroc classes and tanning salons and glamorous nightclubs and seedy rehearsal spaces and the whole rich tapestry of life between. We see that just about anything on Earth can happen in London, and that's how it meets the challenge the London Live channel has set itself.

We do have a few problems. First, the show is stretched to be a full hour long. The first two episodes demonstrated that there isn't quite enough material to fill the 44-minute hour. The show would benefit from a little less filler and recap, and a little more action.

A minor irritant is the regular distraction of shots with bits blurred out. Not a migraine coming on, it's that the producers haven't been able to gain approval to use people's faces or names on the programme. This problem is kept to a minimum, and it's far better than the blurred footage that always gets played over news reports of schools: that really is completely unwatchable.

Ctrl Freaks Felix dancing in his own style.

Far more annoying than this is the commentary's tone. Jacob isn't a neutral speaker, describing facts in a factual manner, as Marcus Bentley does. His style is to laugh at the contestants, perhaps trying to be the new Dave Lamb off of Come Dine with Me. This isn't too far from what we might expect of the programme: the players are being given silly things to do, often they'll flail around and make chumps of themselves, and some of these silly things are best set to the music of laughter.

Laughter is good, especially in an entertainment-comedy programme. All too often, we're instructed to sneer at the contestants. "Here's a man learning how to strip. He's being taught by two drag queens. Look at the discomfort on his face. Look at how rubbish he's being." This feels very wrong. Our opinion isn't helped by the fact that Bonnie, Twill, and Lyme never interact with the players. The trio just sit at their desk, with a fixed camera watching their every move, and they point, and they laugh, as though they are some sort of superior being.

Ctrl Freaks Someone showed Octavia, Venia, and Flavius the ratings.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts, Ctrl Freaks is about challenging people to leave their comfort zone. The destination is not apparent, it's always a wild ride, and not everyone reaches the finish line before being thrown off. Other shows have explored this idea of personal reinvention. Before the strand was culled in a piece of viewer-cutting, BBC Switch made Scene Stealers, in which young people were challenged to pass themselves off as something entirely different after superficial training. There, the humour came from young person getting confused by the minutiae of the Young Theatricals scene, or thinking there's no way they'll make a decent LARPer only to find that it's actually good fun.

Where Scene Stealers was improving, Ctrl Freaks is demeaning. The BBC offered a chance for young people to escape the stereotypes of their box. London Live not only says that people should stick to what they know, but it'll laugh at them for daring to stick a hand over the edge. "Ha ha, look at this man getting his hair braided. What a fool. What a buffoon." This mean-minded social conservatism seems at odds with the Greatest City In The World vibe that the channel wants to present.

Certainly we found Ctrl Freaks to be an artificial experience, the winner (and, indeed, most of the plot) was obvious from the first challenge, and we think the main losers are the comedians. We won't be able to see Dave, Jacob, or Bec without thinking, "Oh, off of Ctrl Freaks. Where they were snide and judgemental."

This Week and Next

Phase D of Only Connect concluded with the Relatives going up against the Record Collectors. Both sides have won one, lost one, and have tales about things they've missed. We're going to grouse at the Rusty Old Radio Times, which has pretty much given away the result in its preview of the night's show.

Scent and sCent and Knight and reiGn get a hard-earned point for the Record Collectors: remove the capitalised letter for a homophone. Fictional characters with photographic memories is a bonus for the Relatives, and they get one on companies (like KFC and BP) that used to stand for something but now don't. Songs to do with cars falls to the Record Collectors, including "Doctoring the Tardis" which was performed by a car. No, seriously, it was. Misleading numbers allows the Relatives to restore their lead, 4-3.

Invocations of the Parliament Act to allow the Commons to force their opinion onto Lords' are rare, and neither side can remember the last occasion: hunting with hounds. Words ending %vowel%TTO give two points for the Relatives' grotto, and American municipal bankruptcies is the oh-so-gripping sequence that no-one can be bothered to get. Relatives do know what to do in the event of an extra-planetary collision: wear a really hard hat. The end of civilisation as we know it? Two points. Snooker championship frames also go to the Relatives for a bonus, for a 9-3 lead.

Wall 463 for the Relatives, with lots of places in Lancashire. Many of which are also the names of comedians. Curious how that happens. Things to do with "Stanley" is a genius fourth connection, but it bends to the will of the team. Ten points! Record Collectors have lots of tyres, they've some American provincial capitals (an awful lot of Yankee knowledge on the show these days). After these groups eventually come out, the team is in such bad time pressure that they may as well guess. Wrongly: they don't know Coronation Street actresses and cheeses when they come up on the wall. Four points!

The Relatives have won this, 19-7 ahead going into Missing Vowels. "What do you think of it so far?" is the final solution, the Relatives end up winning by 26-11.

File:Square rose dor logo.jpg

Eurovision season continues with the EBU's annual Rose d'Or festival. The awards, for excellence in broadcasting, include a special Game Show category, this year certain to go to a non-UK winner. Nominees are Die Deutschen Meister by Brainpool in Germany, The Common Denominator by Armoza in Israel, and Pointless by Endemol of the Netherlands. Yeah, British production, but Dutch format, we'll be here in the calm after the storm. Through the Keyhole is up in the Comedy section, and A League of Their Own goes for gold in the Entertainment category. As it's a Eurovision event, Graham Norton will be along, he's also up for Entertainment. Winners will be announced on 17 September in Berlin.

Over in Canada, Alex Trebek has been recognised by the Book of Records. According to Norris McWhirter's heirs and successors, Mr. Trebek now holds the Most Game Show Episodes Hosted By the Same Presenter. He's fronted 6829 editions of Jeopardy! since taking the job in 1984. The records compilers haven't said who previously held the record. By comparison, Richard Whiteley fronted just under 4000 editions of Countdown, and Little Noely will need to wear bad shirts for more than another decade to equal Mr. Trebek's feat.

Jack Dee might not break that record for I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, if press reports are to be believed. The show's scriptwriter was unhappy when listeners complained about "Samantha", the fictional character who has looked after the team's points since 1985, and threatened to leave. "If he goes, I go," responded the guest host. The BBC confirmed that it had had a handful of letters complaining about the double entendres in general, and "Samantha" in particular. It did not confirm that they were all from north Wales. A new series of ISIHAC begins on 30 June, and the jokes have been tested against old editions of 3-2-1 on the Challenge Channel.

BARB ratings highlights for the week to 8 June.

  1. Britain's Got Talent had its final, 9.65m saw it. That's still 400,000 down on the opening episode in April. 615,000 for More Talent on ITV2, and the ITV2 Sunday repeat had 435,000 tuning in.
  2. Pointless moved to BBC2 on Friday, and 2.3m followed it. Big Brother returned to Channel 5, and 2.25m gawped at this year's lab rats.
  3. Great British Menu had its final on Friday, seen by 1.6m. The Monday episode had been seen by 2.05m.
  4. 8/10/Cats/Countdown 1.95m, Fifteen to One 1.25m. Come Dine with Me reached a million for the first time in ages, and Four Rooms attracts 800,000 to Sunday evenings.
  5. Only Connect is level with Big Brother's Bit on the Side, 780,000 viewers each. One of them is a sequence of brief discussions about literature, psychology, small-group dynamics, and unscripted contributions. The other is hosted by Victoria Coren-Mitchell.

Countdown finals week (C4, 2.40 weekdays), Tim Vine and Mel Giedroyc on Catchphrase (ITV, 6.25 Sun). Next Saturday's subject to Schedule A / Schedule B / Unpublished Schedule C changes. A Question of Sport is down for 7.30, Break the Safe at 8.10, and The Cube celebrity special (Mollie King from The Saturdays) at 7.30. This may change.

Photo credits: Nerd TV.

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