Weaver's Week 2020-04-05

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Only Connect (2) Literally no expense spared on the Only Connect opening ceremony. More later.

From the days before physical distancing was a thing, this week's lead review shares space with six people.

Five Guys a Week

Five Guys a Week

Label 1 for Channel 4, from 10 March

Yep, it's another dating show. Except it's got a twist, just like all the others. One woman will be wooed by five suitors over the course of a long weekend. She'll decide who she's least likely to get on with, and they'll leave. Eventually, just one suitor remains. The bulk of the show takes place in her house.

Five Guys a Week A single lady prepares her make up.

And that is the key twist. This isn't a neutral fixture, there is a home player (the woman doing the picking), and some visiting teams (the men who are candidates). The woman is on her own turf, the candidates are all guests on her pitch. At the end of the weekend, she's going to live there still; the men are not.

Five Guys a Week There's somebody at the door!

Five Guys a Week has some interesting framing, too. The first person we meet is the woman who will choose. We know more about her than we know about the candidates; we hear her story first, of how she's single, what she's looking for in a man. The whole programme is framed from her perspective, and it feels more organic and natural than many other dating shows.

Five Guys a Week You never know who will walk in next...

During the Friday afternoon, our lady of the house is joined by her five guys. Each has bought a weekend case of clothes, perhaps containing something appropriate for the planned activity; the more thoughtful will have bought a gift. Each will introduce himself to our lady, and will have a brisk voiceover from the actor Frances Barber. (She narrates a few things though the show, but most of the story is told in footage filmed at the time.)

And, of course, each introduces himself to the other contestants. Are we going to get a bunch of rampaging male egos preening and strutting for attention? If that's what happens in filming, we don't see it on screen. Everyone is on his best behaviour, eager to make an early impression and spend more time with the hostess. Five Guys a Week is not the testosterone-fuelled binge it could have been: the woman is in control, and the guests are never allowed to forget it.

Five Guys a Week The titular five guys.

The producers have set up a fixed-rig assembly in the house, so they've often got no cameraman, just lots of little cameras dotted around the place. It's the same style they use on I'll Get This and The Button and The Question Jury and almost every observational documentary on Channel 4. Yes, occasionally someone's standing in exactly the wrong place and spoils the shot; it's a risk worth taking. Footage from the house is augmented by pieces to camera, which always seem to be delivered in the garage or garden shed, somewhere a little way away from the house.

While each show is different – a different house, a different host and candidates – the arrangements follow a fixed pattern. After conversation and introductions, Friday night is filled by a dinner party for the six of them, with discussion topics to go with the food. Were these suggested by the producers? It wouldn't surprise us, but equally the conversation is mostly everyone getting to know each other. Our gaze is drawn to those moments when the woman is talking to just one of the men: is this going to be a significant conversation in the grand scheme of things?

Five Guys a Week Glasses up for a successful time.

The sleeping arrangements tend to the casual: sleeping bags on the floor, mostly. Saturday comes, and the men will tend to hustle and fluster around, making a cooked breakfast in an effort to impress their hostess. And they'll need to: once breakfast is finished and cleaned up, once any last conversations have been had, the hostess chooses someone to send home. They'll have had a fun time, all 18 hours of it, but that is that.

The rest of Saturday tends to be spent in the house, a little more time for the woman to get to know her potential dates. Some of her friends might drop by, to contribute to the discussion and perhaps give their frank opinions.

Five Guys a Week Put some clothes on, love, you'll catch your death.

By the evening, cabin fever is setting in, and the household goes out to a party at a nightclub or bar in town. It's a chance to see the men in a different setting, get some fresh perspectives on the choice – and to see what they're all like when drunk. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, and strips away pretences. You might consider him when he's sober and trying hard, but would you want to date this particular drunken man?

Another suitor leaves after breakfast on Sunday. The three remaining suitors go out on another trip with the woman of the house, often to meet her mother. Sunday lunch with the potential in-laws can be a daunting experience, especially with a camera crew poking their lens into your business. For the woman, it's another viewpoint, another chance to see whether the potential men are right or wrong.

Five Guys a Week Oh, how we fit in, when we're dancing in the kitchen.

There's another departure, before the Sunday night dinner party. Yes, there's a lot of food in this show: no-one should ever pick a potential life partner on an empty stomach. In a very neat reversal from Friday, tonight's dinner party is cooked by the two remaining gents. It's a test: are they domesticated? Do they know how to operate an oven, cook a meal, make up gravy – from a packet, or from scratch. Will they be able to cope for themselves, or will all the housework fall to the woman?

After the meal, a final decision is made. The last rejected suitor goes to pack and slips out of the house, while the other two cuddle on the couch. There have been no thruples, at least not yet.

Five Guys a Week Candlelight for this week's final choice.

The thing we really, really like about Five Guys a Week is that it's low-key throughout. Other dating shows (The Bachelor, Dinner Date, even Blind Date) turn their ejections into a ritual ceremony, complete with roses and microwave meals and screens and whatnot. On Five Guys a Week, it's just done. "I don't want to see any more of you," and whoosh – he's gone.

There's a very subtle feminist message in this show, too. The show is set up to exclude the loudest and lairiest specimens of manhood, drunks and braggarts will be found out quickly. The successful candidate will need to be domesticated, or at least domesticable, he must be able to take his part in a joint relationship.

Five Guys a Week The last rejected guy slips out into the night.

And there's a message for the thoughtful viewer, too. Five Guys a Week attracts viewers as an entertainment, and quietly asks bigger questions. Search elsewhere online, and the tenor of conversation is "One's singing, one's snogging and the other has just gone to bed on the floor. So weird." We've managed to get something interesting out of what appears to be a superficial show. Label 1 are using very light entertainment to probe modern living, and we do appreciate folk who make shows with depth.

We have just one problem: each episode of the show just ends with the woman and her new date on the couch. What happened next? We may never know.

In other news...

Only Connect (2) The 2020 champions.

Congratulations to 007s, the series winners of Only Connect. It's been an enjoyable series, not least because the competition format has remained the same. Twenty weeks to reduce the teams by half, then straightforward knockouts.

Only Connect works because the questions are interesting, and – for much of the series – pitched at a tantalising level. We can feel smug about knowing an answer, we can understand what the answer is even when we have to be told it. Even in the final, we might not remember that Mary Poppins features a sequence where animations come to life, but when we're told that's the answer, it's entirely supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Crackerjack Not his finest hour

The death of Eddie Large, comedian and one half of Little and Large. Best known for their primetime BBC1 show, and many panel show appearances, the duo got their first regular television role on Crackerjack.

Best of the Web: if you're after some gentle brain massages, Eric Berlin has written a guide to online puzzles. Discussion site Metafilter has a bunch of board game remixes, but can they make Monopoly interesting again?

All sorts of entertainments in these times: a new series of BBC Brain (R4, Mon), and new Celebrity Juice (ITV2, Thu). Anneka Rice will spend three hours of Good Friday reminiscing about the 1980s (R2, Fri). Next Saturday sees the first in a new series of Got Talent (ITV).

Celebrities are out of their depth on Fferm Ffactor Selebs (S4C, Sat). And that also means Fferm Ffactor has run for ten years, and enters our Long-Running category. Congratulations to the little farming show that could, did, and still does.

Photo credits: Parasol / RDF, Label 1, BBC.

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