Weaver's Week 2012-06-17

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Two weeks until the Countdown finals, and we've been building up a little stack of programmes that deserve some sort of review, but don't stand the sort of detailed treatment we usually hand out. So let's clear some of the backlog.

Love Shaft


Love Shaft

Lucky Day for E4, Monday evenings

Corks! Remember Fiver? You know, that additional channel from The Channel 5 Company? The one that launched in 2008? Replacement for Five Life? The continuity announcements were better than the programmes? Replaced by a channel named after Eliot Fletcher's favourite band? You don't? Win!

Anyway, Fiver did actually do something else for the world of game. In late 2010, it brought us The Love Bus, a show that gave Zoe Salmon an excuse to dress up as a bus conductor. The basic conceit of Love Bus was that there was a bus, it would pass by various people, some of them would be invited in, with the prospect of a moderately expensive meal for some of the participants. Our basic thought was that it was a mildly-diverting programme, but the execution wasn't as good as it might have been.

Love Shaft Will Best rides the lift all the way up.

And so we move on to the current schedule, where a broadly similar programme is being aired. Broadly similar, but sufficiently different to deserve its own review. For starters, Love Shaft has two distinct presenters, with clear roles. Will Best is the nominal host, he gets to introduce the programme and close it out. Between, he'll spend most of the programme in the bar. That's in the penthouse bar, the destination of the titular lift. The part of the lift is played by Maria McErlane; she will interact with the contestant, and Will will not.

The basic mechanism is similar. We meet one contestant at the start of the show, and will ride with her (or him, but we've only seen hers) all the way to the top. Along the way, she will meet six potential suitors, one at a time. Apparently, the lift has a strict weight limit, and our contender can only ride with one companion at any time. So, every few minutes, there's the choice of whether to keep Simon or ditch him for Bruno. Then there will be the choice of Mark, and later Wes.

Love Shaft Who leaves? She decides.

But it's the bits between these decisions that make Love Shaft. The lift describes these little games as ice-breakers. They're nothing tremendously special: a blindfold kissing session, a singing lesson, pretending to be parents to a couple of tweenagers. But what they lack in originality, they more than make up for in wit and verve. Everyone has been cast carefully, they're the sort of people who will make a roller disco in a very confined space into engaging television. Sadly, they're also the sort of person who would do a show like this, we recognise at least one contender from World Series of Dating.

If the pace drops below scintillating, the producers have some tricks up their sleeve. Will Best isn't alone in the penthouse bar, he's joined by the friends and family of the original contestant, and can canvass their opinion. Does father approve of this person? Would best friend Holly suggest the player chuck out both of them and hope there's someone better on the next floor? Because the contender can do that, if she chooses. She's also got the option to stop the lift and have some alone time with her current companion. And, if she's completely stumped when choosing a chap, she can phone the friends and family on the top floor, to seek their opinion.

Love Shaft Unsubtle caption to unsubtle caption.

The presentation of these little challenges is light and fluffy, with captions splashed all over the screen. Are they telling us what to think? Not really: this is a very minor programme, it's for entertainment, and it's not worth losing any energy over.

It's not to say that the decision at the end is the final one. Once the contender has brought someone to the top – always assuming they have brought someone to the top – then that companion will have a decision of his own. Reg (or whoever) will be offered the choice of a date with the girl, or to gamble for the night's top prize of £500. The gamble is an even-money shot: £500 or nothing. We've never actually seen it taken, but we think this is a nifty little twist. It's a decent reversal of the show so far, it allows the chosen one to have a hand in his fate, and it's a whole lot better than Yet Another Prisoner's Dilemma.

Love Shaft And they'll be dancing on the lift floor tonight, Jeffy.

When we first heard of Love Shaft, we conceptualised it as The Love Bus turned through 90 degrees. It's not quite that: indeed, we strongly suspect that the lift in Love Shaft doesn't actually move at all. We also find that Love Shaft is interesting and entertaining in its own right, and doesn't leave us pondering the mathematics involved. By including an actual opinion in this review, we're bringing more than The Rusty Old Radio Times' essay.

Scream! If You Know the Answer

Scream Extreme

Lion TV for Watch, 13 May – 10 June

Another show from 2010 was Scream! If You Know the Answer. Remember that? We summarised it as "We join Duncan James from Blue at a theme park near London, where he gives some celebrities and members of the public silly things to do on rollercoasters." You don't remember that? Win!

Flushed with this very moderate programme, Duncan rejoined Blue, they were sent to the Eurovision Song Contest last year, and such was the measure of their success that they weren't allowed back afterwards. So we can amend the summary very slightly. We join Duncan James from Blue at a theme park near California, where he gives some celebrities and members of the public silly things to do on rollercoasters.

The earlier version was low-budget, attracting such high-calibre stars as Anthea Turner. Now, they've got some people we might actually have wanted to hear of, like film star Sheridan Smith and film star Corey Feldman. You know, from that publicity film for the suspend feature in Microsoft's turn-of-the-century operating system: "Stand by, ME".

Scream! If You Know the Answer Aw, c'mon, the joke wasn't that bad.

Challenges? Oh, they've still got challenges. There's a challenge to remember as many things as possible, while travelling on a wild ride. There's a challenge to identify animals from the noise they make: the duck, the cow, the lesser-spotted Greenwich Time Signal (or was that Sheridan Smith's potty mouth?) There's even a round of Who's In the Bag, with the contestants given an electric shock for a wrong answer. The noise you hear is 5% of the potential viewers turning off.

The concept of celebrities riding a rollercoaster is getting passé by half-an-hour in, so they bring in "Seth", an actor (Seth Margolin) who is playing the part of an actor playing the parts of Romeo and Juliet in their famed balcony scene. We don't recall Claire and Leonardo having to ride a rollercoaster while acting. Or making noises like the Frozen Embryos singer. Guess how many words of the scene Seth will say. Ah, who cares?

Scream! If You Know the Answer We think this is Corey Feldman on a rollercoaster.

Duncan James is the nominal host, and he closes the main competition with his quiz-master impression, asking little queries of the celebrities. With one point for the winner of the first round, and one point per question in this final round, it's the quiz to determine who wins. Colin Murray is left in the studio to provide the commentary, which he does by shouting down the microphone most of the time, and talking more sensibly when the footage demands it. Again, he's blessed with a decent script, and the natural ability to make anything sound interesting.

The final round remains as it was in the last series. Copy and paste description. The team with the more points goes on to take the final, in which player and celeb separately ride the same rollercoaster. They have the duration of the ride to name items in a particular category. The items common to both lists are rewarded at £500 each.

We still find the show mildly difficult viewing, we don't want to be travel sick from the discomfort of our own sofa. It's still light and undemanding fare. The show seems to have gained something in its travel across the pond, it's ever so slightly more entertaining than we remember from last time. Not enough to have us watch every week, mind.

Britain Unzipped

Britain Unzipped

BBC3, 24 April – 5 June (but not 22 May)

It's been a good year for Greg James. Promoted to the drivetime show on Radio 1, and now with a television programme all of his own. Except it's not all of his own, he's got to share it with Russell Kane, and it's going to be elbowed out of one of its slots by the Eurovision Song Contest with Scott Mills. Turnabout is fair play, there.

The basic idea of Britain Unzipped is to get the nation to look at itself. The Beeb has contracted a market research company to ask a representative sample of people in the UK some slightly nosey questions. Then they built a programme around this survey.

Britain Unzipped Much of the show comes from the sofas.

There were quite a few regular features in the programmes. Each was themed around one aspect of the survey – in the show we looked at, they were discussing sex. The episodes featured one or two celebrity guests (in the show we saw, it was Tinchy Stryder and someone we cannot name for legal reasons, but sounds a bit like Braley Chucks.) The celebs were asked a few questions, to work out how weird they were, and to give Greg and Russell something to talk about. The net result of this exercise was that there's nowt so queer as folk, and Holly Willoughby is the folkiest of them all. At least, we think that's what they said.

There's a live link-up with some Britain Unzipped viewers, with a challenge for them to complete before the recording session finishes. There are filmed inserts, and interaction with the studio audience. There are running gags, and recurring cast members – we saw an audience member pop up from a previous episode, and Greg make a short film with one of the previous week's players.

Two recurring features ensure that Britain Unzipped is properly on-topic for this column. "Man Versus Woman" is a battle between a man (playing for stereotypical male prizes, like a screwdriver set) and a woman (playing for stereotypical female prizes, like a hairdryer). Each is challenged to deduce the percentage of people who agreed with a certain statement. "How many people said, yes, they'd rather have a perfect body than bring about world peace?" The contenders write down their answers on wipe-clean boards, while a piece of music almost like The Weakest Link theme plays. How many viewers spotted that this sort of question was a feature on Play Your Cards Right? One.

Britain Unzipped Russell Kane dives into the audience to ask the strangest questions.

There's also Celebs Unzipped, in which the week's guest celebrities try to predict the responses of their peers. Get three out of eight right (not difficult, that) and they win a cocktail for everyone in the audience. The round we saw also allowed Russell to tell us about the time he got caught, by his gran, amusing himself.

These entertainments are excuses to get people to watch, and to keep people watching. Britain Unzipped very quietly and very softly holds up a mirror, so the Great British Public can catch sight of themselves. Yes, 48% of women would prefer a perfect body to a complete end to war and suffering. It's less unusual than we thought.

Britain Unzipped Greg James is the innocent in a land of bizarre.

Greg and Russell bring out the best in each other: one is an accomplished broadcaster able to get to the point no matter what life throws out, the other is an accomplished comic and talkative person. Some commentators found the show distasteful: "vomit, wank-gags and related nonsense" said TV Jam. Beneath the surface smut was a show with a bit of a public service heart, holding up a mirror so the youth of Britain could see themselves as they really are. Lewd talk and all.

Britain Unzipped isn't as didactic as Test The Nation The National Patience Test, and it's more entertaining. If we look hard enough, there's a proper public service here. And not just continuing Greg James's employment.

This Week And Next

Time to do our JK and/or Joel impression, and look at the pop music charts. Prince Harry is number one this week, he's the guest tambourine player on "Sing", and matches the feat achieved by the souvenir album of his parent's wedding. Further down the chart, we have Loreen's Euro-champ song at number 13, and the song Ed Sheeran sung on The Voice UK final at number 25.

This week's highest new entry from a talent show is at number 35, and that's got to disappoint The Voice's producers. Even more disappointment follows as they realise it's a song by Aiden Grimshaw, who finished ninth (9th) on the last-but-one series of The X Factor. You remember, Cher Lloyd and One Direction and Wagbo. You don't remember? Win!

Not until number 45 do we reach The Voice's winner, now officially less popular than two Justin Bieber songs, and two Jessie J tracks. Still, at least she beat the recent release from Tom Jones. "Hit or miss" made number 148. We think, "miss".

OFCOM's latest complaints bulletin is out. It criticises E4's Playing it Straight for daring to use the f-word immediately after the watershed. We still think that OFCOM has introduced a new interpretation of an existing rule, and we're actually offended by the regulator's smug and self-satisfied tone in its judgement. The broadcast regulator has also launched an investigation into the first Britain's Got Talent semi-final, on 6 May. The one with a performing dog, a boy band, a choir, and a violinist. We don't remember, because we were watching far cooler performers.

Ratings in the week to 3 June, when 10.45m people saw the Diamond Jubilee Pageant. If that's a failure, we'd hate to see a success. The final of The Voice was seen by 7.8m, and of The Apprentice by 7m; the latter was beaten by its own semi-final, seen by 7.25m. HIGNFY pulled in 4.8m. No game shows made ITV's top 30, best performance on +1 was by The Chase. The Apprentice You're Fired took 2.75m to head BBC2's listings, with Great British Menu also topping 2m. Come Dine with Me was Channel 4's biggest game show, a mere 1.35m. A League of Their Own Sky1 remains top of the non-traditional channels with 915,000 viewers. Britain's Got Talent Us (ITV2, 570,000) and Come Dine with Me (More4, 505,000) complete the top three.

With the European Nations' Cup continuing all week, there's a shortage of new programmes. Four in a Bed and Come Dine with Me (C4, 5pm and 5.30 weekdays) have new episodes, and a new series of Celebrity Mastermind begins in Ireland (TV3, 8.30 Sunday). Highlight for next Saturday is, er, erm, a repeat of the best of Tonight's the Night (BBC1, 6.35). But that's on Schedule A; the nation is hoping and praying for Schedule B, and England to qualify second in their group.

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