Weaver's Week 2020-01-26

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"Neither the first nor the last shalt find victory, but it will be given to the mediocrely and median." Great news for Welsh rugby, there.


First & Last

First & Last

Zeppotron (part of EndemolShineGroup) for BBC1, from 4 January

Jason Manford is back on Saturday night telly, for the first time in ages. First & Last is better than A Question Of Sport Super Saturday, not that that will come as much of a surprise.

First & Last Delivery for Mister Manford

The show begins with Jason Manford on stage, with eleven large cardboard boxes. Deftly, he explains the premise of the show. You don't want to be first, you don't want to be last. This show is for the middling, the average, the sort-of OK. It's a pervasive attitude, a sense of "we don't want to try *too* hard".

Jason's script continues by explaining The Leaping Out of a Box Round. All eleven contestants are in these cardboard boxes. They're wearing headphones so they can't hear Jason talking, and there's a camera to prove they're not cheating.

First & Last Jack's out of a box

And then Jason's script ends, and he's got to fill time. Jason's very good at filling this little gap, witty and funny. That's the benefit of booking a funny comedian for your Saturday night show, someone who can make us chortle. It helps that the setup – wait for people to leap out of cardboard boxes – is intrinsically bizarre.

Soon enough, the first person will leap out of their cardboard box. They're met with a chorus of cheers from the audience, pleased that something is happening and Jason doesn't have to talk to eleven cardboard boxes any more. But those cheers quickly turn to "awwwws", because the first person out of their box is the first person out of the game.

Within moments, we see more people leap out of their cardboard box. The next person is safe, and the next. All are cheered as they enter the game. But the person who waits the longest, they're out of the game, with barely time to take their headphones off. Back in the box, it's been a bit of a wasted journey.

First & Last Box Not Very Clever, Emelyn.

The remaining players take part in The Supercomputer Round. The J-Mac is a supercomputer console with all the processing power any Saturday night show could require: the lights flash, there's a screen and an input-output slot. We reckon it's based on the early 1980s Chock-a-Block model, now with added brainpower inside.

First & Last Binky bonky binky.

Each player has a whiteboard, on which they're to write something in a category. A hashtag to do with food, or a famous person. The J-Mac supercomputer will search its memory banks and all of the internets to return a number of hits, and this will be the player's score.

It's our one chance to meet the contestants, find out who they are, what they do, what they're like as people. Put some emotion in the game, distinguish our players from Jacks in cardboard boxes. Jason will have a chat, wheel it round to the game in hand, and reveal the answer. It's a masterclass in how to handle people on a game show, friendly and engaging without taking all night.

After all nine contestants have been met, and their hashtags processed, the players are in order. The first and last are out of the game, the remaining players continue.

Before the next round, there's a need to establish the order of play. To do this, we have something hitherto unseen on network television: The Weighing A Vegetable You've Brought From Home Interlude. It's an interlude where they put a vegetable they've brought from home on some scales, and then read out the results. Whoever's weight is in the middle has the smallest wait; they play first, with the others in order of how close they were to the middle.

First & Last High tension for this important segment.

To our surprise, The Weighing A Vegetable You've Brought From Home Interlude is an inch-perfect pastiche of other "high tension" moments on Saturday night television. The dramatic music! The dropping lights! The spotlight on our contestants! The way the scales rise from within the podium! It's a pastiche of the elimination showdown from The X Factor, only treated with all the necessary frivolity.

But we digress. We're into The Picking An Answer Round, where seven options present themselves. Which of these television shows uses the chosen word most (or least)? Which of these fancy-dress runners completed a marathon fastest (or slowest)? Which of these costumes can sing best (or worst)?

First & Last Discard the extremes, take these five through.

Our players take their pick from the options, then after everyone's picked, Jason runs through their answers. There's plenty of room for silliness in this round – how *does* a pantomime horse complete the marathon inside 4 hours? The television shows was beautifully edited, stripping out every time they say "Plant!" on Gardener's World, or "Pointless" on Pointless, and still giving us a feel for the episode.

What's next? The Choose Someone From The Audience Round. This can be picking someone from the audience and avoiding the oldest and youngest. It could be pick some celebrities on cards from the audience and avoid the tallest and shortest. We weren't so impressed when extra people came down from the audience, it complicated the stage.

First & Last Yeah, I'll buy the box for £6500.

This alternates with The Round Where Your Friend's On The Phone. Our players call someone, and give them a studio number to ring back within five minutes. First person to call is out; last person to call is out. We're back to the first round, waiting for something to happen, but this time we can see the tension and worry on the players' faces. They're no longer anonymous cardboard boxes, they're people we've come to know.

All of this leads to The Round Where They Name Their Own Prize Finale. The show becomes serious, Jason stops larking about because this is proper money. Each player writes down their preferred prize, "up to £10,000". Whoever writes the largest prize wins nothing; whoever writes the smallest prize wins nothing. The player in the middle wins what they've written down. And that's the show: we had a lot of fun, and 9% of the players won something.

First & Last You've won a decent sum!

First and Last has been in Development Hell for over a decade. It's so old that they filmed a pilot episode with Justin Lee When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife Collins, back when he was an acceptable face for television. The show has picked its tone: self-deprecating, low tech, slightly daft with genuine tension building through the show. It's a big dumb show, guileless and aware of its weaknesses, and determined to have a good time.

Most of these games are ones we could do at home, from testing the search engine hits of famous people to naming a figure. If there were more different ideas, we'd expect a play-at-home book like they did for The Crystal Maze. In this series, First and Last is probably one idea short of greatness: it's got the boxes, it's got The Weighing A Vegetable You've Brought From Home Interlude, but the rest of the show pales into blandness.

First & Last The computer runs on C++: Connor Kent, a researcher on the show.

Could they have had more physical tasks, involving the contestants actually doing something? They tried physical tasks in development, but the producers reckon that "when people are deliberately trying not to win the results are, well, average". The rest of First and Last is just a little above average, so this would have brought the programme down.

That said, the final round could have been something more visual than writing numbers on a whiteboard – someone suggested "scoop up coins until you're happy with your prize", which would have been fun.

First & Last That's a lot of numbers.

First and Last deals with a lot of numbers, and at times it feels a bit like someone's going to march on set and declare "No, that's not Numberwang". To many people, numbers are frightening and not entertainment. Jason does his best to do the thinking for everyone, he concentrates on the extremes to fit between. We don't need on-screen graphics to order everyone, and Jason covers the minimum and maximum well.

In an ideal world, First and Last would be going out somewhere around 6pm, it's an early evening show for the whole family. But BBC1 is competing against ITV, and ITV has chosen to go big with The Masked Singer and The Voice of Holland, which means BBC1 has had to pull The Greatest Dancer in this 6pm spot. In turn, that's left First and Last going out at about 8.20, far later than it deserves. It would be a great shame if First and Last were to fall because BBC1 chose to compete with ITV's singing shows.

The Crystal Maze

Nickelodeon Productions / Fizz / Stephen David Entertainment / Bunim/Murray Productions for Nickelodeon, 25 January

Howdy. Nickelodeon in North America has commissioned a series of The Crystal Maze, and put the first episode online as a preview. Though it's blocked from this territory, we treat national borders with the unbridled contempt they deserve, and we've taken a look. Spoiler: it's the best Crystal Maze episode we've seen in years.

Your genial guide (and a candle).

Adam Conover is the maze master. For this episode, he's dressed in a bright green jacket, with a key attached to his lapel, and more keys as cuff-links. The standup comedian and titular star of Adam Ruins Everything is pretty much unknown in these parts, but a big enough name for his target market. Remember, we're a guest at this party.

Very quick start – about two minutes from the start of the titles to the first game. There's no riddle or task to get into the maze, we just see the family of five running onto set, followed by Adam.

Enter the contestants.

After that quick start, the show settles into a fair rhythm. The pace is actually a little more relaxed than Channel 4's version, only 8 games in a 40-minute show. The chatter that we suffer through at the beginning is slotted between the games. While the pace is a beat slower, there's vastly more energy: this version fizzes and crackles from start to finish. Adam Conyer drives much of that, every sentence is an exclamation.

About the only time the pace drops to "reflective" is just before the Dome, when there's a lengthy discussion about the family and its dynamic. This works far far better than the introductory chat with Ayoade – we've got to know the players as individuals, we've seen them in action, we have a point of reference. And it's a discussion about the family, what unites them, what they have in common. Ayoade talks about the people as individuals, without really referencing their shared interest.

An understated celebration.

The Mega Crystal gimmick is present, but it's introduced after the first game. No need to suffer through a Pre-Recorded Adam spiel before the first game, we get on with *something* really quickly. Adam Conover has riffed on one of Ayoade's catchphrases, "on the other side of the door! you'll be wearing a helmet!"

The graphics package has been updated, though only to "late 2010s contemporary". Players get little floaty name tags when they're about to play, the name on the jumpsuit is "Nickelodeon". Score also appears as a floaty graphic. Shiny new zone graphics, the title card is what we'd expect given the 1990s original. Game clock is top-right, allowing for the station DOG bottom right, and they will trim games a little.

The graphics are easy to follow.

Nickelodeon puts advert breaks in the middle of the games – slightly annoying in this promo version, somewhat worse if we had adverts. The format – tee up a game, get to a crucial point, break, then recap – is no better or worse than when we saw it on Jungle Run. It encourages people to stick around because the game will resume straight after these words from our sponsors.

Feels like they don't *want* to lock people in, which fits the family vibe and more easygoing ethos. Players are granted extra lives before an ALIS, and some games get extra time. The latter point helps extend the show – there might only be eight games, but many are a bit longer than we'd see here.

Of course they've used the VR landscape.

Conover is enthusiastic, and this shows on screen. He's got to do a chunk of rules exposition through heavily scripted lines, but has the spontaneity to react to the family. There's an entertaining aside with an exercise bike during a dull game. Hope he warms to the role; we already get vibes of Ed Tudor-Pole's manic energy.

The games are the pick of C4's revival series, each in its original room. Some are a bit easier – the letter search needed just six letters, not eight – and our family were still unable to unscramble UAIRGT into a common word.

You know this bit.

Eventually, we reach the Dome: $100 for each gold on the final total, a score of +100 gets bumped up to the $25,000 jackpot. Everyone gets a commemorative crystal, and they've had a trip across the Atlantic to Bristol.

Conover joins in with the celebratory hugs / commiserations before the credits. That sums up the difference between him and Ayoade, between Channel 4's stand-offish show and Nickelodeon's warm and inclusive programme.

Yeah, well done everyone!

In other news...

Voting season reached its climax with the UKGameshows / Bother's Bar Poll of the Year 2019. No tremendous surprises: The Wall is most popular new show, and well deserved. Small Fortune is least popular new show, and we get why. Only Connect remains the most popular game in town, because it's consistently the best game in town.

Tenable We beg to differ.

Tenable asked after the ten most-viewed quizzes of 2018. An interesting list; we can see merit in classing 5 Gold Rings as a shiny-floor game show, and A Question of Sport as a panel show. But to miss Richard Osman's Celebrity Re-Play 2018 from the list was an error, the show was a quiz – albeit one played by celebrities. They also omitted The Big Quiz (2), which calls itself a quiz so must be a quiz. This did not alter the result of the show.

For the 2019 list? We reckon Millionaire, Pointless, The Wall (a quiz, with unusual scores), The Chase, The Hit List (a themed quiz), Cash Trapped, The Big Fat Quiz of the Year, Brightest Family, Who Dares Wins, and Tipping Point. Bad luck to Catchpoint, just 0.021m off the top ten; Quizmaster, University Challenge, Only Connect, and The Big Quiz (2) are all close behind. Full details in the Week of 2019.

Channel 5 is screening Celebrity Murder Mystery next month, a three-part reality entertainment show from Spun Gold. A group of celebs will play a classic 'whodunnit' game in a creepy country mansion setting as they try to determine who among them is guilty. Players named in the press release include Richard Coles, Angela Rippon, John Sergeant, Sheila Ferguson, Keith Duffy, and Su Pollard.

Fancy moving to Alaska? Six couples do, and on Win the Wilderness (BBC2, Sun) they can win a house there. We have new series of Dress to Impress (ITV2, weekdays) and Celebrity Come Dine with Me (E4, weeknights). Next Saturday has the first live show of The Greatest Dancer and that episode of The Hit List they dropped in December because the football went to extra time.

Crackerjack The stars of Crackerjack with Sam and Mark.

We're taking a week off next week (as we'll be doing from time to time this year), mostly so we can research the history of Crackerjack. Cabbages, we say! Cabbages!

Photo credits: Zeppotron (part of EndemolShineGroup), Nickelodeon Productions / Fizz / Stephen David Entertainment / Bunim/Murray Productions, Initial (part of EndemolShineGroup), BBC Children's Productions.

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