Weaver's Week 2022-03-13

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Six years ago, we lamented an ill-considered decision by the BBC Guvnors to close down BBC3, slash the money they spent on youth programmes, and repurpose the space for something else instead. What good did all that do? None whatsoever, unless you enjoyed an overnight loop of birds singing and the occasional dog barking.

On 1 February, they threw the antique Bakelite-and-copper switch, and BBC3 came back on the air. The launch night game show was RuPaul's Drag Race. We're not going to review it: it's a bunch of drag queens larking about, the competition is a panel's opinion, and we'll be snarking at that sort of show next week.

Two of the other game shows have a distinct whiff of petrol.

The Fast and the Farmer-ish


The Fast and the Farmer-ish

Alleycats Television for BBC3, 9 February – 16 March

Why that name? Sounds a bit like The Fast and the Furious, apparently.

Young farmers and tractor drivers have gathered in Ballymoney to test their skill and ability. It's a knockout tournament, shown in seven slickly-edited editions.

The Fast and the Farmer-ish Young people and their tractors.

The basic grammar of television competitions is honoured. We meet the teams, in a section prosaically called "Meet the teams". See them driving their tractors around their home farm, hear from each member. There's a bit of bragging, a little trash talking of the other side – and a few words about the dynamics in each team.

Tom Pemberton hosts, he's a little bit older than the competitors, being in his late 20s. The contenders are early twenties or late teens, the exact audience BBC3 wants to target. This show hits two more of BBC3's core values, reflecting the lives of people who get their hands dirty for a living, and the entirety of the broadcaster's territory. BBC3 is not just a channel for office workers in suburban England.

The Fast and the Farmer-ish Tom Pemberton: young and farmer-ish.

Each show has three challenges. The first is a head-to-head competition, giving each of the team members an excuse to show off their skills. Could be a tug o'war, more usually a straightforward drag race around the edges of a muddy field. It's fast, it's easy to follow, it's clear who wins and who loses. Tom's race commentary is excited, pounding music plays, and we often cut back to see the team-mates cheering on their tractor.

As it's the first event in the show, we need help to remember which team is which. Tom's commentary – though excited and exciting – doesn't always help. He could say, "Oh! The Bogmen there!", refer to the team. Or he could shout, "Watch Rhys go!", refer to the driver. But sometimes he calls, "There's the Ford", which refers to the make of tractor. And, for the casual viewer, that's almost totally meaningless – after seeing them for five seconds, we couldn't tell a Ford apart from a Massey unless we saw it written out on their bumper.

The Fast and the Farmer-ish Tractor racing is simple to follow. Even we can manage it.

Challenge two follows quickly. It's a skills test. Pile hay bales to make a tall sculpture, or use the ploughing attachment to draw a picture in the turf. The basic skills are important on a farm, and they're tested in an unusual way that makes interesting television. And, because nobody can quite see the whole picture, communication skills are also being tested. Points are awarded for completing the task, and for communication skills, and often for artistic impression.

The Fast and the Farmer-ish Aliens spotted in Ballymoney field!

The net result is to ensure that the contest is going to be decided on the final challenge. Reversing a trailer round a very tight set of corners, or a memory test to hit certain points in a certain order. Fastest time will win the contest, though deductions for errors can help to break ties. (And a brief content warning: some episodes give their competitors small electric shocks.)

The Fast and the Farmer-ish is a confident programme, it knows what it wants to do and makes entertaining television while it's doing it. Because all the contestants are regulars behind a tractor's wheel, they know what they're doing – we don't get the high comedy from celebrities being out of their depth like on S4C's Fferm Ffactor. Because all the contestants are young, we don't often get the breathtaking brilliance from One Man and His Dog, our contenders don't yet have that experience.

Watch more

Full series (.uk only, free registration required)

Extreme bowling with tractors

Tom Pemberton promotes the series

The Fast and the Farmer-ish Vroom!

What they do have is youthful fun, showing off their skills on television. There aren't many shows celebrating farmwork and the hard realities of rural life, and we'll praise The Fast and the Farmer-ish for expanding our horizons. Truth to tell, we wouldn't necessarily choose to watch this show if it wasn't a game, but we don't regret watching it at all.

Gassed Up

Gassed Up

BBC Studios Digital Originals for BBC3

Content warning: this review includes scenes emulating the military in a war zone.

Gassed Up Ryan, Mist, and Becky, at their country pad.

Another fast-moving programme, Gassed Up features rapper Mist and his crew of two – Becky Evans (speed demon) and Ryan Taylor (BMX racer). They ask famous celebrities to take on challenges, all of them involve speed. Motorbikes, four-by-fours, drone racing, all appear on the series.

To tell the story of the show, we're going to follow the tale of a particular episode. Unfortunately for us, "Drones" has been quietly withdrawn from the broadcast channel, for reasons that will become apparent.

Gassed Up Enter, pursued by Ratings Drone (beep!).

There's a long introduction setting – meet the regulars, meet the guest, introduce the challenge, meet the first expert. How do these drones work? What is an FPV? First person view, the drone operators wear a headset and see what the drone itself sees, in real time. It's decided that guest Nicola Adams and Becky will control the drones; they'll hunt Mist and Ryan.

The lads go off to a paintball training centre in Hertfordshire, with an ex-army man who takes no prisoners and shouts a lot. Then they get some more useful hands-on training. How to use a compass. How to crawl on the elbows.

Gassed Up How to crawl. So easy, a baby could do it.

They learn how to cross a path without being seen. Later on, they go for a mock combat situation, trying to fight their way out of an ambush by guys with paintballs. And that'll be why the edition has been withdrawn from linear telly: it's all a bit too close to what they're showing on News 24.

Gassed Up Euphoria as Nicola's drone is going up, up, up, up, up.

On the other team, Nicola and Becky learn how to control the drone through its remote control. At their disposal, they've got an absolute behemoth of a flying contraption. It's enormous and intimidating – a wingspan of 1.8 richardosmans, flight time of 30 minutes, and with enough paintball thingies to really hurt.

Gassed Up Even more beastly than Mark Labbett.

Halfway through the show, we reach challenge day. The teams have made it to Greenham Common in Berkshire. Back in the 1980s, they'd have been jeered at by a longstanding peace protest, annoyed at nuclear weapons being kept there. The weapons are gone, so is the peace camp. All that's left is some large concrete caverns, and an area suitable for challenges like this.

The challenge is for the lads to visit various checkpoints, and retrieve various items before reaching a safe zone. We get footage from all angles: the drones flown by the trackers, a cameraman embedded with the runners, cameras fixed en route and worn by the players.

Gassed Up A walking bush. Don't get many of those to the pound!

At one point, we had two grown men disguised as walking talking bushes, legging it down a grass track. Quite surreal.

Everyone uses their training – the lads hide behind the treeline, and take it sufficiently slowly that the drones' batteries run down and they have to come back to base for a power swap. The women remain calm and collected, working out what their opponents are doing and their next steps.

Gassed Up Zooming in on a speeding motorbike.

Inevitably, the show comes down to a final shoot-out: the lads in an electric Mini, the women firing paintballs from their massive drone. All it'll take is one hit to win, and one hit is all it takes to win.

Gassed Up Oh, bumbles!

Gassed Up is shot in a raw style, we get close to the action, it's all in-your-face, and the actual challenge is gripping to watch. Everything's cut in a fast and exciting style, with pacy music to pump up the volume. It's a high-adrenaline show, carefully plotted to build to a great crescendo.

And – along the way – we're introduced to some pieces of technology. This episode showcased drones, and the electric Mini, and electric scooters, and electric motorbikes. All of them are available for purchase, and might become much more affordable in the next few years.

Gassed Up Once again, Nicola Adams is the winner.

Watch more

Full series (.uk only, free registration required)

Extreme buggy race

Slot car racing

Gassed Up isn't a show we'd choose to watch; having seen a few episodes, we still wouldn't choose to watch it. If you're not a petrolhead, if you don't feel the need for speed, then Gassed Up isn't for you. Perhaps their acquired Masterchef Down Under or Glow Up Ireland will be more to taste. Or BBC3's comedies, Starstruck and Lazy Susan have had good reviews. While it's unfortunate that BBC3 should have so much driving in its first weeks on air, we're sure this is a blip caused by the channel stumbling back on air.

At heart, BBC3 is still an online channel, it commissions shows that last as long as they need to last. The linear schedule's demands are secondary, telling the right story is the important thing. And we know that BBC3 tells the right story in the right way for its audience – when we're not in that audience, it's our loss.

In other news

We're sorry to report the death of Lynda Baron, the acclaimed character actor. She'll be best remembered as Nurse Gladys in Open All Hours, and for many turns on panel shows. From Punchlines to Countdown, from Telly Addicts to Blankety Blank, Lynda was always a welcome guest, with a pleasingly wry sense of humour. Lynda Baron lived 82 years.

Quizzy Mondays – and a quick note to the BBC continuity announcers, it's not "Quizzy Night", we include Counterpoint and the new guests on House of Games (3). Counterpoint conspired to have three women contestants, and almost all of its questions about female composers and musicians: all to mark International Women's Day last Tuesday.

Mastermind ended in a score draw, Patrick Wilson (drum and bass music in the 1990s) and Alice Walker (Julia Margaret Cameron) tied at 24 points and no passes. Alice Walker won the tie-break playoff, Patrick claims the second dividend of another application form.

University Challenge almost ended in a low-score draw, Emmanuel Cambridge beat Kings' College London by 85-80. In another universe, this would have been Emmanuel against Birmingham, which would have sparked fireworks. But the Brummies fell to cagy play from KCL last time out, and we end up with one of the most painful displays of tedium we've had to sit through. We enjoy watching people get questions right, nobody enjoys watching people have no clue about question after question.

We'd like to celebrate a great question. Sadly, we're going to have to critique a great question on the wrong show. It's the University Challenge question on flags.

University Challenge Take these colours to make another flag.

We see outline maps of three countries. Each has a tricolour flag. Take the indicated colour from the flag, feed it into a new flag, and you'll get the flag of which country?

Teams had to juggle about eight different pieces of information at once. What is this country? What is its flag? What colour is being indicated? Do all that in triplicate to compute how it all adds up? And then what does the resulting flag mean? It's not a question anyone can answer at speed.

While it's undoubtedly elegant and clever, this question is not right for a quickfire television quiz. It's the sort of challenge we'd expect on Prosiect Z, give the escapees a flag sheet and felt-tip pens, and slick editing covers the rest. In short: great idea, great in the right context, but not for University Challenge.

University Challenge That's the gold stripe from Gabon, the green from Mali, and the red from Belgium, which all adds up to Lithuania. Well done if you got that at home.

A veritable feast of new shows this week. One and Six Zeros (C4, Sun) offers an hour with Dara Ó Briain, and a million quid. Fame in the Family (C4, weekdays) asks which of these people is a distant relation.

And there's more! Bridge of Lies (BBC1, weekdays) has Ross Kemp and some answers that might not be right. The Drop (BBC3, Mon) combines fast fashion and musical chairs. What Just Happened comes to the telly (BBC1 Wales, Tue).

Comic Relief week is marked by Glow Up (BBC3, Tue) and This is My House (BBC1, Wed). The main telethon is on Friday.

Returning highlights: that's Lightning (BBC2, weekdays). New episodes of Pointless (BBC1, weekdays). Last in the series of The Great Cookbook Challenge (C4, Mon, and we'll have a review next week) and The Big Design Challenge (Artsworld, Mon).

Sport rules the roost next week: Lingo is off ITV from Tuesday, and Tipping Point comes down to 30 minutes. By "rules the roost", we mean potentially on BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4, BBC Alba, and the Super Ceefax Red Button all at the same time. There's no Saturday Night Takeaway, no Starstruck, no Paul Sinha's TV Challenge, and potentially no Celebrity Mastermind. Pointless Celebrities looks safe, with radio stars including Melvin and Rickie, OJ Borg and Gary Davies. Woo!

Pictures: Alleycats Television, BBC Studios Digital Originals, Granada.

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