Weaver's Week 2018-03-04

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The weather this week has been frightful. Snow, frozen cold, and absolutely vile. Typical summer weather, and perfect for curling up with your dragon.


Prosiect Z

Prosiect Z

Boom Plant Cymru for S4C, from 9 January

The world is in peril, and it's all because of science! The Itopia Corporation has come up with a magnificent technological breakthrough: nanobugs that live in your ear. They are a true technological breakthrough, the Babelfish made real.

Prosiect Z The fabulous artwork is by Dan Harris.

Except that the nanobugs don't work properly. When there was a sudden electric discharge, the nanobugs short-circuited, causing great pain in the ears. The failed bugs burst open, and took control of core brain functions. Skin becomes pallid, and people don't walk but they shamble.

Worse, the nanobugs became transmissible through contact. Get too close to one of these infected "zeds" – and within touching distance is too close – and you risk getting nanobots in your own bloodstream.

Prosiect Z One touch could be too much.

Groups of children were stuck at school when society started to collapse. The mission in Prosiect Z is to get out of school before the zeds catch up with you.

Already, this is a compelling plot for the Stwnsh audience of 13-year-olds. Everyone goes to school, everyone has a desire to trash the place. No-one wants to be caught in school, especially when it's over-run by people even more yucky than Mr. Mellor the useless French "teacher".

Prosiect Z Has the Home Ec teacher tried to microwave carrots for fifteen minutes?

Children Like You are the hero. A School Like Yours is the setting. It couldn't be more familiar.

The details differ, but the outline plot is the same in every episode. There's a two-minute paper-animation cartoon to explain the backstory. Even if your Welsh is rubbish (and this column's Welsh aspires to be as good as rubbish), you can get the gist of what's happening. There are no subtitles for Stwnsh programmes, so we miss a few nuances, but we get enough to make sense of the show.

Prosiect Z Never mind the zeds, let's get the bags.

We see polaroids of the missing children, and then we see them enter the school hall. It's a tip, it's a mess. Scattered amongst the detritus are five rucksacks, and the team are given instructions to collect these bags. A message on screen will show their progress; indeed, all of the important points will have a caption on the screen.

What's missing from this zombie apocalypse? Zombies! A few seconds after the team get started, in shamble a crack team of elite zombie bag-guards. And that's "crack" with a capital P. They will shuffle around the room! They will grasp at thin air where the children were! They will, if they're very very lucky, manage to corner some of the children and make it difficult to escape.

Prosiect Z What's in the bags today, Jim?

Sooner or later, the children will grab all five of the bags. They'll retreat from the hall to a safe space, where they can see what's in the bags. Some items are essential for survival: flasks of water, a torch. Regular viewers can appreciate the unexpected item: a packet of mints? Interesting. Other apparently-unusual items appear more often: an ultra-violet light, a remote-controlled car, a dice containing the names of the group, a walkie-talkie.

Prosiect Z

"Hallo! Hallo!" Lara Catrin is on the walkie-talkie, she'll guide the team through their escapade. For most of the episode, she's sat in a room from where she can see all of the CCTV cameras in the school. Towards the end of the episode, she'll leave the Miniaturised Area and drive off in a van. Lara will guide the team to a particular room in their school, from where the school's alarm system is controlled. This room is locked, and the key is kept in a safe elsewhere in the school. The team first need to work out where this safe is, and go there.

How do you get a key out of a safe? Well, you could blow up the safe, but that would require the water bottles to contain something else, and the components of Nitro-9 are not supplied by Dwr Cymru. Perhaps the team could open the safe, and clues might be dotted around the room...

Prosiect Z At the end of the rainbow...

Strip out the plot. Lose the horror overtones, forget the stuff about nanobugs and alarms. Prosiect Z is the very fashionable escape room, made into a television show.

Here is a locked door: find the key. Where is the key? In the safe. How do we open the safe? Well, there is a message concealed in the painting, and that should lead you to a set of books on the shelf, and if you arrange those books in the right order, the volume numbers will give you the right code.

Prosiect Z ...are some books...

A couple of years ago, we looked at Race to Escape, the Discovery Channel's effort at bringing the escape room to television. We found many things to critique: poor camera-work, slightly dodgy puzzles, and a sense that the teams were playing the room and the producers. Tighter editing (and a shorter slot) have resolved all of these problems.

Of course, these puzzles will be a bit more simple. Not because the teams are less clever, but because the viewers at home have to think, "I could do that". Your average nine-year-old needs enough clues to follow along with what the team's doing, and needs to appreciate where they're going right.

Prosiect Z ...which form a jigsaw, and yield the code.

For instance, we viewers might get an establishing shot of some books by the end of a rainbow. The players don't see that, we do, and the law of drama still applies. "A pot of books at the end of the rainbow," reads the clue. We know there's a set of books there, and on second viewing we see there are some splodges of paint on the spines. Might that be a jigsaw?

Help is available. Thanks to the plethora of CCTV cameras, Lara can watch the team's progress, and offer hints over the walkie-talkie. (Yes, we know they're hints called by the on-site producers, and dubbed in voiceover. Hush! Don't spoil the magic.)

Prosiect Z Run around outside to pull the zed away - but don't let him catch you.

The puzzle will be edited down for television, and it'll be intercut with a shambling zed coming near their room. Should the team take too long over their puzzle, someone will have to go out and distract the zed, by running in their direction and leading them away. Who gets this onerous task? Roll the dice with your names on it. Not only do the team get extra time, but we viewers have a break from shouting "Press U3! U, then 3!"

Once the key is retrieved, there's a further physical challenge. These zeds get *everywhere*, and that includes the route back to the alarm. The team will need to distract the zeds, perhaps by driving a remote-control car in their direction. They'll follow anything that moves, and the car keeps a safe distance between schoolkid and shambler. Except, when it doesn't work, it's every player for themself.

Prosiect Z Dangle the magnet with the fishing line.

(Another episode asked the team to retrieve a second key from next to a zed sleeping at the bottom of a stairwell. The only equipment: a magnet and a long piece of string. Every comic strip, every cartoon, and these young people get to live it for real.)

So we're into the room with the alarm. All we've got to do is press the button and make some noise, right? Wrong. There needs to be another puzzle, another task to pursue. Find the USB key to make the alarm work, or some such. What might those mints be for? And why is there a volcano in the lab?

Prosiect Z Put mint into volcano to produce USB keyfob. Obviously!

Activating the alarm causes a loud and horrible sound. This discombobulates the nanobots in the zeds' bloodstream, causing them great pain. Zeds outside the school gates will turn away, and those in the grounds will clutch their ears in pain. Unfortunately, this effect also applies to any of the party who have nanobots in their bloodstream: if you've been touched, this is where your journey ends.

Prosiect Z Oh no, she's been infected and the nanobugs are in her bloodstream.

Outside, Lara waits in the van to whisk the children away. All they've got to do is reach her, through the front door. Which mastermind locked the front door? The lock is controlled by a simple guessing game, similar to the Mastermind peg game from the 1970s. Just find the right code in time – and they'll even tell you which digits are in the right place and which are not. Sounds simple on paper, but you're not solving it with a bunch of zeds shambling towards you.

As with the other shows for children we've looked at recently, Prosiect Z has more slot than content. They're blatant about spinning the show out – segments from the school are interspersed with narrative from Lara, and inserts in the style of news bulletins. (This does have one advantage – it's much easier to split the show into chunks, and air it throughout the Saturday morning show Stwnsh Sadwrn. The "news bulletins" are obvious introduction points.)

Prosiect Z Winners are immortalised in a cartoon.

It's also clear that Prosiect Z has had a very limited budget. The set decoration is recycled from one episode to the next, and many of the filmed inserts are also re-used. The new clues for each show tend to be simple – posters, marked rope, hollowed books, a book of raffle tickets. Prosiect Z uses these limitations to its advantage. Each show uses similar decoration, and establishes a house style. The animation adds an extra layer to the show: we had to watch with great care before we realised that the team never actually meet Lara.

The show is transgressive, it breaks boundaries. Children know about school, and children will tend to associate it with hard work, academic learning, and not fun. Prosiect Z is fun, and it's fun in your school. This is a home fixture for the children, they know every nook and cranny of their school. If there's a rainbow on the library wall, the players will know already. If there's a shortcut through the toilets, the players will know of it.

Prosiect Z Lara in the Miniaturised Area.

Remember 2.8 Hours Later? We wrote a lot about Slingshot's game in the early part of this decade. They made certain decisions: they chose to emphasise physical challenges rather than mental ones, they chose to make the game large-scale rather than intimate. In another universe, 2.8 Hours Later became a game of survival and escape in one office block, played by small parties. A bit more physical than the standard escape room, but much smaller than the game Slingshot chose. Maybe this would have proven a sustainable business model; maybe it's an area for the format's new owner to explore.

Prosiect Z All players get to dress for the fight ahead.

Prosiect Z also leaves the future uncertain: after you get out, after Lara whisks you off in her van, then what? Is there a cure? Will the rescued schoolchildren prove to be the missing link for her research? Spy School saves the world, Last Commanders wants to save a species, Prosiect Z sees survival as enough. If we follow the story to its conclusion, winning may not be joyful.

The joy is from taking part. All of the players get to stride purposefully down a corridor of their school, dressed up to survive the apocalypse in jackets and visors and warpaint. Those who are infected early still take part in the final game: they will lead the horde of zeds, shambling down the corridor to the front door.

Prosiect Z The infected player leads the zeds' final charge.

Could this show work in English? Of course. Could it work in a version for grown-ups? Well, yes. It could be a group of workers in one office block, or in one factory. Or they could make it an away fixture, a fantasy environment designed by the producers. We're less convinced that such a show could fill a whole hour of television – how many ways are there to mix physical and mental puzzles? We look forward to seeing someone try!

Can i Gymru 2018

Rondo Media for S4C, 1 March

The annual festival of Welsh-language song took place on Thursday, live from Bangor. And it was live – at least one singing performance was compromised by shaky camerawork and misplaced captions.

Elin Fflur and Trystan Ellis-Morris were the presenters, both handled the front-of-stage duties, though Trystan spent most of his time with the performers backstage. Also familiar was a video piece to introduce each song, almost everything performed by singer-songwriters. Where the writer wasn't performing, we spoke to the writer, for this is a contest of song, not performance.

Can i Gymru Ceidwad y Gan perform the winning song.

Over the evening, we heard:

  • An upbeat opener, a woman singing a substantial number
  • Then we had a solo young man in a sharp suit singing what was almost light opera
  • a woman singing a jazzy mid-tempo number in front of a band
  • a mean 'n' moody rock band playing a slow number
  • a young woman who spends the first verse and chorus sitting on the steps before the band chime in
  • a man with excellent vocal range, singing a downtempo number
  • a woman singing from the piano
  • and a woman singing a bright number with her co-writer on guitar

There was no panel after the performance, no "guidance" telling us what to think and steering us to the result the producers wanted. And, sadly, little variety: whether by accident or design, the contest was mostly filled with slow-to-midtempo numbers of a similar style.

This column has now watched six editions of Cân i Gymru, and we've been shouting "wow!" by about one song every other year. 2018 didn't have a "wow!" song for us. Lots of very good songs, but nothing hit out topmost echelon.

After the usual public vote, and backstage chatter, the winner was announced. In third place, the final song, "Tincian", written and performed by Bethan William Jones and Sam Humphreys. In second, the seventh song, "Byw a Bod", from Mared Williams. The winner? The mean 'n' moody rock song from the middle: "Cofio Hedd Wyn" by Erfyl Owen, performed by Ceidwad y Gân.

Can i Gymru The winning songwriter.

This Week and Next

Still on S4C, we've enjoyed Fferm Ffactor Selebs, a celebrity series of the agricultural challenge. How difficult can it be to get a pair of pigs into a trailer? Two of the contenders started this task in early February, and as far as we know they're still at it, knee-deep in a snowdrift. The pigs have gone home and put their trotters up in front of the fire, of course.

From the BBC, we hear about some new daytime game shows. Hardball features people trying to "beat a rolling ball before it catches up with them"; sounds a bit like ITV's fifth-wheel quiz Rebound. Ore Oduba from Newsround will host. Chase the Case has people swapping general knowledge for sealed briefcases, with the best quizzer taking whatever's in their sealed box. Host will be Dan Walker from Beachside Book Club. And we hear about Flipping Profit, where there's competition between an antiques expert, a wheeler-dealer, and an upcycler to buy and sell stuff. All of these will emerge on BBC1 in the new financial year.

We hear about IQTV, a planned video-over-the-internet service. It'll be full of brainy quiz shows, such as The Weakest Link, Mastermind, Only Connect, and Countdown. Co-director Rod Henwood told Variety "Intelligent quiz shows represent an attractive, untapped genre for a niche SVOD service. They have significant and very loyal audiences, their brands are enduring, their hosts are highly recognizable with a strong social media following." A playalong app is also promised, and the initial price is likely to be £3.49 (about €4) per month.

Belgophiles and Beaks met in a closely-fought Only Connect. Lots of lovely questions, pictures of people who wear red shoes, music of people leaving on trains, Queens Elizabeth, and the family tree of Donald Duck. Never more than a point between the sides until Missing Vowels allowed the Belgophiles to eke out a 20-15 win.

University Challenge had its first quarter-final proper, with Newcastle up against St John's Cambridge. A missignal penalty on the first question got Newcastle off to the worst possible start, but the side recovered to snatch the lead. They didn't know about the Pugwash organisation, sailing the sea on the Black Pig and fighting against ludicrous rumours put about by landlubbers.

Animal sanctuaries in India are one set of bonuses. Another is artists supported by Queen Christina of Sweden, an early example of the Royal Patreon. But it's one, two, three missignal penalties for St John's; the bonuses are needed just to keep their score ticking over. By the audio round – on musical palindromes – St John's lead by 100-65.

There's a player from Los Angeles on the St John's team, and a discernable Yankee bias in the questions – two starters and at least one set of bonuses are from that culture. There's less biology for Newcastle's pair of medics to sink their teeth into. Just when we thought the game was dying, Newcastle pick up a couple of starters and a set of bonuses on the lyric to "We didn't start the fire".

Thumper could get a shift on and help Newcastle draw level: they just draw level. Another Yankee question – contiguous provinces beginning "New" goes to St John's, so does "I think therefore I am", and that's it. St John's win, 160-135. Not the most convincing win, perhaps owing something to the questions asked tonight. Both sides got just over 50% of their bonuses and three penalties.

No Mastermind this week, semi-final 5 is scheduled for Friday.

BARB ratings for the week to 18 February. Still no BBC data, so let's assume Hacker's Olympic Rundown had 10 kajillion viewers.

  1. Coronation Street the top show (ITV, Mon, 8.4m), BBC The Voice the top game show (ITV, Sat, 5.8m).
  2. Dancing on Ice is close behind (ITV, Sun, 5.35m), followed by The Chase (ITV, Wed, 3.8m) and Brightest Family (ITV, Wed, 3.3m).
  3. Channel 4's top game was Four in a Bed (Tue, 900,000).
  4. The trend is down for Survival of the Fittest (ITV2), losing almost half its opening night audience to 650,000 (Mon) and falling to 540,000 by Sun. That puts it close to Four in a Bed (More4, Sun, 435,000) and Go 8 Bit (Dave, Mon, 390,000).
  5. Three more digital originals: Portrait Artist (Artsworld, Tue, 380,000), Yankee Next Top Model (UK Living, Fri, 350,000), Rupaul's Drag Race All Stars (Comedy Central, Sat, 230,000).

A quiet week for new series: family revelations game It's Not What You Know (R4, Wed), and that's about it.

Photo credits: Boom Plant Cymru, Rondo Media.

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