Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Panel Beating

I fell firmly into the Jekyll camp on Saturday night. This was due largely to my long-standing belief that anything Steven Moffat writes will be brilliant and anything hosted by Ant and/or Dec will be dismal. (Whenever I see Ant and Dec I find that I like them and hate whatever they're presenting. I can't seem to help it.) I loved Jekyll, though I have to say it puzzled me somewhat. A comic writer and a cast best known for comedy (Peep Show, Coupling, the Yellow Pages ads, Green Wing, and so forth) come together to create a drama. Okay, I guess that makes sense. I look forward to seeing the BBC's new comedy made by newsreaders, and sports coverage done by classically trained actors.

But when it had finished, the television was left on, and thus watched BBC One's new comedy panel show Would I Lie To You largely by default. The show is a by-the-numbers panel game in the truest traditions of by-the-numbers panel games: one host, two regular captains, two or four guests, a theme, and no apparent desire to answer questions from either team. The only thing it appears to be lacking so far is one team that always wins.

To host it, the BBC have come crawling back to Angus Deayton. This seems strange to me. You will of course recall that they fired him from incredibly-similarly-named panel show Have I Got News For You some years ago, and since then Have I Got News For You has been running with increasingly dreary (and incompetent) "guest presenters". Now the BBC have apparently forgiven Deayton enough that he can host Would I Lie To You, but not enough to give him his old job back on Have I Got News For You. There's probably some reason of policy for this, and personally I expect him to appear as a contestant any day now. Meanwhile, the team captains are David Mitchell, the man who puts the Mitchell in Mitchell and Webb, and Lee Mack, who as far as I can tell appeared out of nowhere about a year ago and I'm very glad he did.

"We start, conventionally enough, with round one". It's like a quiz show virus. Eventually all shows will be announced this way.

As with all by-the-numbers panel games, the show consisted of five or six rounds, all of which were the same: determine if statements are true or false, under a thin guise of a "spotting lies" game. In one round, the statements were preceded by unrelated footage from the BBC archives. In another, they were read out by the other team. In one round, they brought on a guest to stand there while the statements were read out. Not a celebrity guest, mind. Just a guest. She was one of the panelists' mates. Each round is introduced by Deayton in his trademark style. You know the one, "we start, conventionally enough, with round one". It's his lasting legacy on Have I Got News For You, and he takes to to all new game shows he presents. It's like a quiz show virus. Eventually all shows will be announced this way.

The show was uninspired, formulaic, derivative, and brilliant. I watched Have I Got News For You for years, but now it just feels stale. Ian Hislop seems to have taken to just being mean to everyone, regardless of who they are, and Paul Merton is very clearly very bored of the whole thing. You can watch his face fall every time the latest novelty round is announced. The audience laughs out loud, but watch Merton. You can see it in his eyes. The show's lost its soul.

But Would I Lie To You is fresh, and the panel is new and shiny, and Deayton, Mack and Mitchell are all very funny people. You don't watch it for the format (which is tripe); you watch it for the panel. Just like you don't go down the pub to do the quiz on your own. At least, I don't. Apparently I stay home and watch panel games.

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