Beating the Man on the Clapham Omnibus
BBC2 do like their quiz shows with a twist, don't they ? Hot on the heels of Knowitalls we have Pointless. I fired up the iplayer to check out Monday's first episode, and here are my thoughts on what I saw.
You may recall that I said back in July that I thought that BBC1's Saturday night offering Guesstimation owed something to Family Fortunes. Not as much as Pointless does. Essentially, Pointless is Family Fortunes in reverse. Instead of getting the most popular answers, contestants have to get the least popular answers. For the idea is to score as few points as possible - hence the title.I'll be honest, this filled me with some foreboding, since you know that I positively hate it when Family Fortunes type questions are used in a pub quiz. However I am nothing if not dedicated, and so I steeled myself to watch the whole show.
Pointless is presented by 'Zander Armstrong. This is a definite point in its favour. I like his shows with Ben Miller, and he's proved himself a good hand in the presenter's chair with his stints on HIGNFY. Rumour has it that he was in line for Countdown too before Jeff Stelling. Whatever the case he makes a good job of a show which has the potential to be a bit of a mess in less confident hands, but actually provides a relatively light hearted yet rather absorbing contest..
5 pairs begin each show. The ultimate goal is to win through and take the cash jackpot. If the winning pair fail to do so, then the jackpot rolls over to the next show. In the first 3 rounds, the pairs are told a category, for example, European Capital cities. Then they are told that 100 people were surveyed and given a minute to name as many of the above as possible. Pairs are not allowed to confer. One member of each pair is asked to give an answer, then when all pairs have had their first turn, the other member of each pair has to give an answer to the same question. The goal is to give an answer which nobody in the survey came up with. So for example, the very first answer given was Podgorica - capital of newly independent Montenegro. This was a pointless answer, and pointless answers add £250 to the jackpot. Mohammed, playing with his mother Robina, rolled his eyes as she answered "Bulgaria". This was a wrong answer, and as such it automatically earned them 100 points. At the end of the round, the couple with the highest score are eliminated. Mohammed and Robina actually got through this round, but Abba songs in round two proved to be their Waterloo.
OK, with me so far ? The game changed slightly when only two pairs remained. This time the category "James Bond films " was given, and the remaining pairs were allowed to confer. They had to keep answering on this one category, until their score reached 100. First to do so were eliminated. Actually the high point of the whole show came at the end of this round. Zander is accompanied in the studio by a Stattoesque figure called Richard, who announces the top answers and the pointless answers for each category. He explained here that one of the three lowest scoring answers was "For You Eyes Only " and added that it was the only Bond film with no 'M' in it. Quick as a flash Armstrong replied " Good 'Orning, 'Ister Bond . " Well, even if it was rehearsed beforehand it made me laugh. Please yourselves.
Winners Jonathan and Hugo - who had supplied the Podgorica answer earlier, had played very well throughout the game to win a trophy, and the chance of the jackpot. To do this they chose "British Olympians" from a list of categories. They were told that a survey had asked 100 people to think of as many British athletics gold medal winners since 1980 as they could, and then given three chances to find one pointless answer. Now, I will confess that in my unsuccessful first tilt at Mastermind in 2006, The Summer Olympic Games was my specialist subject, and I particularly love Olympic Athletics, but even so I thought that this was a hard task. I decided that if it had been me, I would have gone for 3 out of the 4 winners of the men's 4x100 relay in 2004 - for the simple reason that I couldn't believe that any of the individual winners could possibly be completely forgotten. My hopes for Jonathan and Hugo weren't raised when they started bandying names like "Fatima Whitbread " and "Steve Cram" about between themselves. Great athletes , world champions and world record breakers both, but only silver medallists at the Olympics, I'm afraid. In the end they settled on Fatima, Allan Wells, and Sally Gunnell. Both scored, I'm afraid. My hunch that it was the relay boys proved to be right.
So what's the Clark verdict on the show then ? Well, I would watch this over Family Fortunes any day of the week, but that's just me. As I said, I like Alexander Armstrong. Some of the facts that emerged were very interesting - did you know that the Vatican City is not part of the United Nations, for example ? Or that Abba released 40 singles in the UK ? Trying to think of the most obscure answer to each question is a novel idea, and its absorbing in its own way. Its a good show for playing along at home. But only for a couple of minutes with each question. For me, this is where the show displays its flaws. I know that we've many of us said this about recent shows, but 45 minutes is stretching this show a little too far. There's only 5 category questions used during the whole show, so it doesn't deliver a huge amount for your money. It could move a lot more quickly, for example we were over 5 minutes into the show before anything more taxing than "How do you two know each other ? " was asked of the contestants. Yes, I admit it, I'm a straightforward question-and-answer man , so this show wasn't going to greatly appeal to me anyway.
Giving it a title such as "Pointless" is tantamount to asking for negative reviews, but this show has still got something. I give it a cautious endorsement, and you never know, it might, just might, catch on.