Come and Have a Go, If You Think You’re Clever Enough

Television criticism, maybe even more so than other forms of arts criticism, has an implicit but rigid hierarchy. “Often, these biases involve class, gender, race, and sexuality, disguised as biases about aesthetics,” Emily Nussbaum writes in her book I Like to Watch: “Green/grey drama, serious; neon-pink musical, guilty pleasure. Single-cam sitcom, upscale; multi-cam, working class.” Nussbaum attributes this, in part, to television’s status anxiety: it wasn’t too long ago that TV was considered the idiot box, the boob tube, a vast wasteland. “So much of TV,” John Mason Brown told Steven H. Scheur in 1955, “seems to be chewing gum for the eyes.” For the rest of the twentieth century, at least, most people would agree with him. And so critics appeal all too readily to other, more respectable mediums – it’s a visual novel, a ten-hour movie. It’s not TV, it’s HBO.

I agree totally with Nussbaum’s argument, and have made versions of it myself over the years. But the privileging of drama over sitcoms, of gritty realism over silly genre fare, of masculinity over femininity, is a relatively small part of the equation. The types of television most neglected by critics are, if we’re honest, the same ones that make up most of the TV made and most of the TV watched: all the vast, vast area that exists outside of scripted comedy and drama programmes.

Continue reading “Come and Have a Go, If You Think You’re Clever Enough”

You should watch No More Jockeys [Digital Spy]

Originally invented by Mark Watson and Tim Key in 2001, No More Jockeys had a brief life on the BBC Comedy website in 2009 as a spin-off from Horne, Key and Watson’s panel show We Need Answers. But it was given new life earlier this year when the guys started filming episodes over video call during lockdown.

I wrote about the brilliant, wonderful, delightful No More Jockeys for Digital Spy. You can read it here!

The Anarchic Beauty of Taskmaster

If there’s one thing I love on this earth, it’s game shows. I’m kind of a connoisseur.

A great game show combines luck, risk-taking and some kind of skill or knowledge. Deal or No Deal was just luck and risk-taking, but they always pretended as if there was all this strategy where none could exist, it was bizarre. Winning Streak is the worst because it doesn’t even test risk-taking, just luck, so it effectively just throws money at people with the only variant being how much. Shows that have the potential to lapse into being just a dry test of skill usually have a time constraint to force the risk-taking element. But my favourites combine genuine difficulty with being a ton of fun to watch. Way too many shows are stupidly dramatic: every time someone gives an answer on Tenable, there’s probably a full thirty seconds of dramatic reaction shots and lights going up the answer board. It tries to be “fun” by having Warwick Davis deliver terrible pun after terrible pun, instead of striving towards a fun tone overall.

My favourite has long been Pointless: its reverse Family Fortunes format that rewards the most obscure correct answer makes it incredibly fun to play along with, whether you know a lot or very little about the category. The banter between its hosts, Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, is charming and makes the tone of the whole thing light and fun, in sharp contrast with the most self-serious quiz shows (Mastermind, mostly). I love Only Connect, the hardest show in the world, both because host Victoria Coren-Mitchell is delightful and because I feel elated if I get an answer right. I am kind of obsessed with Richard Osman’s House of Games, and love following the throughline of each week, rooting for my favourite contestants and waiting with bated breath for the day someone wins all five shows.

But there is one game show that is more fun to watch than basically anything on television, and that’s Taskmaster. Pitched perfectly between a light-hearted “normal” game show and Shooting Stars surrealism, it’s both one of the best game shows I’ve ever seen and such a weird, inventive thing that to even classify it by genre feels wrong. It’s glorious.

Continue reading “The Anarchic Beauty of Taskmaster”