Teesside Snog Monster (jiggery_pokery) wrote,
Teesside Snog Monster

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I'd like you to... nobody likes a smartass

Happy birthday for - ahem, oh dear - two days ago to mortari. I hope it was a fine one and that the lack of report to date implies you've needed time to recover in a good way rather than a bad one. :-)

A wave of a wing to hedwig_snowy, who is a new entrant to the world of LiveJournal and yet also one of the Muggle world's authorities on Quidditch hoops. Welcome, Mike!

Da illustrious daweaver (and one of these days I shall discover it ought to be pronounced D. A. Weaver) has been hard at work on an episode guide for 1996-7 Channel 4 game show Wanted. Some of the sweetest of nostalgia for Brits who were there at the time.

From game shows past to game shows present, though; today saw the debut on BBC 2 of a new celebrity Q&A panel game offering. However, in tone it was quite some way from the "What's My Line?"s and "I've Got A Secret"s of yesteryear. By happy coincidence and expediency I tend to write my UK game show reviews primarily with a USA audience in mind, so here's my take on today's debutant, Nobody Likes A Smartass.

Who remembers Double Dare? It is a little-known fact, except among some of the smartasses who are likely to be reading this, that there have been at least two American game shows called Double Dare over the years. The famous one had Marc Summers (or, for unlucky Brits, bid-up.tv's "incredibly talented" Peter Simon) presiding over questions, physical challenges, obstacle courses and gallons of luridly coloured slime. The only interesting, but rather uncomfortable, trivia about the show is that host Marc Summers is famous for his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder pertaining to cleanliness and organisation and was accordingly most unhappy about the hands-on nature of his involvement with some of the messier stunts. Marc is generally thought of as one of TV's braver, better guys.

However, Googling for "double dare" "game show" has the first result coming up being lambertman's rules page for the original 1976 Double Dare, a stolid and completely dry question-and-answer show hosted by Alex Trebek which lasted little longer than the habitual thirteen weeks. The trivia there is even more limited: some very cool isolation booth, the same famous clapping theme tune later used on "Card Sharks" and a bonus round in which a winning player attempted to outwit "The Spoilers", a panel of three Ph.D.s.

It would be as wrong - and as wilfully obscure - to say that "Nobody Likes A Smartass" was inspired by the bonus round from the original "Double Dare" as it would be to say that "Everybody's Equal" (Celador's WWTBAM? seven-years-prior prequel) was inspired by the pilot for "Temptation". However, in both cases, there are similarities. (See also "Geeks, Beat The".)

Nobody Likes A Smartass (written ass though habitually pronounced arse; the written version is unusual for the UK and artificially coy - Jim Royle would not approve) sees an audience from one town (in today's premiere, Cambridge) take on a panel of four celebrity experts - the ubiquitous smartasses whom nobody likes. Three smartasses are regulars, the fourth is a Celebrity Guest Smartass. The premiere's regulars were Stuart Maconie, on pop music, and two I did not recognise on art and film respectively. The deuxieme's regulars are Danny Kelly (sport, presumably?), Robin Simon (?) and Simon Singh (science, I guess). Looking through the listings, other regulars include James King and Shaun Wallace. (mrstrellis, you ought to get yourself on there as a puzzle smartass. No offence intended.) The premiere's guest smart ass was the formerly honourable Gyles Brandreth, specialising in Shakespeare; today we have Michael Winner (presumably film?) and Friday sees a special guest appearance of the smartest and assest of them all, The Jeremy Beadle. Not a bad line-up as Banzai-style minor celebrities go.

One incidental point of interest is that the BBC bill the show as being 20 minutes long; in practice, it's closer to 24, to the point where I'm tempted to wonder whether this was originally intended for a commercial broadcaster to fill up a half-hour slot. BBC 2 are pairing this with an episode of Fresh Prince Of Bel Air to fill the 45-minute slot which I still fondly think of as having belonged - if only for a little while - to Treasure Hunt.

Each smartass begins the game with four lives. Round one has them, in turn, asked a question on their specialist subject, with an incorrect answer causing the deduction of one of their four lives. The audience are mostly hostile to the smartasses, who are their adversaries, but there is some respectful applause underneath the cheering and booing. The overall effect is slightly confused. Gyles got his question wrong - though, to this untutored ear, it did seem suitably very hard. Ever afterwards, he revelled in his ignorance of the topic mentioned.

Round two features the meat of the game. It takes place over two waves of four questions, one question on each of the smartasses' specialist subjects. However, the audience decides of which smartass each question should be asked - and sweet bippies may be wagered that, if at all possible, a smartass will not be given a home question. The smartass may decide to answer it himself (for almost inevitably it is a "he", though Arabella Weir is listed as a future guest) with a one-life deduction penalty for an incorrect answer. Alternatively, he (without loss of generality) may choose to confer with the other smartassoj, presumably including the smartass whose specialist subject it is and who really ought to know. The downside is that an incorrect answer from the panel as opposed to an individual smartass costs two lives instead of one.

Should an incorrect answer be expelled from the ass, whether individual or collective, the question is then thrown to the audience, who vote en masse on three possible answers. (There's an 8½-second stab of bossa nova which accompanies the vote; nice enough once, but annoying the third or fourth time you hear it in a show.) A correct audience vote deducts an extra life from the errant smartass. Should a smartass lose their final life, then they take a Walk Of Shame (tm) out of the game. In fact, the portal through which they depart requires them to walk between the two halves of the audience which has ejected them for greater comedy.

There are some interesting tactics at work here, which I don't think the audience have yet picked up on, albeit only after one episode. It is very much in the interest of the audience to try to pick off the smartasses one at a time; a smartass with one life left is still dangerous in that they can contribute to the panel discussions, whereas a smartass with no lives left represents a specialist subject gap which will almost certainly result in some other smartass taking a hit on that question. (Accordingly, it's probably best for the audience to work from right to left - which, entertainingly, means starting off by targeting the celebrity guest smartass du jour.) I have a suspicion that this is a game where the smartasses can really crumble quite quickly if they get off to a bad start.

It's not terribly quick, though; the first two rounds take about fifteen minutes and only contain twelve questions. This is because the smartasses are a chatty bunch and know how to play the game in an entertaining fashion. (Gyles was particularly funny at dealing with his shortcomings in episode one.) There is a degree of good-natured snippy banter throughout. Host Jo Brand is pretty good, a lone female refereeing the mostly-male grudge match, and almost unrecognisable from the way she had to deal with a very weak line-up that stunk out Jo Brand's Hot Potatoes. Thankfully.

Now, after round two comes round three, but I'm not completely sure how this works. I'll describe what I believe happens, on the understanding that I could be wrong.

Round three completely disposes of the "lives" motif that has been running throughout the game. Any smartasses remaining team up together. In turn, audience members read out their questions on one of the specialist subjects. The smartasses simply have to get ten correct within 90 seconds; no penalty, except wasted time, for incorrect answers. In the premiere, only Stuart Maconie survived round two, but he answered ten questions on his own (getting, I think, three or four wrong) with considerable time to spare, thus making him the smartest of smartasses. There was no mention of a prize, so presumably the game is played just for laughs.

If this is correct, this gameplay twist is, tee hee, a bunch of @#53. We have built up the tension of "diminishing lives" only to abandon it completely for the final round. On top of that, there is a completely spurious pair of "...you'll hear this sound"s at the start of the round. This worked, past tense, in early series of Shooting Stars because the sounds were silly, were accompanied by "people's eyebrow" style mugging and also by occasional sight gags. Here, it doesn't work. Frankly, the whole third round doesn't work. If they had kept the "one life lost for each incorrect answer" stipulation, whether as well as or even instead of the time limit, and just played either to ten answers or to the complete obliteration of the panel then there would've been tension, thematic completeness and satisfaction. Consequently, the third round feels a bit disjointed and very much a missed opportunity.

A definite misstep there in my book, but the only major one that the show took. Decent questions, passably entertaining banter and an easily acceptable set of production values. Time will tell whether this is a stayer, though I suspect I'd watch it more frequently if it weren't scheduled against the Six O'Clock News. On the zero-to-ten scale I have been kicking around for years, based on one episode alone, I like Nobody Likes A Smartass to the tune of SIX.
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