James Croot is the editor of Stuff to Watch.
OPINION: What the hell has happened to the great British quiz show?
There was a time when UK formats were the envy of the world, with countries clamouring to make their own versions of Mastermind, University Challenge, The Krypton Factor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
However, now, aside from the ubiquitous The Chase, each new concept seems progressively worse than the last. Confusing, confounding, celebrity hosted gimmicks seemingly designed to give away as little money as possible, while making fools out of those silly enough to put themselves forward.
The answers aren’t always what you expect on Tom Allen’s Quizness.
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Already in the past year we’ve had such dismal, dire outings as The Wheel With Michael McIntyre and Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance and now TVNZ is unleashing the unholy nightmare that is Tom Allen’s Quizness on Wednesday nights at 9.30pm on TVNZ 2 (with episodes also available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand).
Sharp-witted and suited comedian Allen – Bromley’s answer to New Zealand’s Vaughan Smith – and so good as a sniping observer on Great British Bake Off sideshow An Extra Slice, flounders as the host of this “quiz show with a hilarious twist” – contestants must prove their knowledge by looking daft.
Each week four contestants must answer a series of questions on everyone from “Captain Cook to Kelly Brook”, vying to win £25,000 while competing in a series of increasingly bizarre rounds.
“We have to have rules, or it’s just people shouting things,” Allen notes, before murmuring, “which is just what happens in my head.”
But, before he gets a chance to explain things, there’s extended banter to be carried out, as we learn that the opening night’s contestants include a member of Dr. Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band, a woman who can recite Pi to 50 decimal places and a bloke who once won a giant Toblerone. While allowing Allen to demonstrate his acerbic and withering tendencies, it did drag on for some time.
Then, once he finally got around to posing some questions, the boom was lowered. While the trivia in the Subbly Jubbly round was a reasonable mix, in order to get them right, if the answer included a word beginning with D, M or W, they had to substitute “dibble, mibble or wibble” in. It seemed fun – for about five seconds.
Round 2 had more promise. A memory game, Brain Chain, where you had to remember all the answers that had come before, with bonus points if you got to five. It’s saving grace was the witty phrases conjured up by the writers. A James Blunt tune, an anatomy question, a man’s name, part of a mega ‘90s hit and another man’s name added up to “You’re Beautiful Muscles Luke Sexy Tom”, which of course the host enjoyed immensely.
Next up, came a round where each answer was the same – until it wasn’t. After a couple of questions, it became clear that the majority, but not all of, the correct responses would be “white”.
“They don’t do this on Pointless do they?” chirruped Allen, even as his show was quickly living up to that name for very different reasons.
Things initially looked to be on the improve with a round called Double Trouble, where an answer led to another question, which resulted in such cross-witticisms as Tom Cruise being the right response to the world’s smallest mammal and Grease, Scotland’s national drink, but that’s before the return of an expanded Subbly Jubbly and rounds solely devoted to celebrity puns (Skate Winslet or Kanye Vest anyone?), vowel and consonant-free answers and dire spoonerisms (clangingly called Dental Mexterity).
Departing contestants, as they were whittled down from four to one, looked unimpressed at the consolation prize of a pocket square (even Allen admitting they were more of a “punishment for getting things wrong”, by the time the second one was handed out), before the finale was unveiled as… a mega version of Subbly Jubbly involving nine letter substitutions!
Yes, it’s not as nausea-inducing and nonsensical as The Wheel. True, it’s not as repetitively awful as Celebrity Catchphrase.
But, please, when there are so many great British quiz show formats, old and new, available and currently homeless here (Pointless included), why are programmers choosing such ill-conceived dross?
Tom Allen’s Quizness debuts on TVNZ 2 at 9.30pm on Wednesday, May 4. It will also be available to stream on TVNZ OnDemand.