Last Night’s TV: The Guess List

With the BBC desperate for a Saturday night hit, could this throwback to TV’s past – originally planned as a vehicle for Mrs Brown – be what we’ve all been waiting for?

Many shows have tried to replicate the innocent glory days of 70’s TV, but in an age with so much choice and on-demand viewing, new programmes have to be perfect or the axe is waiting to fall. The need for a slow burn, rather than an in-your-face introduction means hardly any make it. Certainly something like Dad’s Army or The Generation Game would struggle in today’s climate.

However the odd ‘retro’ show does slip through the net, with the most recent example being Mrs Brown’s Boys. Despite being savaged by critics, it regularly pulls in over 9 million viewers with it’s lowest common denominator humour and dated gags.

And it was to Mrs Brown that the BBC turned to salvage its Saturday night ratings. What better than to team the loveable foul-mouthed Irish mother mixed with a classic gameshow? Nevertheless, Mrs Brown’s Celebrities was born.

However, despite a successful pilot in late 2012, Mrs Brown creator Brendan O’Carroll withdrew the show (citing a ‘watering down of the Mrs Brown brand’) and thus the BBC were left in limbo. They had a show, but no host. Fear not though – production team 12 Yard have resurrected the format with Rob Brydon at the helm.  All was not lost, or was it?

So here we are, six episodes later. And how did it fair? Let’s get the obvious out of the way first – it really is just Blankety Blank with a name change. Not that that’s a bad thing – and indeed Rob Brydon is very suited to the cheeky-chappy hosting role that it requires.

The real question then is: does Blankety Blank work in the modern era? That answer is not as clear. There’s certainly a familiarity which draws you in, and enough gags to keep the pace moving, but there’s been a nagging feeling all the way though that something just doesn’t sit quite right.

That’s not to say it’s all bad though, far from it. Brydon really does excel, and with a reasonably high calibre of celebs throughout the series (although quite how Eamonn Holmes and Kate Garraway were on the same show is anyone’s guess) the gags almost write themselves.

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that each ‘seat’ on the panel has had virtually the same genre of guest each week. There is the comedian seat (James Corden, Jason Manford, David Walliams, Bob Mortimer), the elder statesman seat (Larry Lamb, Ronnie Corbett, Nick Hewer, Simon Callow), the attractive lady seat (Emilia Fox, Tess Daly, Helen Skelton, Rachel Riley) and so on.

Of course, repetition was – and still is – the key to many of the great comedic shows. You only have to look at the number of comedies that survived purely on catchphrases to realise that. It’s not a massive leap to see how the Mrs Brown audience would’ve loved this format; the similar gags every week, a handful of sly looks to camera, breaking the fourth wall and humorous ad-libbing.

Blankety Blank thrived on innuendo, whereas The Guess List attempts to shock. And it never quite feels right.

But it is unfortunately another remnant of Mrs Brown that has been The Guess List’s undoing – namely the crudeness. While the show itself would be perfect for a family-friendly outing at 7pm, the tone has been written for a 9.30pm slot in the Mrs Brown ilk.

As such the questions are largely of a personal nature, often deliberately provoking risqué answers. And here is where the problem lies – the original Blankety Blank thrived on innuendo, whereas The Guess List attempts to shock. And it never quite feels right.

You have a retro, friendly gameshow, with an affable host and fairly decent celebrities trying to crack nob gags and be a little bit naughty. The juxtaposition is all wrong, and the look on Jennifer Saunders’ face in the first episode told you as much.

In fact it’s only really Brydon that holds it all together; in anyone else’s hands this would be car crash TV. He’s one the best ad-libbers on the circuit, and of course unashamedly embraces both The Two Ronnies and Morecambe & Wise. His looks-to-camera in particular are something Eric would be proud of. He’s not a bad gameshow host too. Much like Terry Wogan and Les Dawson did, the celebrities and contestants are treated on a level and the competition element very much second fiddle to the comedy.

There are things that will need changing if it gets recommissioned though. The ‘out of the chair’ skits with Brydon and selected celebrities have largely been embarrassing. And at least five minutes could easily be shaved off the running time by cutting some of the weaker gags.

But it’s around the format that decisions really have to be made. It would surely work much better as a family-friendly show as long as the same calibre of celebrity can be kept. If that can be sorted, the BBC might well have just answered their Saturday evening woes.