Tuesday, 30 September 2008

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (If You Like Animated Sitcoms Broadcast On FOX)

The Simpsons (season twenty, episode one - "Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes")

Obviously nowhere near The Golden Age, but the new episode is certainly very good when compared to the episodes currently showing on Channel Four every evening, which are pretty much the low point of the entire series. Tip: download it. There's no way Sky One will be showing this one uncut.

Family Guy (season seven, episode one - "Love Blactually")

The show has certainly recovered from the post-comeback lull now. A very strong episode, and if the scripts can keep steering as largely clear from weak "you think that's bad? What about the time I..." cutaway pop culture reference gags as this ep, it'll fully disprove BrokenTV's Law Of Seth MacFarlane* by the end of November. But will it?

(*BrokenTV's Law Of Seth MacFarlane - the weaker an episode of Family Guy, the better the subsequent episode of American Dad will be, thereby proving Seth MacFarlane has a finite number of Talent Points to be distributed between the two.)

American Dad (season four, episode one - "1600 Candles")

It very well might. A solid performance from the Smiths, although slightly below their best.

Animated sitcoms are back, everyone. Mondays are slightly less rubbish! Apart from when Fox don't show new episodes for weeks at a time, which is frigging stupid, and no wonder the ratings are sliding, why can't they just show them properly like we do over here, after all, they do with '24' and it works well enough for them then, so come on, Fox, consider the feelings of us illegal downloaders, just as long as you don't contact our internet service providers or anything.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Then Vs Now: Harry Enfield. A Po-Faced Look At Comedy

It's a widely reported fact that once you begin to deconstruct comedy, it stops being funny. So let's do that now!

The rules: Two sketches, one from 'then', one from 'now'. Both by the same performer, or performers, both on a similar subject. The number of markedly different jokes are recorded, and then compared with the runtime of the sketch to arrive at a final Jokes Per Minute index. Highest number wins.

Performer(s): Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse.

Subject: Football.

1991: Harry Enfield's Television Programme

Sketch - Mr Cholmondley-Warner Presents: "Associaton Football"

(Quick tip - If you haven't seen the sketch in question recently, do yourself a favour and watch that YouTube video before reading the breakdown below, where we explain all the jokes. It's really good, but slightly less so once you know what's going to happen.)

Laugh Breakdown:

0:06 As the globe turns a comically huge representation of Britain is displayed, gently lampooning the British view of itself circa 1930.

0:16 Jarring jump-cut as Mr Grayson replies to Mr Cholmondley-Warner's question on the introduction of the professional footballer.

0:31 "You can't expect a professional, paid to do nothing but play football all day, to achieve the same level of physical fitness as a man who works in a chip-shop all week, and who only plays football on [jarring jump cut] Chaturdays!"

0:37 "If you don't mind, Mr Cholmondley-Warner, you're QUITE WRONG! [jarring jump cut, after which Mr Grayson is clasping his freshly bloodied nose as Mr Cholmondley-Warner rubs his knuckle without a trace of emotion] Let's see if a short film can settle the matter."

0:49 One of the leading teams of today, a bigshorted 1930s Arsenal, run onto the field in a comical fashion, in speeded-up-film-o-vision.

0.54 Against... the Liverpool team of 1991...

0:56 ...who will play for the first time in black and white.

1:01 As the commentator expresses how Liverpool 1991 may be surprised by the pace of the black and white game, we can see how the Arsenal team are all smoking while they warm up.

1:09 The Arsenal warm-up is interrupted as they pause to light each other's cigarettes, in the correct British manner.

1:15 And there's the captain, Charles Cholmondley-Charles. We can tell that he is the captain, as he is smoking a pipe and he exudes a paternalistic air.

1:21 It's the right-wing demon, Wilf "Adapted For Speed" Finney, played by Paul Whitehouse. He is practising his dribbling by running with a ball for three yards, then turning and dribbling it back the exact same three yards. In a marvellously comical fashion that you need to see the YouTube clip to really appreciate.

1:29 In goal, it's Stan "Between The Posts" Hartley. He generally looks a bit befuddled as a number of footballs fly past him into the net, having to lift up his flat cap over his eyeline to be sure what had just happened.

1.38 Charles Cholmondley-Charles shakes hands with the referee, and what's this? He's knitted him a lovely scarf.

1:42 Meanwhile, the other Arsenal players are wandering amongst the Liverpool players, offering them a selection of fine tobacco and triangle-cut sandwiches.

1:47 As the Arsenal players continue to wander around holding plates, the match kicks off. Liverpool collect the ball, and immediately score a goal.

1:51 The Arsenal players stand in the centre circle, and applaud their opponents' goal in a gentlemanly manner.

1:56 "Stan Hartley didn't even have time to put his cigarette out!"

2:01 "And the Liverpool team celebrate... they seem to be kissing!" Looking panicked by this act of male bonding, the Arsenal players drop their plates of sandwiches and run away.

2:05 Arsenal to kick-off. All ten outfield players crowd around the ball and run in a group after the captain as he runs with the ball, the Liverpool players remain stuck to their positions, so astonished are they by this bewildering lack of tactical forethought, allowing Charles Cholmondley-Charles to bear down on their penalty area.

2:12 Calamity for Arsenal, as Charles Cholmondley-Charles loses possession of the ball to a thicket. Fiercely loyal to their captain as ever, the remainder of the Arsenal team also run past the now stationary ball, with the referee in tow. Luckily, the heroic captain is able to notice when he has missed the ball, and runs back to collect it as his team-mates trail behind him.

2:17 "He shoots for goal! And it's a throw-in to Liverpool."

2:19 The Arsenal team form a semi-circle around Liverpool's thrown-in taker. Surely there's no way he can get the ball past... ah.

2:24 And the ball is duly played forward by Liverpool, and so they score another goal. Unfortunately for Arsenal, "Between The Posts" Hartley was distracted as he was having a bit of a chat with the inside-right.

2:29 Two-nil! Three-nil! Four-nil! The goals fly in for Liverpool, the last of which propels the spluttering Hartley over the line with the ball.

2:34 Hope for Arsenal! They get the ball out to Finney on the wing. Sadly, he can only do his comical three-yard-repeat-dribble move, and is subsequently dispossessed. So preoccupied is the plucky winger, it takes him a few kicks before he realises he has lost the ball.

2:50 Half-time, and ten-nil to Liverpool. While the Liverpudlians trot off to the dressing room, the Gunners stay on the pitch, where the linesman has brought them a nice pint of foaming brown ale each. Mmm!

2:57 Half-time entertainment for the crowd - Mr George Banjo. And his banjo.

3:13 Arsenal come out for the second half with a whole new approach. This is demonstrated by their striker rushing toward a football-jerseyed dummy with a fixed bayonet. Grr!

3:17 The whistle blows, and the new pro-active approach of the Arsenal team is displayed immediately as the referee is punched in the face before he can finish whistling the start of the second half.

3:20 The Arsenal side further display their new-found tactical nous by fanning out amongst the field of play, and punching the Liverpool players in the face. The ball is passed to Finney on the wing...

3:23 Who repeats his earlier 'three yard dribble' routine.

3:24 And is subsequently smacked in the face by a team mate.

3:28 A shot at goal for Arsenal! The keeper catches the ball, only to be headbutted by an Arsenal forward.

3:30 The keeper falls backward, him still holding the ball. His arms fall back as the referee examines the situation. Yes, it's a goal for Arsenal!

3:35 The lucky goalscorer celebrates in the 1991 fashion, by giving a team-mate a little peck on the lips.

3:36 Then by collapsing to his knees and trying to tug down the shorts of a clearly bewildered Finney for some of that early 1990s oral lovin'.

3:42 The entire outfield of the Arsenal side score another goal by shoving the Liverpool goalkeeper in the net en masse.

3:52 A Liverpool player attempts to complain to the referee about the serious foul play. The referee duly takes out his black book, which turns out to be a Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, in order to look up some of the words used in the complaints.

3:56 He doesn't like what he finds, and duly brings on his mother to disprove everything that has just been said.

4:02 Charles Cholmondley-Charles has a plan. He coats his boot in glue. We can see it is glue, as it is in a pot with the word 'glue' painted on it in huge letters.

4:06 With the ball duly affixed to his foot, the plucky Woolwich Arsenal captain runs the Liverpool defence ragged. Arsenal win the game!

4:15 A sporting finish to a sporting contest! As the two sets of players mix in order to swap shirts, an Arsenal player enamoured of the modern 1991 way also drops his own shorts, and leans forward to tug down the shorts of his astonished counterpart.

4:21 Final shot of the sketch - a 1930s footballer with his shorts around his ankles tries to run after the rapidly departing 1990s footballer. A comedy basic, but well choreographed.


2008: Harry and Paul

Sketch: Paquador versus England

England are playing the fictional Paquador at football. The teams are lined up for the national anthems.

00:20 "Here comes the Paquador national anthem." Comical subtitles appear at the bottom of the screen in order to translate the words of the anthem in question. Such as "Paquador, where the atmosphere is rarefied" and "Where the sun burns our beans to a crisp". That sort of thing.

0:35 As the camera pans long the line of Paquadorian players, Paul Whitehouse is made up to look like Columbia's talismanic forward of the 1990s Carlos Valderrama.

0:36 And Kathy Burke is making a cameo appearance as the Paquadorian dictator's wife.

0:43 The cameraman gets a bit confused and has to pan back down to fit in a short footballer.

1:08 As the 'funny' lyrics to the national anthem continue ("She will steal your crows as you writhe in agony") - and they only count as one joke, remember - the commentators note that this is a very long national anthem.

1:16 The players run off to start the match. But wait! The South American team need to rush back to the line-up, as their anthem hasn't stopped yet. They stand back in position, and mouth the words that are translated into English on our screen, but which still don't count as a new joke.

1:36 The referee allows the game to kick off while the Paquadorian team are still standing for their anthem. England rush forward.

1:44 At the end of the verse, the Paquador team belt towards their goal to try and defend it. But oh no! Their anthem still has more. The England team score a goal.

2:13 The commentator remarks on how the Generalissimo wouldn't like it if the Paquador team ignored the anthem, as England take the kick off after the goal they scored. Which, of course, can't happen in football.

The same joke is repeated until 2:54, meaning England leave the first half six goals to the good.

3:02 The Paquadorian dictator's wife has now fallen asleep, with her fag still in her gob.

[Rest for a sketch where some old men are in a fast car listening to the modern rap music. Our timer is paused.]

3:46 In the second half now, and the Paquador anthem finally finishes. England are currently winning twelve to nil. This isn't technically a joke, and won't count in the final score, we just felt the need to mark the passage of time.

3:58 Cut to the final whistle. Paquador 13 England 12, and the crowd and players all go wild. And, truth be told, we've just had out first actual snicker of the sketch.

4:07 Harry Enfield impersonates Fabio Capello mouthing Italian platitudes into a mobile phone. It is a recognisable impersonation, and therefore qualifies as a joke.

4:24 Sketch ends with no real punchline.

TOTAL LAUGHS: 12 (a generous estimate, if we're honest)

Are we going to put this into a graph? If you're asking that, you don't know us very well.

And so. Even giving one hell of a lot of slack to the 2008 Enfield/Whitehouse ticket, it's Then that romps home. If we'd classed each instance of "there's a person made up to look like the sort of person they're supposed to look like in such a sketch" as a proper joke in the 'Then' sketch, as we generously did for the modern version, it would have been a lot worse. Bad show, Harry And Paul. Quite literally.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Please Refrain From Tasting the Knob."

The First Presidential Debate is currently on CNN. For people who don't want to bother listening to the words being said by the candidates, then use their own minds to decide who is 'winning' the debate, there's a helpful little real-time graph. A little graph saying how much the audience likes what is happening IN THAT EXACT SECOND. We are not making this up. It is precisely like that bit in the Poochy episode of The Simpsons.

What blistering insights do these three coloured lines reveal to us?

When John McCain is speaking, Democrats are unhappy, Republicans are happy.

When Barack Obama is talking, the Republicans are displeased, but the Democrats perk right up.

The independents aren't really that bothered unless they're talking about killing Osama Bin Laden.

Everyone gets a boner when they start talking about Iraq or praises the troops. Or maybe they've just realised they don't have to listen to John Kerry this time.

Somehow, it's quite mesmerising, and never mind the fact we can see pretty much the same thing by opening up Task Manager on our PC, then loading and closing programs at will. There's a little frisson of excitement when Republican supporters realise that for the first time this century they've got a candidate who can pronounce 'nuclear' properly. They keep the red bar flying high when Obama starts talking about the troops, possibly in the forlorn hope that his mask will slip and he'll accidentally call them infidels, only for their interest to wane as soon as he praises their hard work. Similarly, the blue bar heads south as the Dems realise McCain isn't going to be calling anyone a 'whippersnapper' tonight.

Mainly, we can't keep our gaze away from it, just in case a tirade of four-letter expletives spilling from the mouth of one of the candidates sends it wiggling all over the place like an Etch-a-sketch on a rollercoaster. Could the favour of the independent voters be bought by mentioning either breasts or willies? Maybe it's beer or guns they're waiting for? Mentioning the prospect of Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama having a catfight on the White House lawn?

Of course not. If you were to make such a hypothesis you'd be no better than a seriously out of its depth television blog trying to write about American politics for the first time, in a run up to their live coverage of the "US Election 2008 Election Night Special... Live", which would just be stupid.

But all that's for another day. For now, thank you CNN. Thank you for keeping graphs from being dull.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Things We've Noticed When Watching Recorded Late-Night Repeats Of Flight Of The Concords On BBC Four

You might expect the person doing the sign language would by fairly redundant in a comedy show based largely on comedy songs. You'd be wrong, though. The sign language peeps get to throw some funky shapes during the musical numbers. We bet they're having a shitload more fun then when they've got to sign Trawlermen or Chinese Food Made Easy. It's way better than when we accidentally stumble into the signed hours of Sky Sports News at 3am on a Sunday morning, which we always find inexplicably disturbing. We have no idea why this latter situtation is the case, although that's possibly something to do with what we'd drunk in the preceding six hours.

Also, this: we'd forgotten how bloody marvellous the Concords pastiche of the West End Girls video in episode two was. Brilliant. "No-one cares, no-one sympathises. You just stay home and play synthesisers."

Things We've Noticed When Taking Screen Caps Of Recorded Late-Night Repeats Of Flight Of The Concords On BBC Four: When you try to get an image of the sign language signer doing a funky dance, it just looks like something in sign language. Hope it isn't rude. We've seen that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hey, if that episode ("The Rat Dog") is ever shown on More4 as a signed repeat, will the universe implode on itself?

A BrokenTV Appeal: In case any Sign Language Artistes (we have no idea what the correct term is, so please don't think we're denigrating your entire profession here) are reading this, we'd love to conduct a survey of the shows that are the most fun to sign. Do you have to paste on a fake expression of merriment when you're 'doing' "After You've Gone"? Will you be making secret signals as if to say "yes, I know. What a pair of wankers. Imagine being in the room with those two, and only having one bullet" when asked to sign the Jim Davidson episode of "The Dark Side of Fame With Piers Morgan"? The BrokenTV team would love to hear from you.

We don't even mind if you're only reading this statement as a result of a Google search fifteen months from now. We're very patient, and we realise no-one is reading this rubbish. Your anonymity is assured.


Saturday, 13 September 2008

"Merely A Puppet Show? I Think Not."

If there's something that gets us about American television, it's the way the networks are utterly terrified of taking risks with the technicalities of broadcasting. Half-hour shows must be split into three chunks of approximately seven minutes, with a few extra minutes that can be easily edited out to make way for more commercials when the show reaches syndication. The credits must come at the end of the show - no room for the trickery of putting the end credits at the start of the show (as with, say, Monty Python), or the chicanery of Alexei Sayle's Stuff starting with an announcer informing viewers that the show has been cancelled and is to be replaced with an episode of Juliet Bravo. Barring tremendously rare anomolies - "The Betrayal" episode of Seinfeld being the only instance we can think of on the main networks - messing with the rigid formula of TV in a meaningful sense has been utterly verboten on US networks. This might explain why American audiences were cooing manically over the Andy Kaufman biopic Man On The Moon, whereas the reaction in the UK was pretty much a collective 'meh'.

Right now, television in the UK is in the same unhappy rut. The digital spectrum is awash with credit squeezing, rigid style guides, "NEXT: Another repeat of Gavin And Stacey" captions crashing into the final scene of programmes, wonderfully inventive shows not making it past pilot stage because they don't fit the key 18-29 demographic (despite the channels most popular shows being a soap opera clearly aimed outside that demographic and a cartoon show jam-packed with 1980s pop culture references, but anyway), massively popular shows given little promotion because they're getting the 'wrong' nine million viewers, or all newsreaders to have the channel branding tattooed on their faces - look out of that last one to be introduced in late 2009. At the same time, the more enterprising US cable networks are finally giving a bit more freedom to the people making shows such as the deliciously demented Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job.

In the early 1990s, even the concept of comedy programmes being shot from a single camera was a frightening concept for almost all the American networks. Whereas now, programmes like Malcolm In The Middle, Scrubs, The Office or Arrested Development have shown that there is more to comedy than four cameras and a studio audience roaring approval each time the 'wacky' character appears for the first time each episode. At the time, it was only premium cable network HBO willing to take risks on programmes such as Dream On (from the creative team that went on to create Friends) and The Larry Sanders Show, and yet even HBO weren't quite sure what to do when Mystery Science Theater 3000 creator Joel Hodgson presented them with an idea for a new, high-concept sketch show - The TV Wheel.

Evolving from an earlier idea by Hodgson, then known as "The X-Box", the concept was [smug chuckle] quite revolutionary - a single, stationary camera would be mounted in the centre of a large rotating stage. This stage would be split into several different sections, each able to contain a different set. As the stage rotates around the camera, a different section hoves into view, from where a sketch (or part of a sketch) can be performed. Some sections were of different sizes, where there may only be room for some hand puppets, a spoof newspaper advert or a single performer looking through a serving hatch, while some including openings onto the background in order to utilise forced perspective visual gaggery. The most interesting part was that the whole show was to be performed as live, in one complete take, with no commercial breaks, something permitted on the subscription-funded HBO.

A pilot was commissioned and recorded in front of a studio audience. A promising team of writers and comedians were involved, including Absolutely's Morwenna Banks (then about to begin a spell as Saturday Night Live cast member) and Mr Show's David Cross, but sadly HBO elected not to broadcast the pilot, and passed on the show. It then found its way to Comedy Central, home to Hodgson's MST3K. Surely they would know what to do with it? Well, no. They promptly sat on the pilot for around a year.

Finally, and mercifully, it was decided that The TV Wheel would finally be broadcast, to coincide with the final episode of MST3K. One problem - the show was recorded as a single, twenty-nine minute take, a format suitable for HBO, but not for the advertising funded Comedy Central. The decision could have been made to put the show in a forty-minute slot, with adverts crammed in clumsily (as you will see with pretty much any BBC show running on UKTV channels, ITV3 or Paramount). Commendably, this wasn't the case. A one-hour slot was given to the show, with half the runtime given over to Hodgson to explain the concept behind the show, and to perform some business with puppets.

Even more impressively, Comedy Central permitted all advertising for the hour - sixteen minutes of it, as is the norm on basic cable - to be crammed in either side of an uninterrupted broadcast of The TV Wheel pilot, a fact helpfully illustrated at the beginning of the broadcast by Joel Hodgson using a chalkboard illustration. The countdown to the start of the show proper was marked by each segment on the chalkboard being chalked off accordingly.

All this would count for little if the show itself didn't turn out to be very good (although we must admit, we absolutely love it when us viewers are allowed behind the metaphorical silk rope of television like that), so it's fortunate that the pilot made for a largely entertaining half-hour. The whole affair needed meticulous planning, and it shows. While it is fair to say much of the material could struggle to work well as part of a generic sketch show, the amount of risks being taken along with the captivating feeling of watching something truly unique are enough to hold your attention. A lot of props and live animals are a notable part of the show, and the action is kept running at such a pace the performers need to be especially alert, meaning that there's a real sense the whole thing could go calamitously wrong as any moment. By the end of the show, you're virtually cheering the performance along, willing them to reach the end in one piece. Even the end credits are pieces of card stuck onto clear plastic being rolled up in front of a shot of the crew walking past and waving as their names appear - it's practically impossible not to love this show.

Do they make it? Well, we're not going to tell you, because hopefully a little social experiment of our own will give you the answer. We've uploaded the entire show (sans adverts) to YouTube, in six chunks. The rigidly defined maximum of ten minutes per clip mean that we've been unable to keep the show in one chunk as Hodgson intended, but we've split the introductory section from the main show, meaning the preview takes up the first two videos (in two uneven chunks), the show itself is in parts three to five, and the wrap up (and final credits) make up part six.

The main problem is that while Comedy Central 1996 were smashing, generally lovely and the very epitomy of good eggery, we can't neccessarily say the same about the 2008 model. Their evil paymasters are very likely to destroy the links as soon as they get noticed, so we can't promise they'll be up for very long. Unless common sense prevails, it becomes understood that the thing being shown was given a single broadcast around twelve years ago, was only ever given a fleetingly short mail-order only VHS release, that the website address given at the end was stolen by cybersquatting scumbuckets years ago, and using legal might to demand the removal of a performance that can only show the broadcaster in a positive, ground-breaking and enterprising light would be a thunderously self-defeating act.

So - upon which number will the dice of legal fate land? You'd be best off checking out those links while you can.


Thursday, 11 September 2008

"That's Really Funny, Robert." "Yeah. I Was In Airplane II."

Astonishingly Still Available Series Of YouTube Clips Of The Day: The Complete Larry Sanders.

Indisputably the greatest American sitcom of the 1990s that isn't Seinfeld, the series is still largely missing from the DVD shelves. The first season and two varying sizes of 'Best of' have been released over the last eight years, but reportedly due to musical rights shenanigans the later episodes are still in TBA limbo. A pity, because in Larry, Hank and Artie we have three of the most rounded characters ever to grace a comedy series, along with a great cast of other characters played by people such as a pre-24 Penny Johnson and Mary Lynn Rajskub, a pre-Mr Show Bob Odenkirk, Sarah Silverman and, erm, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and what can accurately be described as a plethora of celebrities playing slightly eskew versions of themselves. Oh, and They Might Be Giants were in one episode, which surely counts for something.

Anyway, rather than drone on whilst fighting an inner temptation to fill a paragraph with the words 'penis vagina' repeated over and over in the hope anyone reading it will get the reference, those links. When we become King Of Britain (hey, we're working on it), we will make sure YouTube user 'Drzemf' receives an OBE for this.

1.01 Garden Weasel: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.02 The Promise: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.03 The Spider Episode: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.04 Guest Host: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.05 The New Producer: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.06 The Flirt Episode: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.07 Hank's Contract: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.08 Out of the Loop: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.09 Talk Show: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.10 Party: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.11 The Warmth Episode: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.12 A Brush With the Elbow of Greatness: Part One Part Two Part Three
1.13 Hey Now: Part One Part Two Part Three

The remaining 76 episodes are all on there too, but setting up all those links took long enough. The rest of the episodes are around here. Comedy fans on the go who are untroubled by copyright infringement might like to note that with judicious use of this Greasemonkey script for Firefox, you could soon be carrying them all around with you on your mobile phone or MP4 player.

Either way, you'd be advised to enjoy them while you still can. The earlier episodes have been there for around eighteen months so far, but one can never be sure when the YouTube axe will be swung around at such things. It probably wouldn't help much if people drew attention to them on a different arm of the Google empire.


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Switzerland Can,Should, Must and Will Blow Up The Universe (and "Human Tetris")

And so, while we're at home waiting for either our new mobile phone to be delivered or for the entire universe to be destroyed (we've got BBC News 24 on in the background, just in case that happens) what better time than to explore a few international versions of Brain Wall, the Japanese gameshow currently being adapted by the BBC (which isn't called, as everyone in the British media seems to insist, Hole In The Wall, or even worse, Human Tetris. The moving blocks don't disappear, and they move horizontally. It's more like Human Klax, if anything)? But first, a top tip: if you're planning on recreating the conditions a few moments after the Big Bang but don't want to spend five billion quid, simply travel to the grave of Lord Reith, and read out loud the following section of the Independent article we've just linked to:

The adapted show, Hole in the Wall (sic), involves two teams of celebrities in shiny, skintight catsuits attempting to contort their bodies through a moving hole in a wall. A BBC spokeswoman added that if they failed, "they will fall into water".

Hey presto - a corpse spinning with cataclysmic force. Ho.

Of course, as we may have said before now, there's nothing actually wrong with daft telly. If a UK version of Takeshi's Castle was ever produced, we'd be metaphorically bursting to take part. It just seems a bit of shame when it appears on BBC One, the channel that once broadcast Abigail's Party, The Singing Detective, Hancock's Half Hour, Threads, Steptoe and Son, Yes Minister and House of Cards. You might counter with "hey, It's A Knockout was a deservedly huge hit, sausage breath", but we could then counter-counter with "because there was a large amount of variation in the events, and coupled with Stuart Hall's breathlessly enthusiastic presentational style it made for an entertaining programme. Erm, biscuit face". If something like this was on five (or ITV1 if they promised not to balls it up like they usually do), it would be fine. On the nation's main broadcaster, maybe not. But we will see. It's not like we've never been mistaken before.

But tish and fipsy. On with the reason why we're here. A play-off between some international versions of Brain Wall. We'll look at several aspects of each, and award points accordingly. On the starter's grid:

From Japan: "Tonneruzu no Minasan no Okage Deshita", which can be literally translated as "Tunnels' 'Thanks to Everyone". That's worth a bonus right there. [+5 Points]

From the USA: "Hole In The Wall". The show will premiere on Fox (look BBC, there's a version of the show with the correct broadcaster) tomorrow, but as we're special we've got a pre-air copy. Oh alright, because we've got the internet, we've 'sourced' a pre-air copy. Maybe we'd better give them a bonus point in case News International have us all killed. [+1 Point]

From Spain: "El Muro Infernal". Which translates to "The Infernal Wall", which is also a much better title, if not quite as good as the Japanese one. [+2 Points]

From Russia: "Stenka na Stenku". Trans: "Wall Against Wall". Nonsensical, and if there's one nation that could be excused for using the 'Human Tetris' moniker, it would have been this one. [+1 Point]

From Mexico: "Aguas Con El Muro!" Trans: "Beware of the wall!" A pretty concise summary of the rulebook encapsulated within the title, there. [+2 Points]

From Italy: We don't know what it's called, but apparently the contestants are all hot bikini models. [+5 Points]

JAPAN, Tunnels' Thanks to Everyone

A kitsch CGI sequence explaining the rules. [+5 Points]

Huge shiny CGI captions seemingly ripped straight from a Neo Geo game circa 1996. [+2 Points]

Comical illustrations on the wall, adding a touch of levity to the proceedings. [+1 Point]

A title sequence including three identically dressed girls chanting the title of the programme as lyrca clad goons spell out the title of the show, or episode, or something else entirely. [+4 Points]

The wickedly retro studio set including the word "HYPER" in huge letters on a wall for no descernable reason. [+2 Points]


USA, Hole In The Wall

Hugely overblown pre-title sequence with booming voiceover, as if it's a sodding Michael Bay film about America needing to save the world again. [-3 Points]

A moodily-lit studio set dominated by black and red floors, and shiny chrome, which is all wrong for this kind of show. [-2 Points]

A lengthy montage of all the best bits FROM THE ENTIRE SERIES before the show even starts properly, effectively using a huge lump hammer to smash what the show is about into the casual viewer's brain so they won't switch over. Or, more likely, letting them see all the money shots in the first two minutes, so they can safely turn over and watch that re-run of The Colbert Report instead. [-6 Points]

A CGI explanatory sequence, albeit not quite as wonderfully cheesy as the Japanese version. [+2 Points]

A slightly deeper, yet well lit pool, allowing for some really good underwater shots of the unfortunate. [+3 Points]

The main host being on a balcony on the other side of the set, meaning a co-host has to do all the worthwhile 'shop floor' presenting work. It's not exactly a huge set, why can't he just walk around a bit? [-3 Points]

Silly title cards for contestants, displaying their nicknames, names, height, weight, and a little transmogrification sequence between their 'home' and 'wall evading' personas. [+3 Points]

Shapes that are clearly impossible for the contestant to get through - that's hardly sporting, is it? [-3 Points]

Another stupid montage of the best bits from the remainder of the series at the end. Ever heard of the showbiz maxim "always leave them wanting more"? [-6 Points]


SPAIN, El Muro Infernal

A lavishly bright set. That's more like it. [+3 Points]

A 'chica' in a bikini. Not sure why, as it's the family in lycra who are taking part, but hey, why not? nb. this statement is ethically okay, as there's also a bloke off camera in his pants and vest who doesn't seem to be doing anything. [+4 Points]

The word 'agua' bubbles up onto the screen when someone goes splash. Pointless and daft, but it works for us. [+2 Points]

A camp bit of nonsense where Bikini girl and Pants/Vest Bloke are chased around the pool by a tubby bloke in an unconvincing shark outfit. This is like The Fast Show's Canel 9. [+4 Points]

Here's Pants Bloke (sans vest) cheerily interacting with a Japanese family who are taking part in the... oh fucking hell. That isn't selective snapshotting on our part, either. He actually is doing what it looks like. [-50 Points]


RUSSIA, Stenka na Stenku

A colourful set and two hosts with names we could never pronounce - a good start. As long as they avoid storming into the Georgian version of the show in big tanks, they should at the very least find themselves above their American counterparts here. [+3 Points]

What seems to be little more than a mini Olympics opening ceremony with contestants being led out to booming music and the audience waving Russian flags. It's like the 1984 Friendship Games all over again. [+2 Points]

Really, quite hugely impossible shapes to fit through. We bet if Putin ever appeared in a special, say, murderous dictator edition of the show, they wouldn't be using shapes like this. Well, unless they really wanted to be 'accidentally' shot through the face in the back of a police car. [-2 Points]

A section called Ctehka ha Ctehky, the title card for which looks like a still frame from a depessing Eastern Bloc cartoon shown as part of Animation World on Channel Four in 1983. To be fair, the countless half-hours we'd spent watching that as a kid, forlornly hoping they'd show a Daffy Duck instead of Worker Versus Parasite is hardly the fault of Stenka na Stenku. [+1 Point]

Russia have just beaten Wales at football. [-2 Points]


MEXICO, Aguas Con El Muro!

The best host we've seen so far. Not just because she's an attractive woman, but because she seems to take the entire Stuart Hall "this is brilliant! Can you believe I get paid for having this much fun!" approach to her duties. Ace. [+4 Points]

A comedy sidekick. Think of Bumblebee Man from The Simpsons, clad in blue spandex. Sadly, he comes with a whole set of Hanna-Barbera issue 'wacky' sound effects. Even on foreign telly, 'wacky' sound effects are shit. And not just because it gives us Caught In The Act With Shane Ritchie flashbacks. [-3 Points]

A caption exclaiming "¡AUCH!" after the contestant falls in the pool. [+2 Points]

Allowing Blue Spandex Bumblebee Man to stand on the precipice of a decently-sized pool of water whilst holding a big microphone? Such a disregard for health and safety regulations is of course, a Good Thing. [+3 Points]

Especially painful introductions to the water see the dunkee's head overlaid with CGI tweeting birdies. Brilliant! [+3 Points]



Tsk. Them Italians, eh? [+5 Points]


Japan: 19 Points
Mexico: 11 Points
Italy: 10 Points
Russia: 3 Points
USA: -14 Points
Spain: -35 Points

A good effort from Mexico, but it's the experts in the field who take home the prize. Maybe Italy could have done more if Mediaset's lawsuit against YouTube hadn't restricted the total clippage of the Italian version to thirty seconds, but there you go. We've probably got a wholly representative half-minute of that entire series. It is Berlusconi's network, after all.


It's going to be like the American version, isn't it? We would seriously love the show to end up like the Danny Baker-fronted series of Pets Win Prizes, but the best we can probably hope for is the Dale Winton-fronted series of Pets Win Prizes. Largely because the UK version is being hosted by... Dale Winton. If it's any consolation, the UK version is likely to include less overt racism than the Spanish version.

But hey, at least the entire universe didn't implode while we were typing all this. Small mercies, eh?



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