This is a full review of episode 1 of the new series of The Crystal Maze. If you don’t want to know who gets locked in and whether the whole team make it to the Dome, look away now! If not, then let’s start the fans please!
Now this is the reboot we’ve all been waiting for. It’s The Crystal Maze baby! The gameshow that everyone agreed needed a second chance. Off the success of last October’s Stand Up to Cancer special we have another set of celebrities to introduce the series proper (20 episodes in total with five sets of celebrities and 15 sets of normals) and the much-discussed new presenter Richard Ayoade. The team are familiar as presenters and reality-show fodder; Ore Oduba, Vicky Pattison, Alex Brooker, Lydia Bright and (sigh) Louie Spence. “Society accorded these people celebrity status” intones Richard with much mock seriousness.
Alex Brooker is team captain but easily the most useful team member is Vicky Pattinson Of course she’s got quite the pedigree when it comes to the oddest of odd gameshows, and proven herself to be clever and resourceful. Alex could have done with cloning Vicky. Louie Spence is best enjoyed during his lock-in i.e. off screen and safely behind a locked door. No one seemed quite sure that they want to spend a hard-fought crystal getting him back. Vicky is bold and takes the initiative in the games and when advising the rest of the team. She has a calming presence and is a clear communicator despite Richard’s teasing about her Geordie accent. “Don’t panic flower” she tells everyone. When I get stressed out I need that on a loop.
We are in familiar territory – four of them in fact. That’s Industrial (very big, making full use of the purpose-built 32,500 square foot space), Aztec (very sandy and looks much like the original ), Futuristic (a cross between a Ridley Scott space station and a high-end industrial kitchen – it’s only a matter of time before the Doctor and Bill come running through) and Medieval, which looks almost identical to the original series, and made me extremely happy because it’s the one where I wanted to live. The coordinated jumpsuit uniforms and graphics look really good, again there’s been tiny tweaks not radical changes.
Richard is extremely confident in his delivery, looking sharp in a fuchsia suit, gold boots and wielding his erm… handy golden hand to keep the punters at a physical as well as an emotional distance. Moss would approve. He dishes out helpful tips as well as acerbic asides to the camera; “I’m sometimes worth listening to” he yells over the celebrity chatter. “Sorry you have to watch this” he says, as the game appropriately slows to a snail’s pace on an animal riddle. Richard gleefully draws our attention to all the conceits, the parts we’re not meant to focus on – “Don’t worry, it’s editing!”.
The games are all new, but very much inspired by the original. Word games for celebrities seem especially cruel. And the physical games seem designed to make people puke; there’s a lot of spinning around to be done. After his ignoble lock-in at an Aztec pond, something that can best be described as apple buckaroo is Louis’ redemption and the team get to the Crystal Dome with most of their dignity intact. The dome itself is all done up in blue lights, and looks smaller than before, but fan system can keep seven bouncy castle erect so can certainly give gold and silver foil a buffeting.
VP is the MVP. Modestly Vicky says “I couldn’t have done it without you guys” to which Richard replies “I think you could have”.
There were some raised eyebrows at the choice of presenter, but in just one episode Richard proves to be fantastic; a nod to the past with similar stylishness and energy to Richard O’Brien and Ed Tudor-Pole but I think he can really make the role his own. He has just the right blend of authoritative officiousness, scathing commentary and exasperated eye-rolling at silly mistakes. Celebrities are fun to needle though, and I wonder what he’ll be like when the ordinary Joes don the grey jumpsuits. This time around contestants have applied in teams (and won’t just meet each other the night before as in the original series) so they will be safety in numbers if Richard proves to be a big meanie.
The Crystal Maze starts on Friday 23rd June at 9pm on Channel 4. Thanks to Channel 4 and 02 sponsorship I got a preview link so could watch it the day before it’s on the telly. Yay!
For an authoritative behind the scenes list of the changes made for 2017 check out this fantastic Den of Geek article.