First things first, a disclaimer. I love Richard Osman. Tall, speccy, a little bit awkward, loves telly, trivia and making people laugh. Those features can easily describe us both. Insert dull-sounding tv show here; Nope, I’m not going to watch it. Oh, Richard Osman’s on it? Well I guess I’ll take a look. He is of course the quizzing genius behind the daytime TV phenomenon that is Pointless. A producer and director Pointless was in fact his first foray into jobs in front of the camera.
His new quiz show House of Games is in an early evening slot. I’ve seen it described as Only Connect for everyone, but the one loyal set of celebrities appearing for fives shows over a week reminds me of Dave’s supberb Taskmaster. In week one comedians Nish Kumar and Al Murray are joined by TV presenter Anneka Rice, and Radio 1 presenter Clara Amfo. The celebs are well chosen and well mixed, bound to be a bit reliant on stand-up comics for quick wit and general show-off skills. As Taskmaster proves, this is no bad thing.
Let’s take a near neighbour of House of Games and do a comparison. Eggheads, for some reason still on TV after 14 years, makes my skin crawl. It’s so desperately awful. Suffer through smug self satisfied smariness from the team of so-called quiz experts and from the presenter Jeremy Vine. God no, please don’t explain for a full 7 minutes why you think that’s the answer, just give us the bloody answer. And if the disparity in the final question to the challengers is on the progeny of an ancient monarchy and to the eggheads is “What’s the name of the current Queen of England” one more damn time I swear I’ll put my boot through the TV. At the end of it no one feels better about themselves, apart from possibly the Eggheads’ agents.
House of Games doesn’t want to catch anyone out or make fun of the underdog. It’s funny, charming and slightly awkward, but this only adds to its charm. Very much in the style of Pointless, Richard hopes you’ll be playing along at home. And the questions are irresistible, not because they’ll show off your tremendous general knowledge of obscure topics (like University Challenge) or your astounding leaps of logic (Only Connect), but because this good time on screen is infectious.
The rounds I most enjoyed I found I wasn’t even very good at – Broken Karaoke where you see the first letter of each word in a set of lyrics and have to work out the song. I hope the people from Radio 2 are watching as Clara Amfo’s music knowledge from so many decades is a hell of a audition for when she moves on from Radio 1. The show is unusual as there are collaborative as well as competitive rounds. There are a few gentle jokes at the expense of Anneka Rice, trailing in last place throughout, but also encouragement and warm congratulations when she got an answer right.
The final round Answer Smash is a delight – the smushed up answers to two clues are almost impossible to say with a straight face, and you have a lovely little endorphin boost when you work them out. Some of them are very cheeky too – as you can see from the Putin picture below. The answer is below!
I’m not sure about the clapping and whooping. It makes it very clear that this is not filmed in front of a studio audience, and that the people on set are trying to make as much noise as possible, which sadly isn’t a lot. The set is so large it looks like there might be physical challenges, but fortunately we are in the company of people who know the importance of a nice cup of tea and a sit down after work.
There’s a real spark to this new show – it’s unashamedly joyful and funny, and full of surprises. There’s also the added interest of the weekly league table and working out who the overall winner will be. Early evening TV can be a tricky slot to do well in, but House of Games has pretty much nailed it on all front.
The second week of House of Games starts Monday 11 September tomorrow at 6pm on BBC2. Catch up on week one on iPlayer.
Did you work out the Putin Answer Smash? It was of course PuTinkerbell