What happens when you chuck some larger-than-life puppets, bewildered celebrities and madcap challenges into a Saturday night, primetime slot on the BBC? You end up with the unexpectedly good That Puppet Game Show.
When I wrote my preview of this show on Friday, I had only seen a few quick clips – and wasn’t particularly impressed by what I saw. I wrote, ‘Everything tells me that it will be a car crash – Time Out gave it a one-star review last week – but I hope I’m proved wrong. I suppose that after Don’t Scare the Hare (which was axed in 2011, just 2/3 through its run) we have come to assume that anything frivolous and involving non-human presenters is destined for failure.’ My dubiety could also have been owing to the critical mauling that BBC1’s other entertainment show, I Love My Country came in for when it began its run last week.
I was, however, really surprised to find that That Puppet Game Show is actually funny! It just works so well as an entertainment show: the puppets all have individual personalities and Dougie Colon (pronounced ‘Cologne’) is the archetypal, slightly cheesy, Saturday night host. It’s not cruel in any way, no one gets hurt (well, Rob Brydon’s ego might have taken a bit of a bruising) and there’s plenty there for both kids and adults to enjoy: it truly is great family-friendly television.
The rounds are very well-formed and typically silly, too. My particular favourite was Life’s a Speech – overseen by That Puppet Game Show’s resident showbiz expert, Amber O’Neill. It involved this week’s star guests, Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins, accepting an award (for Best Banter and Pride of Wales, respectively) and reading a speech from an autocue – but with blanks. They each had to fill in the blanks in their speech by drawing on their general knowledge to name things like the highest mountain in Wales, the seven continents of the world and the three nations who won the most medals at the 2012 Olympics. And Katherine did really well – she seemed to know a lot! Jonathan, on the other hand? Well…let’s just say that there’s going to be something of an awkward atmosphere the next time Rob Brydon – or ‘That one in the middle’ from Would I Lie to You? – is on Wossy’s sofa.
Despite my love of That Puppet Game Show, I’m not a fan of every aspect. The behind-the-scenes sketches, which see the puppets talking to each other and the producer in the gallery, production office, etc. are just weak. They spoil the show for me. I would have been content watching Jonathan and Katherine compete in the ridiculous games of the main show – and I’m sure lots of the other viewers would have been, too. Instead, though, we had to sit through these sketches which, while involving an admittedly clever plot, weren’t particularly funny or engaging. In fact, towards the end I stopped paying attention to them.
That Puppet Game Show can survive quite well on its own. It is a good, entertaining show without these behind-the-scenes interruptions. Perhaps it would have been a better idea to incorporate each episode’s plot – which this week was the impending sacking of one of the members of the team – into the programme, with the puppets alluding to it throughout – just as Clyde the Crab did at one point. That way, there’d still be more than one element to the show but we wouldn’t have this switch between the games and sketches.
Being from The Jim Henson Company – the team behind The Muppets, Bear in the Big Blue House and Fraggle Rock – there was a lot riding on That Puppet Game Show and, on the whole I loved it, and it seems that other people do, too. Well, it’s been received more warmly than I Love My Country, at least.
Images courtesy of BBC and Guy Levy, ©BBC
That Puppet Game Show is on Saturdays at 6:45pm on BBC1
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You can also see my recommendations for the coming week’s TV on this blog, published every Saturday at midnight.