Paul Henry's disjointed return to TV

22:26, Feb 12 2012

Paul Henry made his long-awaited return to television last night as the host of Would I Lie to You?, a panel show in which two teams try to trick each other by trying to pass off unbelievable statements as the truth. It's a great idea for a show, adapted from a British series of the same name, and boasts a pair of decent team leaders in 7 Days regulars Jesse Mulligan and Jon Bridges.

Surprisingly, the immediate response - at least on Twitter and Facebook - was overwhelmingly negative. It wasn't a perfect show by any stretch. But I certainly don't think it was bad enough to warrant the response it received, and many of the complaints (mostly to do with the editing and the choice of guests) were unfair, as if everyone was disappointed that it isn't 7 Days 2.0.

One complaint that I saw multiple times was from people who thought the teams should have been made up entirely of comedians, as opposed to the mix of comedians, actors and personalities who appeared last night. However, the British show uses guests such as Nigel Havers and Sir Terry Wogan, an actor and a general television personality. I haven't seen the British show, but I suspect the Kiwi version is probably closer to the original than most viewers might expect.

The response on social media actually reminded me of Friday's post, in which we discussed how much time we should allow for a new show to find its feet, deciding that three shows is enough time for a show to grab you as a viewer. Shouldn't we extend the same courtesy to a show like Would I Lie to You?

For all its faults, and even though I didn't enjoy it as much as I was expecting, it seems only a couple of tweaks away from being a genuinely good watch. First, I think the show needed more explanation at the start of the episode; as viewers, we were just thrown in without any idea what was about to happen. The game is simple enough to follow, but I still had an "okay, so that's how it works" moment after the first round.

Second, the show seemed to work best when the "lies" were harder to figure out. There was no suspense when guest panellist Robyn Malcolm tried to make everyone believe that she had three rotisserie chickens delivered to her dressing room each morning while working on Outrageous Fortune, but it was interesting when Malcolm, Mulligan and Ewen Gilmour told equally believable stories about a surprise guest in the "This Is My ..." round.

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The show will succeed or fail with the choice of panellists. There will be weeks in which the guests don't work as well as the producers might hope - for example, Penny Ashton is immensely talented, but she looked downright uncomfortable last night. I don't think it's fair to give up on the show because of an occasional bad choice of guest.

Besides, I thought it was great to learn a little about the guests. Oliver Driver's tale about an argument he had with a random lady who thought he was Jeremy "Newsboy" Wells had me in stitches.

I haven't even mentioned how host Paul Henry* didn't seem a good fit for the show, almost as if he was on a different wavelength from the two teams. Where panellists like Mulligan, Bridges and Driver seemed capable of interjecting off-the-cuff comments, Henry seemed to be delivering pre-written bits that sounded out of place and stopped any momentum the show was building up.

Perhaps Henry isn't capable of that impromptu style and tried not to get involved? Perhaps he has trouble fitting scripted lines into the flow of conversation? Or perhaps he simply isn't as interesting, or as funny, as the guest panellists he was surrounded by? I think it might be a bit of all three - and while he might improve over time (a la Jeremy Corbett on 7 Days), it sure doesn't seem his skill-set suits this particular format.**

Would I Lie To You didn't get off to a great start, but with a little tweaking (and a little time for Henry to get into the swing of things) it could certainly become a great show.

Anyway, those are my thoughts - now I'm interested in yours:

Did you watch Would I Lie To You? If so, what did you think of the first episode? Will you give it another chance, or is there simply not enough to keep you interested? How do you think the show could be improved? And are you glad to see Paul Henry back on broadcast TV?

(*) My sole post about Paul Henry is still the most-commented-on OTB post to date.

(**) It also proves that he probably wouldn't do as well on 7 Days as we all might have hoped.

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