TV Review: Pointless

Alexander Armstrong is the host of British game show Pointless.
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Alexander Armstrong is the host of British game show Pointless.

REVIEW: 

I fear that I'm only writing about Pointless (Weekdays, 9.15am and 6pm, UKTV; Sky 007) so that I can have that headline.

Sometimes there are series on TV that defy explanation. Who would watch this? The thing runs for years. Pointless has been screening since 2009, spawning games, books and celebrity specials.  For the life of me, I can't see why.

The concept is quirky but interesting. The lowest score wins. The highest score loses. I thought that this might result in a TV version of Humiliation, where the person with least knowledge wins. I was wrong.

Crafty Richard Osman, the creator of Pointless, had the shrewd idea of having a hundred volunteers attempt all the questions first, so that he knows the percentage of correct answers.  A cluster of flags, for example, produced a recognition score of Argentina –18, Mexico – 13, Chile – 7, Saudi Arabia – 6 and Bahamas – 2. So if contestants took turns in identifying flags, the low scores would be the winners.

The most easily identified flag was Australia, which rated 50.  A wrong answer automatically scores 100, so the point is not just to get a right answer, but also to get a really obscure answer.

"Welcome to the quiz show where the lowest scorers are the biggest winners," chirps Alexander Armstrong, the amiable comedian who hosts Pointless. He has the thankless task of winnowing four teams down to one, while keeping the mood cheerful.  Alexander begins by introducing "my pointless friend, Richard" to keep the score. Richard Osman is in fact the creator of Pointless and he was at university with Alexander. Richard perches behind his computer, a happy fact-collector, who has all the correct answers at his fingertips along with lots of very irrelevant facts. Did you know the white on Argentina's flag represents the Andes? Richard gets paid for looking that up.

Alexander kicks off Pointless by introducing Simon and Les from Essex, Lizzie and Ken from Edinburgh, Janet and Alex from Luton, and Kate from Bristol with her mother Isobel from Swansea. "I don't think Swansea got enough applause," says Alexander politely (it didn't get a sausage).

The first round of questions involves naming Jackson songs (Michael, Janet or the Five) and the aim is to name the song that the fewest people would have identified. As the scores mount up, personalities begin to emerge, especially the fun-loving pair from Luton. Alex who was once "the longest baby in Luton" at 61cm, now lives "the rock 'n' roll lifestyle of a library assistant in Luton".  His partner Janet, also a library assistant, admits that she likes "playing with sticky-back plastic. And I'm very fond of rolling shelves".

Both hosts know a feed-line when they hear it.

"The Rolling Shelves – I love that band!" cries Alexander (yes, it's Alexander's gag-time band).

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Richard is more subtle, "I'm doing d-i-y at the moment. Have you got any books on shelves?"

The Jackson family certainly sing a lot. Did you know that Michael Jackson's Ben was the theme song from a film about a killer rat? And they say TV isn't educational.

Alexander went to Kate and Isobel next. Isobel certainly knew how to cue the audience.

Alexander: "Now, Isobel, you are from Swansea."

Isobel: "I am. Big round of applause!"

There was a big round of applause.  A couple of whoops and a cheer as well.

Isobel said she was a Nordic walking instructor and, under cross-examination, said that it teaches people how to do Nordic walking. When Isobel further explained that it was walking with poles, Richard pounced, "I would have thought it was walking with Norwegians, not Poles." It didn't get any better. 

Scores went up and down. Who knew FIFA records? Teams dropped out. The next round involved identifying RAF Aircraft from World War 2, using five anagrams. Try this at home:  "raunchier, gold tiara, quits moo, ripe first, a radar cub". 

Kate and Isobel got to the final round, but had no idea of the names of crime novels by James Elroy, Ian Rankin or Martina Cole. Rebus Returns, Rebus Reborn and Rebus Bites the Dust were inspired guesses but wrong. Somewhere behind the scenes, Janet and Alex from Luton were furious; they could have got the most Pointless answers. As it was, Kate and Isobel left with no cash, but a Pointless trophy.

That was an hour of my life I'm not going to get back. I was left feeling baffled and bored. A lot of time is spent in whispered consultations, which makes bad TV. Unfortunately there's a lot of movement with team members departing and their podiums vanishing. At the same time, there's a continual flow of numbers across the screens and up and down the scoring thermometers.  The overall effect is of an adult remedial Maths class, with extra searchlights.

So who watches it?  That baffles me  (the accurate answer is millions in Britain, where Pointless outstrips The Chaser in a similar afternoon time-slot). The late afternoon screening here suggests local viewers must be schoolkids. Perhaps this is what you have to watch when you're out of work. Or confined to bed. Or prison maybe?

Pointless has only one good point. It explains that marvellous Numberwang sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look. At last, it all makes sense.

What's On?

Anzac Day Dawn Service (Saturday, 5,30am, TV One, 6am, Maori TV) and National Commemorative Service (10.35am, TV One)   Anzac Cove Dawn Service (2.30pm, TV One, Maori TV, TV3)

Descent from Disaster: A Gallipoli Special (Saturday, 5pm, TV One) looks at Gallipoli as seen through the eyes of Zinzan Brooke's grandfather.

The Forgotten General (Saturday, 6pm, Prime) is another chance to see this documentary about General Andrew Russell's military career.

Anzac: Tides of Blood (Saturday, 8pm, Maori TV) follows Sam Neill on a pilgrimage through his family's military history.

Country Calendar (Saturday, 7pm, TV One).  Yes, it's an Anzac episode from a Hawkes Bay sheep station. One that used to belong to a general. Guess who?

When We Go To War (Sunday, 8.30pm, TV One) is a New Zealand costume drama which follows several families through their Great War experience.

Pick of the Week

Should I Eat Meat? (Wednesday, 8.30pm, BBC Knowledge; Sky 074) and The Truth about Meat (Wednesday, 9.30pm, BBC Knowledge; Sky 074).

These are two important documentaries by Michael Mosley – who has hit headlines recently with his diet ideas – asking whether meat-eating is good for our health or for our planet. A thought-provoking evening.

 - Stuff

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