This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on Saturday 19 August 2017.
CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP: Monday to Friday, Channel 4
QUACKS: Tuesday, BBC Two
Noel Edmonds is a phenomenon.
A modern-day sage, seer and alternative thinker, he’s the most misunderstood multimillionaire maverick genius since Howard Hughes.
He’s also a frustrated comedian trapped in the body of a leonine entrepreneur, never happier than when he’s prowling around a daft fantasy world that’s broadcast on television for the delight of several. Crinkly Bottom was Noel’s Shangri-La, his safe retreat from a cruel, uncaring society.
Alas, CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP, a semi-scripted comedy quiz show in which our host plays the owner of a bonkers department store, fails to scale the dizzying heights of that Blobby-bothered wonderland.
“It is a very, very simple game,” explains Noel. He’s not wrong, although it is at least a slight step up from his previous vehicle/cult recruitment process Deal or No Deal, which had no rules whatsoever.
Noel presents the contestants with a variety of actual products – it’s okay, Channel 4 are allowed to advertise – and they have to guess which of them retails at the cheapest price. The more correct guesses they make, the more money they win. The grand prize is £25,000. But if they get just one wrong, they lose everything. And that’s it.
Or rather, it would be were it not for the presence of a bunch of jobbing actors playing Noel’s wacky staff. Without them the show would last ten minutes. Not even Noel, who did an undeniably stellar job of milking tension from thin air in Deal or No Deal, could keep this flimsy conceit going on his own.
These characters, these refugees from a bad children’s show, allow Noel to do his patented “What’s going on? This is crazy!” hapless straight-man act whenever they interrupt him. Which is often.
He also does a lot of fake giggling at risqué gags, another one of his key talents.
It’s all very knowing, of course. No one, not even Noel, thinks this is a clever high-concept game show. It’s just a bit of self-consciously stupid fun.
Except it’s not. It’s neither funny nor involving, and doesn’t even succeed – as we’d all hoped – as a bewildering orgy of must-see Edmonds madness. It’s just boring.
The lack of studio audience gives it a dead-air atmosphere that no amount of desperate Noel corpsing can cover up. It drags on forever.
If Noel Edmonds want to host a bad quiz show in a pretend shop, he’s more than welcome to do so. But did he really need to film it? He doesn’t need the money, he could’ve staged this in the privacy of his own enormous home.
Then everybody would be happy. Then we’d all be winners, cosmically ordered for all eternity. Isn’t that what you want, Noel?
It’s a scene familiar from so many dark 19th century period dramas: a dashing surgeon performs a grisly yet pioneering operation before an astonished audience of scientific minds and gasping women. QUACKS, a new historical sitcom starring Rory Kinnear and written by James Wood of Rev renown, takes that scene and runs with it.
It’s broader and sillier than the understated Rev, but similarly witty. Wood has fun mocking the violence, ugliness, prejudice, propriety and repression of Victorian society, but never in a sneering way. The tone is rather jolly.
It also looks like an actual BBC period drama, albeit one in which a surgeon accidentally amputates a patient’s testicles and an arrogant doctor refuses to examine anyone.
It’s the best new British comedy of the year so far.