Just in time for Christmas, the BBC manages to push out a disc that’s guaranteed to “astound, impress and win you drink after drink”. The team from The Real Hustle, a spin-off of con-artist ‘drama’ Hustle, get ninety minutes in which to display a multitude of tricks of the ‘bet you can’t do this’ variety.
You read that right: ninety minutes. That’s a lot of tricks. It’s also a long time to keep a DVD like this going. Alex Conran, Jessica Clement and Paul Wilson sit in some flashy bars with lots of extras, gradually fooling them all out of…well, drink after drink. In fact, this is the only time you will get completely sick of the phrase “I’ll buy you a drink”, it’s so overused. Could they not have taken people’s watches off them? Wallets? Houses? That’s not the point, of course, and the whole thing smacks of a less threatening version of a Derren Brown show (I reviewed Mr Brown’s latest DVD a couple of weeks ago and the direct comparison is inevitable – one of the bets is even mentioned in the opening to his book Tricks of the Mind).
The bets are divided into several chapters, from those that only need a glass or a business card to the considerably more complex – good luck finding a raw egg in a bar. Some of the initial ones I worked out straight away, but many are of a high enough ‘cleverness’ standard to have you thinking about them after the programme has finished. They are nicely varied, ranging from simple linguistics through to logic puzzles, while some rely on the victim having a poor knowledge of physics. One of the most memorable involves the aforementioned egg being balanced on the lip of a beer bottle, and it’s quite baffling even though there is no real ‘trick’ involved.
The subject matter is inherently interesting, but the problem lies in the presentation. This has its origins in BBC Three and it’s achingly obvious – a fairly bland commentator introduces each bet, it’s done, there’s a five-second pause for you to have a think about it, and the solution is revealed. It never deviates from this pattern. While the presenters are good enough, and pull off the stunts with reasonably natural aplomb, it’s all terribly samey and could do with some different content interspersed between the main events. We never get any direct contact with the people involved as they’re not interviewed, and there is no interaction with the presenters whatsoever. It’s been a long time since I last watched The Real Hustle so perhaps I was supposed to know them already. All I learnt about any of them during the show was that the woman could really do with putting some more clothes on.
The performer who sprang to mind while I watched this was Paul Zenon, whose recent shows are, essentially, an hour’s worth of bar bets. He is a master of his art, and quickly becomes a god when placed next to this. It’s not bad, it’s just lacking – you desperately want a bit more drama, a bit more flair, a bit more…anything. It’s the sterile, anaemic, ‘trendy’ version of the edgier shows peddled by Zenon, Brown et al., for people who don’t like being made to feel uncomfortable but would be quite happy to get one over on their ‘friends’ later. It’s also trendily overpriced, coming in at a stunning twenty pounds with no extras. For half the price you could buy Zenon’s outstanding book Street Magic or even invest in Derren Brown: The Specials, which won’t win you any money but is a great few hours’ worth of entertainment by someone for whom silly tricks are the tip of the iceberg.
If any producers are out there reading this, I’ve just realised that what I would really like to see is The World’s Greatest Bar Bets presented by Paul Zenon, Derren Brown and Paul Daniels; and maybe throw in some extras done by psychologist Richard Wiseman. Now I bet that would be worth buying.18 December 2008
The World’s Greatest Bar Bets is out now.