You can question TV’s current Rosebud-like obsession with stuff that used to make us happy as kids all you like; the truth is that watching Richard Ayoade being wry to people dressed like ghostbusters is just good medicine. Watching Richard Ayoade in salmon pink corduroy being wry to minor celebrities dressed like ghostbusters is excellent medicine.
Throw in some diverting games and theme music that instantly lifts the spirits and you’ve got a remedy that gives you an hour (or, forty-five minutes not including ads) in which to forget the world’s parlous state and feel once again like a kid balancing a plateful of beans and potato waffles on your knees in front of the telly.
Yes, The Crystal Maze is back, and it’s good for what ails you.
As the new Maze Master in this revival, Ayoade is a natural fit. He’s a dandy tour guide with a healthy sense of deprecation about the whole business. Ayoade presents the show as if it, gameshows, celebrities and TV in general all fall somewhere between giant inflatable bananas and dancing Coke cans on a scale of usefulness and absurdity, without removing any of the fun.
Most of the fun in this Stand Up To Cancer Celebrity Special is to be had from the traditional source of the team being rubbish. (To truly enjoy the schadenfreude, you need to have first made peace with the ‘sorry lads, because Bonnie Langford didn’t juggle enough satsumas, you can’t have £100,000 to cure cancer’ nice/mean paradox of charity gameshows.) Failure followed failure, leaving you wondering how this lot managed to leave the green room without getting locked in.
One team member, Vicky Pattison, bucked the trend by proving herself competent and winning all of her games. Her secret? Getting on with the job and not wasting half the allotted time reading the rules out to her teammates at the speed of a Key Stage 1 child struggling with phonemes. Pattison saw a tap, some drainpipes and three water receptacles and set about assembling a rudimentary plumbing system. Top marks. She saw a room of dangling planets and nimbly stepped her way across and back with time to spare. “I couldn’t have done it without you guys” she told her teammates at the end. “I think you could” said Ayoade. If it was up to cancer research, she would have.
Cancer research not having a say in the matter, the games were also split between Ore Oduba (out of Strictly), Alex Brooker (out of The Last Leg), Louie Spence (out of 2010) and Lydia Bright (out of her depth). As the failures piled up, the pressure grew. To their credit though, the team stayed supportive and didn’t implode with recrimination. “To be honest with you,” Vicky told Lydia through a window and gritted teeth in the Medieval Zone, “I don’t think we are getting anywhere, but it’s no reflection on you.”
After he was locked in, Louie Spence spent much of the episode adrift on a raft in his vest and pants, in an image in no way reflective of his TV career. Things being so peaceful and pirouette-free in his absence, Louie’s teammates were understandably reluctant to buy his freedom (“I don’t think we should be without crystals” was captain Alex’s diplomatic excuse). Eventually though, guilt got the better of them and out Louie came.
The new games were as good and varied as you remember. There were word puzzles, logic puzzles, tests of balance and manual dexterity, and a set of riddles that really seemed to take some thinking about despite one answer resting solely on knowing how many legs there are on a fish. In his befuddled frustration at their incompetence, Ayoade really shone. “I’m having a panic attack” he told the camera and I believed him. We all were.
The rest of the time, Ayoade’s authority held fast. Even faced with shoe-throwing disobedience from human yapping, back-flipping robot toy dog Louie, both Richard’s dry shtick and hand-on-a-stick stayed intact and in charge. Every so often, a little of The IT Crowd’s Maurice Moss was visible, not least of all in his observation that the chatty team were “having a fricking symposium”.
There were new catchphrases (“Follow the hand!”, “mins” and “Tuck in, tuck in”), new acronyms (ALIS being an automatic lock-in situation), a shiny new Futuristic Zone with new special effects and a fancy new crystal dome. We didn’t meet the replacements for Mumsie played by Adam Buxton and Jessica Hynes. The star power of these charity specials already being sky-high, perhaps they’re being saved for the civilian episodes.
In the end, the team won an admirable ten thousand pounds for Stand Up To Cancer. The real winner though, despite a disappointing lack of wet log action, was us. The revival has all the chaotic, silly fun and needless running around of the original. I do hope that corduroy’s breathable.