The Crystal Maze review: “The same brilliant weirdness for a new generation”

Why Channel 4 chose to air awkward celebrity specials before the normal series return is a mystery, says Huw Fullerton

The Crystal Maze Shot1 005 copy

Will you start the fans, please!?! Because after a few false starts, the Crystal Maze is well and truly back.

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Now, I know what you’re thinking –“Huw, you buffoon, why are you only saying it’s ‘back’ today, considering the resurrected 90s series has been running on Friday nights throughout the summer and even had a special last autumn? Arguably, it’s already more back than Johann Sebastian himself.”

And to that I’d reply, “Your punning is impressive – but I stand by my earlier stance.”

For The Crystal Maze as we used to know and love it wasn’t TRULY back until today. You see, after announcing the series’ return earlier this year Channel 4 inexplicably decided to air a series of celebrity specials first, and are only now showing the “proper” version of their Crystal Maze reboot tonight – the version where ordinary members of the public are subtly mocked as they passive-aggressively advise each other through a series of difficult tasks. Hooray!

And as the maze opens its doors once again, not much has changed since the original series’ 90s heyday – contestants are still put through their paces with Mental, Physical, Mystery and Skill challenges in rooms that will lock if they fail or run out of time, in a quest to gain more crystals and spend more time collecting tickets in the Crystal Dome – though the Aztec, Industrial, Future and Medieval Zones have received a bit of a tune-up for the updated edition.

Plus of course, original host Richard O’Brien has been replaced by the IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade, bringing his trademark deadpan humour to proceedings as he shepherds Scottish family the Watsons through increasingly bizarre puzzles with his hand-shaped cane.

The Watson family attempt to get their hands on a crystal

At one point, while explaining a tile-based wordplay task to the viewers at home he quips: “Synonyms are words with similar meanings. I’m being asked to provide that information by Channel 4, who don’t believe in you,” and the episode is stuffed with similarly droll one-liners that I won’t spoil here.

The tasks themselves are also all-new for the new generation, ranging from the genuinely baffling (one challenge which involves turning off lights to create a pattern seems almost impossible) to the bafflingly easy, like in tonight’s edition when one member of the Watson clan singularly fails to work out the simplest of riddles (delivered, rather brilliantly, by the disembodied head of Adam Buxton) which had me screaming at my screen.

Overall, then, it’s the same brilliant old weirdness for the next generation, and it’s only a shame that Channel 4 didn’t believe in it enough to let it air before the flashier celebrity specials.

Of course, the 90s were a very different time, and the new Crystal Maze might not become the same cult hit as its predecessor – but it’s still well worth exploring.

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The Crystal Maze returns to Channel 4 on Fridays at 8.00pm