Now, nearly four years since the first announcement, it’s finally upon us – but has it been worth the wait?
The fact that the BBC has cut the number of episodes in half – to two from the four filmed – didn’t bode well. The BBC’s excuse – “During the production process it’s not unusual for a new series to change length as the format evolves” – appeared to come straight from the school of carefully prepared press statements. So, although I was prepared for the worst, I was pleasantly surprised to find that episode one isn’t actually too bad at all. Or rather it is quite bad, but being bad is kind of what The Generation Game does so well, if you see what I mean.
Under Larry Grayson, Bruce Forsyth and then Jim Davidson, it always prided itself on being cheerful and cheesy. It’s a show many of us will have watched from our earliest years and fortunately for those of us of a nostalgic bent the format hasn’t really changed: two family members from different generations do various silly tasks before a grand final in which the last pair have to remember the objects on a conveyor belt in order to win the prizes.
Mel and Sue don’t try and ape their illustrious predecessors, which is wise. What they do is play to their own strengths, just as Larry Grayson did with his naughty high octane camp and Brucie with his unpredictable mischief – never far from a withering put-down it made him thrilling to watch, even if he was essentially always on the contestants’ side.
Mel and Sue are a thoroughly likeable double act – encouraging, sweet and warm has always been their watchword, and they don’t change things here which adds to the bubblebath feel of good-will and encouragement.
It’s probably not too much of a spoiler to disclose that one of the “grand prizes” is a cuddly toy – a classic Generation Game staple and one which the studio audience certainly recognised and appreciated. It probably earned the biggest cheer of the night. The second biggest cheer went to Basil Brush who turned up at the end, a reminder of many a cosy Saturday teatime for us middle agers – and in keeping with the nostalgic vibe.
The tasks in the new look show are “Make That” which involves creating something and “Copy That” which, well, you can guess.
The “Make That” round has a certain appeal, even if it is one designed squarely to appeal to fans of the double entendre gags that Mel and Sue specialised in during their Bake Off Days. They even get to hurry the contestants along at various points. “The clock’s ticking guys…” they say in yet another flick to the past – in their case a nod to a tent, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry?
The first “Make That” round sees Johnny Vegas (comedian and ceramicist) oversee the makings of tea pots. And because it’s the Generation Game, the fact that the handles and spouts look rather phallic probably isn’t a surprise. And guess what’s next… a sausage making contest! Oh, the hilarity!
Sausage-making in The Generation Game
The other tasks involve plate spinning and Bollywood dancing. All good fun, if slightly less saucy.
Pointless host Richard Osman (a student of TV history who seems to clearly enjoy seeing this TV behemoth brought back to life) and ITV Daytime’s Lorraine Kelly also feature in episode one as celebrity judges. Richard is a good sport, appearing to take the rise out of people but actually being thoroughly nice all in all. His co-judge is even more sweet and generous; everyone is fantastic in Lorraine land.
We’re not allowed to tell you who the “mystery pop music legend” who appears at the end is but don’t get your hopes up too much.
Despite a few false starts and a long journey to our screens, this latest incarnation of The Generation Game will have you smiling – therefore doing the same job the format has done since it first hit British television screens in 1971. It’s not an hour’s TV that will tax your cerebral cortex too much, but that’s not what it’s designed to do.
Perhaps there might be a series in this after all? Send in the cuddly toys!
The Generation Game starts on BBC1 on Easter Sunday at 8pm