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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

We Need Answers, BBC4

The internet has provided many of the revelatory moments of this decade, and one of the most illuminating is that people, on the whole, are quite stupid. Burrow into the rancid carcass of any YouTube comments section and you’ll discover throbbing grubs mindlessly stringing words together into shabby sentences that make George Orwell’s Newspeak read like Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, stories on newspaper sites are brought to the brink of ruination by morons eager to twist their dim-witted, barely-literate propaganda to the daily headlines; with, politically speaking, vapid ciphers from the left and right wailing into the void, gaining confidence in their ignorance because an equally blank sheet of humanity in Wisconsin, Wollongong or Wells thinks the same.

We Need Answers adds to this trend as it culls its weekly questions for its celebrity contestants from the best of those sent in – or ‘texted’, which may explain the paucity in quality – but as a consequence only about 10 questions seem to be asked in the whole 30 minutes, and only about half are funny. Most follow the bland path of ‘How often are the Olympics held?’ and ‘How many legs does a dog have?’.

Elsewhere, hosts Mark Watson, Tim Key and Alex Horne indulge in the same sort of time wasting as a footballer ‘going to the corner flag’ in the 90th minute to protect a one-goal lead. And the fact there’s three of them is part of the problem. Apart from the introductions and the last round, Watson is as good as shoved into the audience save for the odd quip, which is often inaudible as they all tend to speak at once.

The purpose of three presenters seems to be to fill the intervals between question rounds with tortuous interludes, such as explaining the rules, Alex Horne detailing what his uninteresting computer does or shyly showing off his tattoo, and a round in which Miranda Hart and poet Ian McMillan had to guess how long a minute lasts with a bucket over their heads while being tiresomely distracted.

Meanwhile, Hart and McMillan were sorely underused. Hart has just written and starred in one of the funniest sitcoms of the year, and yet was largely relegated to monosyllabic ‘yes’s and ‘no’s. Buzzcocks and the like are demonised for loading up the gags beforehand, but its benefit is clear in the way in which Hart and McMillan were swept dumbly along on a wave of bemusement.

But in spite of its faults, We Need Answers does sporadically spark to suggest this could be nurtured into a real gem. The odd question – ‘Does Ian McMillan’s internal monologue rhyme?’ – not only amuse, but also inspire witty ripostes between the presenters and guests, while Tim Key’s slightly sinister, slimy quizmaster persona distantly echoes the licentious Vic Reeves on Shooting Stars. And it’s Shooting Stars that is its nearest relative, but at the moment it is bereft of the hilarious zaniness of Vic and Bob. Maybe Watson, Key and Horne should write the questions and answers themselves instead of letting the witless public do the job for them.

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