Matt on the Box: I Want My Wife Back, Witless, Michael McIntyre’s Big Show and Bang on the Money

by | Apr 22, 2016 | All, Reviews

With not a lot to cover this week, I’ve decided to focus on the more light-hearted programmes of the week and in particular have tried to find at least a couple of laughs in two new sitcoms.

We begin with a sitcom that BBC One obviously has a lot of faith in as it’s been put in a prominent spot on Monday nights at 9pm. Unfortunately for the channel, I Want My Wife Back is one of the worst sitcoms I’ve seen in a very long time and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended its run in a less prominent timeslot. The series follows the exploits of Murray (Ben Miller) a banker whose promotion at work means that he’s never at home to be by the side of his wife Bex (Caroline Catz). I then didn’t blame her one iota when she decided to leave him on her fortieth birthday after he’d blown off yet another date in favour of work. However this is a sitcom in which Murray is meant to be the sympathetic romantic and so writers and creators Mark Bussell and Justin Sbrensi try their best to make us root for him as he runs round trying to find out if Bex has left him. I Want My Wife Back feels like it was based on a singular idea about what would happen if a man discovered his significant other was leaving him on the day he was planning a surprise birthday for her. But basing a series around one single event isn’t a good idea and especially in the case of this sitcom where the central gag runs out of steam pretty quickly. As the majority of the focus is on Murray and Bex, the rest of the characters are simply thinly-drawn stereotypes who don’t feel realistic at all. A case in point is Emma (Susannah Fielding), a co-worker of Murray who is clearly in love with him even though she could do a lot better. Similarly the main gag involving Murray’s boss Curtis (Stewart Wright) is that he’s having an affair and often gets our hero to lie for him so he can continue his philandering ways. Every joke in I Want My Wife Back failed to hit the spot including the episode’s big set piece in which Murray has his ear bitten off while looking for Bex at the hospital in which she works. The conclusion of the first episode, in which Murray and Bex are whisked off to spend a holiday in Turkey together, was as an unfunny as what had gone before and after spending half an hour with these characters I had no desire to continue. I do feel it’s a shame that the comedies that seem to get the most amount promotion tend to be disappointingly unfunny whilst the real gems such as Detectorists and Fresh Meat get hidden away. I do think that we can do comedy well in this country when given the chance but I Want My Wife Back was cringe-inducing from beginning to end and featured both a miscast leading man and a complete lack of anything even resembling a joke.

We turn to BBC Three now for Witless, just like the channel’s other big comedy Cuckoo, Witless has a surprisingly old-fashioned premise for a show that’s supposedly trying to attract the under-thirty crowd. The story sees mismatched flatmates straight-laced Rhona (Zoe Boyle) and the outrageous Leanne (Kerry Howard) forced into witness protection after seeing a gangland shooting first hand. The majority of the comedy is derived from the fact that Rhona was just about to move out from the flat that she and Leanne shared due to her not being able to stand her any more. So now she’s forced to spend a lot more time with Leanne, doesn’t sit well with Rhona neither does the fact that the flat they’re given by the Witness Protection scheme is even more down market than the one they shared before. Whilst the Witness Protection situation couldn’t have come at a worse time for Rhona, Leanne sees it as an opportunity to reinvent herself. Going off script almost instantly, she introduces herself with several different pseudonyms throughout the course of the episode and also tries to find romance with the mysterious Patrick (Samuel Anderson). Writers Joe Tucker and Lloyd Woolf make sure to the audience realise that there is a real threat on the girls’ lives by introducing two young gangster characters who have been tasked with wiping them out. The final part of the opening episode sees Leanne save Rhona from being killed in a strip club and in the process the two finally realise that they can rely on each other. In my opinion Witless does have a lot going for it from an intriguing premise to the energy and enthusiasm of the two lead actresses. At the same time it is a little rough around the edges and I found that the two young hoodlums who are on Rhona and Leanne’s tails have been written in quite a clichéd manner. On the upside Boyle and especially Howard seem to be having fun with the show and the pair share an awkward chemistry which lends itself well to the relationships their characters have. My personal highlights of the first episode were the Witness Protection self-help videos hosted by John Inverdale as they were perfectly pitched. If BBC Three are smart they’ll post extra videos featuring Inverdale on their website as I do feel these may draw people to watch full episodes of Witless. Though it’s far from perfect, Witless at least shows promise and even during the script’s weaker moments I thought that Boyle and Howard’s winning chemistry and enthusiasm was enough to see me through.

Turning our attention now to that all important stomping ground of Saturday night, a ground in which Britain’s Got Talent still seems to rule with another impressive rating for this series’ second episode. But both of the main channels also aired shiny new programmes this Saturday night with the BBC’s featuring a man who has sat on the judging panel for possibly the most forgettable series of BGT. Michael McIntyre’s Big Show sees the popular comedian oversee just under an hours’ worth of entertainment which is all watched live by a packed audience in a theatre. I does seem as if this is the vehicle that McIntyre has been given instead of a second series of his forgotten chat show but he is definitely in his element presenting stand-up comedy in front of an audience. But one segment of McIntyre’s chat show that has been retained is ‘Send to All’ in which the comic sends an amusing text to the entire address book one unsuspecting audience member. On this new show that audience member is a celebrity with Geri Horner assuming the role of the person who had a text sent on her phone to everyone she knew asking them if it would be OK to massage them. Definitely the funniest moment of the episode came from McIntyre’s revelation of some of the responses Geri had received especially those from her mother and her agent. The other big draw of the show was ‘The Secret Star’ portion in which McIntyre tricked a Welsh hairdresser to think she was working on the show only to surprise her with the fact that she’d be on the show herself. The surprising the audience member stunt has been done on almost every Saturday night show before but what made this different was that the Secret Star then got to duet with Michael Ball in what I must say was a very impressive performance. Although these two segments and McIntyre’s links were entertaining stuff not everything about The Big Show worked that well. A performance from Tinie Tempah just felt out of place whilst I personally didn’t think the introduction of an acrobatics troupe worked particularly well either. But my main complaint about the show is its theatre setting as it made everything feel a little bit static and stuffy. I think that if the Big Show had been in a TV studio, and taped live, then it would have a bit more excitement to it and would’ve even be able to rival Ant and Dec. I don’t want to knock BBC One as Michael McIntyre’s Big Show is definitely a step in the right direction as far as Saturday night entertainment is concerned. I just think these shows need to get out of the theatre and into the studio where everything feels a little bit more chaotic and let’s be a honest a little bit more fun.

But then BBC One’s newest Saturday night offering was better than anything ITV could offer, apart from Britain’s Got Talent that is. Alongside a second series of the woeful Play to the Whistle, the channel also brought us new game show Bang on the Money. The programme is hosted by DJ duo Rickie and Melvin who I have very little knowledge of due to the fact that I’m in my thirties. Although the boys are charismatic and full of enthusiasm, they do seem uneasy when presenting links to camera and trying to explain the rules to yet another overcomplicated game show format. As far as I could ascertain Bang on the Money was a combination between Talking Telephone Numbers and The Cube as teams had to select numbers which would later become the amount of money they could win. In a strange bit of formatting all of the numbers were locked in boxes which were adorned with pictures such as the mug of tea, the football field and the pair of lips. To pick a box the teams had to guess which one of the two host successfully completed a challenges which ranged from driving with their mums to trying to eat other people’s food. The teams then had to play for the numbers by competing in a series of games that look like they’d been rejected from The Cube for being too easy. When you learn that these challenges included putting a golf ball into a hole and rolling a ball along a tube filled with more holes then you’ll get the gist of how simplistic these games seemed. By the end of the show I’d already given up on the game and had no vested interest in who won as I don’t think Rickie and Melvin gave us enough information to truly care about either The Northern Soulmates or The All-Rounders. I do think for a game like this to work it either has to have a simplistic format or contestants that you care about and Bang on the Money had none of these. Instead what they did have was too many different concepts for the audience to remember and not a large amount of elements to truly keep them invested in the show. The only thing that Bang on the Money might do is give a little exposure to Rickie and Melvin who are naturals on camera but are ill-suited to the game show format. Although it’s hard for any male duo to succeed in an Ant and Dec-dominated environment it does seem as if ITV are testing the water to see if Rickie and Melvin would be the Geordie twosome’s natural successors. Whilst Bang on the Money was a rubbish show generally it was good to see two new faces on a primetime weekend format and I think that it’s up to ITV now to find a programme that more suits the natural talent that Rickie and Melvin possess.

Sorry it was so short this time around but never fear I’ll be back next week with some bigger shows that I’m hoping will tickle your fancy.

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly

22/04/2016

Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.

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