John Walker's Electronic House

Wipeout Wipes Out

by on Jan.03, 2009, under Television

I refuse to describe NBC’s idiotic summer show Wipeout as a “guilty pleasure”. I enjoyed its idiocy boldly and proudly. Assault courses are fun, and watching people on assault courses is fun. The Krypton Factor proved that. When the assault course has 15ft high bouncy balls and a wall that punches you in the face, it’s clearly great. Subsequent rounds include leaping over a sweeping pole on very high narrow platforms, being spun at horrible speeds to get dizzy before crossing smaller courses, and finally an epic course that resembles a real-life platform game on a building-size scale. However, just that would be quickly quite tiresome to watch. What made NBC’s Wipeout so fun was the commentary offered by two extremely cruel men, appointing each contestant a nickname, and delivering biting, scripted remarks in an engaging banter. You’d have to be pretty impressively bad at your job to mess up that format.

The BBC has replaced the unwatchable Hole In The Wall with their version, Total Wipeout, clearly recognising the show was in a similar vein – the ridiculous Japanese game shows we’ve previously only enjoyed in their original language. And they’ve been extremely loyal to the format (of course licensed through Endemol), using the same course in the same Argentinian location, the same opening titles, the same structure… Except for one thing. They’ve made the ingenious decision to do away with two commentators sharing their quips, replacing them with a terrified-looking Richard Hammond, for some reason sporting Zoe Wanamaker’s haircut, talking to himself like a madman on a train.

It’s a staggering decision. It’s as if the BBC has some sort of bet with itself to see how stupid a choice they can make with any show they import. Has there ever been anything with one commentator, ever? Even golf has two people sat next to each other to report the non-stop frenetic action. But here the whole format is slaughtered by transvestite-haired Hammond’s awkward mumbling, trying to tell half-arsed jokes to himself. Good grief, put Clarkson in there with him and you have a show.

More terribly, the solo voice gives the show a sense of gravity that makes it almost unbearably stupid. Add in sincere interviews with the contestants where they speak about how important it is to them to win, padding out the extra 16 minutes the BBC version pointlessly lasts, and the programme can’t help but start to take itself seriously in the most inappropriate way. The US show was so self-deprecating, and so wryly contemptuous of the players, that it made sense to watch through the nonsense. And naturally they screw up the edit, with constant shots of people from the waist up as their legs negotiate obstacles, or mysteriously bad angles as people fall. Such decisions seem like sabotage, as if the BBC can’t help but deliberately spoil something so simple.

It’s not hard. It’s some morons falling over. You have two people taking the piss, and you film them falling over. It’s impressive to spend money buying such a format and to not get that.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Pace

    If I may, I’d like to take this opportunity to complain about the only current BBC production I often see; Dr. Who. While I love the show in spite of how awful it often is, does every episode have to be about how The Doctor saves the world/London from aliens by doing something incredibly implausible? I thought the recent Christmas special started out great, with the lovable oaf thinking he’s the doc, then it degenerates into some cliche save the world from cybermen crap. Man! Maybe if they made the bad guys a little more interesting, gave them some motivation or something.

    (and I loved what I’ve seen of those Japanese & Korean gameshows, haven’t’ seen Wipeout though, I’ll check it out, thanks!)

    (btw, I can’t get Daylight by Matt and Kim and out of my head now! Thanks!) (not really!)

  • Dorian Cornelius Jasper

    I think Wipeout was on ABC, actually. When I saw an episode I thought “Wow, this looks like a ripoff of Takeshi’s Castle.” Which I only ever saw as “MXC” on, er, Spike.

    Curiousity led me to the Wikipedia, as the urge tends to do these days, and apparently the broadcaster for Takeshi’s Castle filed a lawsuit against ABC some time ago. And I think the “mean-spirited commentators” thing was done by Spike’s “MXC” gag dub, too.

    But setting my mild exasperation aside, sounds like the BBC couldn’t even copy a copycat properly.

    If you’re gonna aim for the delicious, delicious downmarket, you might as well do it with steel-toed boots.