Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Phone

The promos looked intriguing. Imagine you're walking along a street and a phone rings. Do you answer it? It could be the Clue Master calling to give you the chance to win $25,000.

Teamed up with another random person who also answered another fateful ringing phone, you solve clue after clue as you dash around the city, in an attempt to get to the case of cash before the time runs out.

How would you like to be that random passer by? It'd be majorly cool right?

Except it couldn't be you, and not just because you don't live in the right city.

Why not? Because the contestants are cast.

Which blows the whole premise out of the window straight away. Sure, they edited it to make it look like the phone was ringing with countless people walking past ignoring it, until one lucky person decided to answer it. Unfortunately, it became very clear, very quickly that the gorgeous girl and the hunky guy who answered each phone were preselected by the producers. Unsurprised, and with unquestioning obedience, the two immediately set off on their quest.

The girl, told to go and get into a van, does so. If you're a gorgeous young woman and you've suddenly received a phone call from a strange man telling you to go and get into a van would you do it? Of course not. She did so because she already knew she was on a game show and had been prepped by the producers.

The show is also edited to make it look like the contestants have no contact with any crew from the moment the phone rings until the money is found. Amazingly, their voices come through oh so crystal clear when they aren't speaking on the phone. Yup, they're wearing microphones too. How convenient.

Let me just say here that if you think about it, casting the show in this way makes a lot of sense for the producers. Getting two completely random people on the show is fraught with danger and unknowns. If they cast the contestants, they know they're getting two people who look good on camera, they can match up the contestants to form the sort of team we want to watch, and they can make sure they're not getting any psychos. They also have the added benefit of getting the contestants to pre-sign whatever forms they need to to appear on TV, and can prep them with microphones and at least some degree of knowledge that they're going to be busy for the afternoon.

OK, so let's get past this obviously contrived scenario that saw these two enter the game. Let's look at the game elements. Here, we must give at least some kudos to the writers. They did have some clever and diverse puzzles and challenges throughout the episode:

  • solve a clue to work out the PIN to a card that you can use to pay for petrol in your almost empty van;
  • using a bunch of keys with remote locks, find the one car in the huge car lot that one of those keys will open;
  • find a woman walking around the streets whose point of view one of the contestants can see via a camera in the woman's glasses, and must relay by phone to the other contestant who is trying to find her.

  • It seems, however, that the two contestants they chose were, shall we say, not the sharpest tools in the shed. They failed to complete either of the first two challenges I just mentioned within the allotted time the Clue Master had given them, and so had money deducted from the $25,000 prize.

    In the find-the-car challenge, The Giggling One was screaming at the TV telling the dopey pair to use the damn car remotes to see which car beeped/blinked its lights instead of walking up to each car to try the lock.

    Here, the show did actually achieve something that all good reality shows do: make you shout at the TV to tell the contestants how stupid they are and how patently obvious the solution was, and how you would have done that challenge so much better.

    On the subject of doing things better (lame segue I know), the host, Justin Mullet Melvey, just didn't cut the mustard as the mysterious Clue Master. He was too wooden and pompous, and lacked that degree of authority necessary to pull off the role. Casting an unknown with the right degree of "stage presence", and who doesn't flirt with the female contestant, would have been a better option.

    But now, to the pièce de résistance; the element of the show that managed to tip it from a somewhat contrived game show to an utterly ridiculous load of bollocks: the fictional story-line.

    The Fox 8 website gushes about the show's "enthralling fictional element". Enthralling? Er, no. Not by a long shot.

    Let's set the scene. The Clue Master is riding in a limo talking on the phone to the contestants to give them their next clue. Sitting beside him in the limo are two Japanese men (who reappear throughout the episode), one of whom is busy typing on a laptop. Initially it just appears as some silly window dressing for the Clue Master, to make him seem more important than he actually is.

    Oh, if only that's all it was. We found out later that the Clue Master was actually "doing business" with these men, and the deal had gone south. As he didn't want to get his hands dirty, it was up to the contestants to put on the supplied gloves, secretly enter a house while the occupant was having a three minute shower, and steal the keys to a sports car parked outside. Meanwhile, the Clue Master was grassing on the Japanese businessmen to the cops, who later "arrested" them.

    What the? It's a game show. You have a cool premise of getting two people to run around Sydney following clues Amazing Race style, and you have to add this naff pretend story line? I haven't seen anything with a less immersive story since Scavengers. Marrying game show and fictional plot just doesn't work unless you're in improv.


    Alright, that pretty much brings me to the end of my rant.

    Except to ponder what happened to the 3 hour countdown. It was nowhere to be seen at the end of the episode. Were they close to the 3 hour limit, or was that just another staged gimmick as well? Sort of like the only-one-person-can-win-but-we'll-let-you-share-the-cash-anyway lame excuse for a twist. They could at least make them divvy up the cash 60/40 or something.

    The Giggling One and I were both hyped by the promos, and significantly let down by the execution. No second chances for The Phone I'm afraid. This won't be getting a look in on our TV screen again.


    Anonymous said...

    OK, disclosure? I loved Scavengers. It really did look like fun, and the backstory worked for me. Particularly, for some strange reason, the random aliens shooting at them. Go figure.

    Haven't seen The Phone, mostly through not having Foxtel. Article in the Green Guide here which pretty much confirms most of your suspicions. Doesn't mention the naff side-story though.

    It's a pity, I was really intrigued by the concept but it sounds like it's tanked!

    Jeremy said...

    From what I remember of the one or two episodes I saw of Scavengers many years ago, I actually quite enjoyed it too. I wonder how well it has dated.

    Anonymous said...

    I beg to differ, i thought it was fabulous! Justin was amazing, the way he was bossing them around and being forceful, such a turn on. He was already inredibly sexy to me way before The Phone and will be to me for life. I love him dearly and i love this new show. Justin you sexy beast , keep it up!!!

    Jeremy said...

    O...K... Anonymous. That's what's called "delusion". :-)