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Thursday 2 October 2014

TV Review: New-look Muppets flop

That Puppet Game Show (BBC1, Saturday), I Love My Country (BBC1, Saturday) ONE of last year's most delightful surprises was the return to the big screen of The Muppets in a charming film, their first since 1999, initiated by fan Jason Segel, who spent five years trying to get it off the ground.

Given that the film was a roaring success and that a sequel, part of which was shot in Dublin, is in the pipeline for next March, it was unlikely that Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and the rest of the late Jim Henson's beloved felt creations would be back on television any time soon.

That Puppet Game Show, produced by the BBC and the Henson Company, gives us what its creators probably thought would be the next best thing: a brand new cast of characters in a new concept that fondly harks back to the glory days of The Muppet Show, which ran on ITV from 1976 to 1981.

Martini

Instead of that programme's rickety, music hall-style setting, we get a fully functioning quiz show – complete with a pair of celebrity guests trying to win £10,000 for charity – hosted by the vain and egotistical Dougie Colon (pronounced Cologne), whose face and voice have been modelled on Family Fortunes presenter Vernon Kay.

As with The Muppet Show, there's also a backstage element, which focuses on harassed showrunner Mancie O'Neill's efforts to keep her wacky team under control.

Mancie's life is further complicated by her younger sister Amber, a ditzy pea-brain with purple hair, and by her burgeoning romantic feelings for the show's resident music expert, Eddie Watts.

But harking back is one thing; making it work for a new generation, or even an older one that harbours a great deal of affection and goodwill toward The Muppets, is quite another. That Puppet Game Show never really works at all.

The front-of-curtain stuff on The Muppet Show was primarily a framing device for a barrage of smart and inventive skits and sketches, usually involving A-list guest stars. That Puppet Game Show doesn't have A-listers – this week's humans were Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins – and the Muppet characters are a disappointment.

With the exception of a Martini-swigging armadillo called Ian, they lack personality, while most of the jokes are so feeble they could do with a puppeteer of their own to keep them from collapsing into a heap.

The game show element is actually the best thing about That Puppet Game Show, which makes you wonder why the BBC didn't just play it straight.

Still, I'd rather have The Muppets than Frank Skinner and Micky Flanagan, team captains on the atrocious "comedy" panel game I Love My Country. So, probably, would host Gabby Logan, if the look of panicked desperation on her face is anything to go by.

Logan, an intelligent woman and an excellent presenter when she's presenting something she loves, namely sport, self-consciously dances, shrieks, gurgles and gurns her way through what is possibly the worst Saturday night entertainment show I've ever seen.

I Love My Country rides shamelessly on the coat-tails of the wave of patriotism that swept through Britain after its superb hosting of last year's summer Olympics – and in the process sets patriotism back several hundred years.

Spinning

Skinner, Flanagan and their team members (a soap star, one of the Spice Girls that isn't Victoria Beckham, that sort of circle) compete in a series of brain-numbingly stupid games, including pass the parcel. One round involves earning points by just spinning a wheel.

Logan, who also presented ITV's wretched celebrity diving show Splash! earlier this year, deserves something better. A new agent perhaps. That

 

Puppet Game Show 2/5

I Love My Country 1/5

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