Sunday 18 March 2018

More mousetraps and less Miriam - Pat Stacey reviews 'Shakedown the Town' and 'Saturday Night with Miriam'

Contestants tackle a mousetrap challenge on 'Shakedown the Town'
Contestants tackle a mousetrap challenge on 'Shakedown the Town'

What would you get if you mashed up bits of Treasure Hunt, The Crystal Maze, I'm a Celebrity..., Takeshi's Castle, Wipeout and the famously loony Endurance?

Something, I imagine, a lot like activity/entertainment show Shakedown the Town, which rolled into Dingle and onto RTE1 on Saturday with fresh-faced Aidan Power at the helm.

That grammatically challenged title aside (the last time I looked "shakedown" hadn't been upgraded from a noun to a verb), it's a smartly judged, crisply paced hour of frothy fun for all the family, or indeed for anyone - something I'll get to do in due course - this is a more appealing prospect than you might think.

Two families (the standard configuration seems to be both parents plus three children) from the same town compete to see which of them will be the first to solve six clues and complete six challenges, which will unlock a six number code and the prize of a family holiday abroad, in this week a week in Garda in Italy.

In a nice twist, it's the kids who untangle the clues and send the adults, who are wired for sound and hooked up to Skype, running around town doing the physical stuff.  And physical it most certainly is.

In one challenge the dads had to go into a water tank with tiger sharks to retrieve the correct number from one of several canisters.  Another involved racing against the clock to cut through a wire fence before a 90-second fuse detonated the canister, turning the coveted number to ashes.

For pure sadistic pleasure, though, even the most extreme Japanese gameshow would struggle to beat the sequence where the poor wives had to negotiate a floor littered with some 2,000 mousetraps - while blindfolded and barefoot, with only their husbands' voices to guide them.

Despite the gratuitous use of the rogue apostrophe (a caption informed us the families were "the Cremin's and the O'Mahony's" - yikes!) Shakedown the Town is a polished entertainment show that actually entertains.  There are worse ways to kill an hour on a Saturday night.

Such as watching Saturday Night with Miriam, for instance.  I'm as fond of Miriam O'Callaghan as the next man when she's grilling some political shrimp on the Prime Time barbecue, yet it's difficult to understand why the show is onto its 10th season.  It's even harder to understand why, in all that time, not a single lesson has been learned about the key to what makes a good chat show.

I don't care what the rating say, it's ghastly stuff, it really is.  A shapeless, lumpy, lifeless mess of a thing that often seems to be thrown before the cameras with little or no script preparation.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe every ego-massaging softball question Miriam lobs gently in the direction of her guests, who included politician Anne Ferris, rugby player Tommy Bowe, writer Joseph O'Connor and The Blades (the only bright spot at the tail-end of a very dull hour), is endlessly pored over in pre-production meetings.  But I doubt it.

It's as baggy and ill-defined as ever, an indulgent vanity project that coasts by on the assumption that, no matter how uninspired the guests, O'Callaghan's supposedly irresistible charisma will carry the day.

Pre-recording it, as O'Callaghan sought, probably wouldn't make a difference.  Laying some mousetraps on the floor might, though.


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