I'm taking a look this week at a show that frequently comes up in discussions of British game shows - discussions that usually end with the conclusion that "The British Are Better Than Us." I'm not going to try to figure out that issue completely, but as there's no news this week, here's a review of Only Connect.
The first thing you need to know about Only Connect is that it's one of those European quiz shows that are so much about the challenge that the season champion doesn't get any prizes - you know, like Countdown. If you don't like this sort of show, stop right now - you won't like Only Connect. If you are willing to give that sort of show a try, here's a further warning - Only Connect is tough. It's really tough. The premise is simple - two teams of three compete to figure out how groups of things are connected - but the execution is about as hard as a game show could possibly be. This show seriously gives you four books and expects you to figure out that they were all banned by the Catholic Church - and it just gets tougher from there.
Are you willing to go further? In round one, the teams take turns being shown four clues and having to figure out what the connection is within forty seconds. The clues are shown one at a time, and as you see more of them, the number of points you get for a correct guess goes down - five points for getting it in one clue, three points for two clues, two points for three clues, and one point for four clues. After each team has taken three turns, we go to round two, which is the same except that after the first three clues, instead of having a fourth clue to guess the connection, you have to figure out what the fourth clue would be.
It doesn't get any easier from there. Round three is the connecting wall, where each team is shown a grid of sixteen clues, and has to correctly group them into four sets of four within two minutes and thirty seconds. Seriously. You aren't told what the groups are - you're just shown these sixteen things jumbled together and have to group them somehow. You get one point for every group you find correctly, can earn four more points for stating why each group you found is connected, and if you figure everything out, you get two more points for a total of ten. We then come to round four, where the teams are given a category and shown names in that category with the vowels taken out - you get a point if you buzz in with the correct answer. This is easier, and doesn't really fit in with the rest of the show - but by that point I was too confused by what I had seen before to care. Like I said, this show is really, really tough.
That doesn't mean it's bad. I actually think this is a great game, and it makes for one of those shows where you really feel good about yourself when you get something right. Unfortunately, this does not extend to the host, Victoria Coren, who comes across to me as really smug - like she's thinking how easy this is and that we should know it all. In all honesty though, she might be my only complaint, and thankfully this is not a show that depends on its host.
This is not a show for everyone. It has no prizes, a format that takes a few minutes to get used to, and what are probably the toughest questions I've ever seen on a television game show. Still, if you can get into this show's mindset, you'll be glad you did. I won't say this is always true, but in this case, yes, the British are better than us.