TELEVISION The Fall Guy / BBC2

Prankster television a la Beadle that tries to humiliate people, with lashings of irony. The whole thing was lost on Jasper Rees
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The Independent Culture
It's thanks to shows like The Fall Guy that, in consonance with English cricketers and Scottish grouse, you involuntarily start to pray for summer's end. Bring me rainstorms, bring me cold, bring me school runs, but most of all bring me the balm of the autumn schedule.

Inside The Fall Guy, there's the nucleus of a cell of a seed of an idea for a moderately tasty tranche of light entertainment. But somewhere in the creative process, it's been dosed with chemical fertilisers, implanted with the DNA of fossilised programmes, and injected with a lethal overdose of irony. The result of this hazardous experiment is a hideously warped deformity, a programme so ill-conceived and almost scarily confusing that, for the first five minutes at least, you genuinely have not the first clue what is going on.

To simplify massively, it's kind of Beadle's About meets The Generation Game, with overtones of Challenge Anneka thrown in. Scatter on top a potpourri of semi-celebs who've plainly calculated that there's only one thing worse than bad publicity, and that's no publicity at all, and you're in the picture.

Guests are invited into the studio to watch previously nominated friends suffer unwitting humiliation at the hands of the programme's roving avenger Danny. To lash even more humour into the mix, Danny pretends to be a kind of idiot savant, utterly incompetent to perform the tasks asked of him. In Part 1 he had to be a photographer and a magician. He almost ruins the whole effect by showing incipient signs of unaffected charm, but the day is saved by Johnny Vaughan, our host in the studio.

The vocabulary has not been invented to encompass the levels of cocksureness this man achieves as he swivels on his absurdly - pardon me, ironically - high-backed chair. But look closely and you'll observe behind his manic manner just a flicker of fear in his eyes, common to presenters the world over as they register far too late that they should never have even pulled the treatment out of the envelope, let alone taken the job on.

Vaughan's role is to relay instructions via an audio link to Danny out in the field. So when Danny prepares to snap a man in a football kit, the order comes through to gaffer-tape a ball to his head. The other three victims were mildly humbled by Danny pretending to be a magician in a restaurant, a repetition which suggests a lack of either imagination or budget, or both.

None of the set-ups ultimately delivered because The Fall Guy chooses not to linger on the faces of the dupes when they realise they've been had. Even Jeremy Beadle understood Candid Camera enough to realise that this is the moment to wallow in the grisly frisson of schadenfreude.

Television lost its innocence when it discovered it could make fools of ordinary people. But in a strange reversal of fortune, The Fall Guy contrives to make fools of no one but its own devisers.

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