It was disconcerting to see Jim Henson’s puppets open their felt mouths and talk with broad Northern accents, and Scottish ones, and in RP English. For those of us who grew up with Kermit and the gang, That Puppet Game Show was very confusing indeed, and not just for its mix of Bronx and British voices. Were these the classic American Muppets reincarnate? When was Miss Piggy going to show? And why were Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins straining smiles behind the singing Scottish sausages?
They were launching the BBC’s new game-show format, of course, a mutant Saturday night creature that seemed to be a cross-breed of the good old Saturday-night quiz show and the good old Saturday-night Muppet Show. Sketches featuring Henson’s partially created puppets (an armadillo, a former PE teacher called Ms Taptackle and a supervisor called Mancie) were spliced with quiz heats in which Ross and Jenkins went head to head to win £10,000 for their chosen charity.
To this end, they bantered with the sausages-in-kilts and “punched their own lights out” in a boxing ring. But did they really have to jump up and down on a trampoline as the puppets played in a garden? How much fun was this for us?
Fans of the anodyne quiz show might have liked it (who are these people?). Those who regard the telly as comforting background noise might also have felt no reason to turn it off. It was only at the trampoline stage that it threatened to become a car crash of yet another badly conceived Saturday-night show. On the whole, its quality was higher than the average TV car crash, though Henson enthusiasts might have been left discombobulated. Many of the puppets had more than a passing resemblance to Muppets of old – the armadillo carried himself like Kermit, Mancie might have been Miss Piggy with different hair and minus the snout, while Clyde the Crab, who announced the scores, was just as crabby as the two old grouches of Muppet Show legend.
There were some charming lines – Jenkins was described in the boxing ring as someone who “sings like a mezzo soprano and fights like Tony Soprano” and in one “meta” moment, a family of puppets were seen staring at the TV while Ross and Jenkins did their bit, as the father said: “You know telly is supposed to educate, inform and entertain. Which one is this then?” It was chuckle-worthy, but it was also the kind of pre-emptive humour that leads a fat person to make jokes about their weight. In the end, they could easily have done away with Ross, Jenkins and the silly quiz and made more of the puppets.
Is TV cookery on its way out? If so, Si King and Dave Myers have got their fingers in a new pie with The Hairy Bikers’ Restoration Road Trip. Except that this was all about the old industrial era – and its machinery – and not the new at all. This first in the series saw them meeting men of a certain age who showed them around ancient boilers, steam trains and mine or farm machinery that they were lovingly restoring. For those types who collect miniature steam-train sets, this slice of Britain’s industrial past might have been riveting; in all fairness, grainy archive footage of miners and the London Underground was fascinating to see.
But hearing the bikers ooh and aah at driving a train (“in steam engines, this is what a gear lever looks like”), oiling an ancient wheel or lagging a 60-year-old boiler (“without this clever little widget the whole boiler would run dry”) sent some of us to sleep. Next week, they’ll be looking at restoring another hulking piece of machinery connected to a giant wheel. Oh God.