TV Preview: Was It Something I Said?

Was It Something I Said?: TV1, 10.00 Thursday


By Doug Coutts

David Mitchell is a really clever man. He’s quite possibly as clever as Stephen Fry without the wandering honker and the much-smarter-than-thou attitude – although he does sometimes come across as being better than the rest of us hoi polloi erks, but still far less haughty than Fry.

Mitchell is a writer, performer, raconteur and wit, and pretty much everything he touches turns to comedy gold.

He’s been teaming up with fellow comic Robert Webb for quite a few years now – in a (just axed) sitcom and in a series of sketch shows often called The Mitchell and Webb something or other.

It was in one of these, TM&W Look, that the pair managed a clear and concise summation of the worth of natural therapies that would have sent millions back to the queue for vaccinations and a course of prophylactic antibiotics. It made me laugh. And laugh.

And of course Mitchell is a perennial guest on panel shows. As anyone who spends their days sitting in front of UKTV will know, he’s a regular on QI where he quite often betters Stephen Fry (of course, only when Fry wants him to).

Usually, Mitchell has only a commercial break to change his jacket, grow a beard or shave it off and race over to the Would I Lie to You? studio, where he leads one of the teams making great comedy out of the unlikeliest of formats. For proof of how unlikely it is, you have only to watch the local attempt with Paul Henry in the host’s chair.

It can’t be easy being the host and letting the others do all the jokes, which is where Henry went a bit wrong. But it’s the host’s chair where Mitchell’s chosen to sit for the all-new Was It Something I Said?, a panel show where they attempt to wring humour from famous last, first and in-between words.

It’s not Mitchell’s best work. As a host reading from an autocue, he’s denied the freedom to riff (even though that’s probably heavily scripted and edited – QI records for over two hours to get a 30-minute programme) and he comes across as stiff, frustrated and straining at the leash.

He’s not helped by the panel regulars. Team leader Richard Ayoade (The IT CrowdGadget Man) spends a lot of time at the high end of the spectrum thinking laterally and wondering “Why are you asking me this?” — which doesn’t much help his team mate, Jimmy Carr. He struggles to get a word in, which is a pity because his words are reliably funny. The other leader, Mickey Flanagan, seems overwhelmed by the responsibility and fails to spark. Much like the show.

In the same way that New Zealand’s Got the X Factor is a tired imitator at the end of a long line of variations on a theme, Was It Something I Said is the latest off the line at the format panel show factory. All you need is a hackneyed phrase to hang a flimsy premise on, enough flexibility in the studio schedule to nab touring comics as they pass by and David Mitchell.

In this Pam’s version they’re decided to skimp on that other key ingredient – a well-practised host – and given that job to Mitchell instead of letting him do what he does best. And the result falls flat.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years.  He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at: Weakly Whirled News.

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