Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about the BBC’s continued failed efforts to recapture the Saturday night audience, and whether it would indeed be possible after a series of high-profile flops like Hard Sun and Troy. In that piece, I mentioned one of their new big hopes, The Time It Takes – well, that series has now aired, so do they have a new primetime smash on their hands? In a word, no. The Time It Takes is a poor effort, lacking in interest and fun, and its half-hour runtime feels like a lot longer.
The premise of the show is a simple one – the contestants must answer as many questions as they can in a certain time and, as the rounds progress, the players with the lowest scores are eliminated. The ‘fun’ twist is the shape of the timers. Rather than offering each player a defined amount of time, the players get to choose a weird timer in the form of a task, and they answer questions until the task is completed. Examples from a recent episode include the time it takes to put ten pom-poms into a bowl using only a nose dipped in Vaseline or to fill five differently-sized spray bottles with five different condiments.
As you watch, you can’t help but wonder how much of his soul dies with each recording
The Time It Takes is hosted by Joe Lycett (I’ve seen him be really funny before, so I’ve no idea what happened here) and This Morning’s Alison Hammond (who keeps saying ‘my timers, your choice’ as though it’s a fun or catchy catchphrase), and both of them look as if they’d rather not be there. Lycett gets to enjoy some stilted dialogue with the contestants and make very half-hearted quips throughout proceedings, and as you watch, you can’t help but wonder how much of his soul dies with each recording.
The most enjoyable part for Hammond is getting to have a go on the timers in the first round, but she swiftly loses that right, replaced by video clips, the contestants and a celebrity (if you’re really scraping the barrel. In the one I was watching, the end celebrity was a group called Four of Diamonds … nope, me neither) in subsequent rounds.
The humour is forced, and the fun seems palpably fake
With such arbitrary challenges, are the questions any better? Can you at least play along at home and have fun that way? Well, not really. The questions are not particularly hard (which is good for family viewing, I guess), with spellings cropping up a lot – half the questions even contained the answer, rendering them even easier. Examples include ‘what country did the Italian artist Michelangelo come from?’ (although I’m maybe being over-generous, because the guy still got it wrong).
For the lucky contestants who get to escape the show early, they win a tea-towel – with the gag prize and the weak celebrity options, the budget for this show was clearly not very much. The final contestant has to answer five questions correctly to win a holiday – the prizes on each tier are announced by Lycett with customary boredom and really lame misdirection (on the one I watched, the top prize was a holiday in America. Lower prizes were ‘time in an American diner… which isn’t actually in America’, etc.), and the show quickly and mercifully comes to an end. Normally, Pointless Celebrities follows – it takes a lot for that to seem an inspired format, but there you are.
I guess it’s an okay attempt by the Beeb to capture some of that Saturday night magic, but watching The Time It Takes is such an awkward experience, it’s hard to really recommend it. The humour is forced, and the fun seems palpably fake. There’s little in the way of challenge, and the minor enjoyment at watching people complete slightly weird tasks isn’t enough to really carry the show. I’ve no idea of the time it takes to commission better Saturday night shows, but here’s hoping the BBC has that long when it starts thinking of its next idea.