TV review: I Love My Country; That Puppet Game Show

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Primarily a comedy panel show, with elements of The Generation Game thrown in for good measure, I Love My Country stretches out over an arse-numbing 45 minutes, each more dismal than the last, and frequently attains such giddy heights of asininity that it makes Don’t Scare the Hare look like The Ascent of Man.

The title may sound like an exercise in propaganda produced by Joseph Goebbels, and the content play out like a torture devised by the Gestapo, but the BBC’s latest disastrous attempt at a primetime, Saturday-evening entertainment is all about the UK and its many wonders to behold.

Having said that, the several insultingly easy quiz questions included, “How many letters are there in the alphabet?”, which suggests the show can’t even be bothered to stick to its own brief.

There are two comedy captains – Micky Flanagan and Frank Skinner, going through the motions – each leading a team of three quasi-celebrities who are called upon to do next to nothing except try and disguise their glee at landing such a cushy gig.

Games include variations upon Sticking a Pin in a Map and Pass the Parcel, making it the most expensive children’s party in history. In the absence of originality, the emphasis is placed on fun, but the producers clearly have no idea how to provide any. The only enjoyment to be had is watching the panellists’ attempts grow increasingly desperate and shrill as the show progresses.

The studio audience features prominently, and is encouraged – possibly through the application of an electric current running through the seating – to provide a party atmosphere. It is divided into two teams – blue for Micky and red for Frank – and dressed in colour-coordinated T-shirts, bubble wigs and cowboy hats.

Not that I wish to be cruel to the audience, but clearly not enough extra-large T-shirts were available to go round. The audience cheered, brayed, shouted, sang along and high-fived on cue, putting in more effort than Skinner and Flanagan combined, but lifting the show proved a responsibility too heavy for its participants to bear.

However, what delivers the death blow to I Love My Country is its choice of host. Gabby Logan is a perfectly competent presenter, but she does not do fun or spontaneous, and subsequently spent the entire programme looking like a strict schoolteacher struggling to let her hair down on the last day of term.

Perhaps it was a trick of the light, or inanity-induced delirium, but she also kept reminding me of Margaret Thatcher, which didn’t help either.

There is nothing wrong with I Love My Country that couldn’t be fixed by replacing all the human beings with puppets. That Puppet Game Show, co-produced by Muppet creators the Jim Henson Company, offers genuinely inventive games, lots of funny backstage banter, non-stop madcap energy, two authentic celebrities as contestants – Jonathan Ross and Katherine Jenkins in episode one – and a host of loveable puppet characters, including some singing Scottish sausages.

Now that’s what I call fun.

I Love My Country, BBC1, Saturday, August 17, 7.30pm
That Puppet Game Show, BBC1, Saturday, August 10, 6.45pm

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