Review: University Challenged Round 2
Very, very silly.
A word of caution: this is not for the University Challenge purists amongst you.
In the ADC description, the show boasts "elements of University Challenge, QI, Just A Minute, Mock the Week, and Have I Got News For You", and this is in fact exactly how I'd best summarise it. It has QI's ridiculous buzzers – Giorgio Ragozzino's agonisingly long buzzer became a running joke in the show – and its arbitrary points system, Mock the Week's picture rounds, HIGNFY's staunch refusal to answer any questions properly, and the preposterousness of Just a Minute, all set up in the University Challenge format.
To try and set the scene, I want to talk about my favourite episode of The Young ones, the bizarre 1980s sitcom. The boys of 'Scumbag College' all end up on University Challenge, against 'Footlights College'; the responses to questions in University Challenged are probably about as serious as those in The Young Ones (although as far as I know, none of our panellists were beheaded en route).
However, I understand that this may be a rather niche reference point… so I'll just say that it is very, very silly. The fantastic Dan Allum-Gruselle makes an attempt to keep everything in order – this may or may not involve a rubber chicken ("like the conch in Lord of the Flies") – against the best efforts of the teams of Corpus Krispie and Yaaaaas Queen's College. Corpus Crispy brought their own rice krispies, whereas Yaaaaas Queen's College were all just spectacularly fashion-conscious.
A lot of work has gone into keeping up the variety of this show – in fact, I am tempted to attend every performance. Although Dan "Paxo" Allum-Gruselle is I believe retained as host throughout, each night a different set of panellists go up against one another. There are various picture rounds and 'ad breaks', and directors Saad Siddiqui and Matthew Ryan assured me that there was new material for each night, as well as the new teams. Nonetheless I only saw the first night, so am reviewing both the general format of the show and also the content that I saw. It will definitely remain fresh – there is no risk that the improv content of the show will get tired, given that there are new contestants, and the variety of rounds will also keep things light on Dan (his growing exhaustion as the show progressed was also hilarious, so if this carries on through the week it can only improve).
Of the contestants I saw, I was particularly enamoured with Aurélien Guéroult (although the friend I saw the show with sadly admitted afterwards that he doesn't usually talk like that), whose earnestness throughout everything was commendable, even when he was shouting "Chicken ZINGER". Also worthy of mention were the long-suffering Giorgio Ragozzino, whose crippling insecurity was very endearing, Piper Whitehead's biting wit, and of course Dan Allum-Gruselle's efforts as the glue that binds the whole thing together. The presence of the directors as part of the show was also an unexpected delight – and they have great fun with a soundboard at the tech desk.
It's hard to know how much to reveal in terms of material – given that the content and panellists will change, I'm not sure how much I run the risk of spoiling any gags, but nonetheless vague allusions to the show's content are much funnier anyway. We covered Vienna, which Chris Hose described as "this beautiful city of water"; a very complex debate about who Marshall Mathers actually is; whether a void is a thing or an absence of things; monkeys in space; there was a "Roast Dan" round… I could go on, but I would recommend that you go and see it instead.