90s game-show The Crystal Maze gets the Richard Ayoade treatment

by Fiona Rae / 04 November, 2017
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Richard Ayoade in The Crystal Maze.

The multitalented Brit of Gadget Man fame and much more applies his drollery to a 90s game-show remake.

It’s probably blasphemy to say it, but it has been ­suggested that Richard Ayoade, the new presenter of The Crystal Maze (TVNZ 2, Sunday, 7.30pm), is even better than the flamboyant original host, Richard O’Brien.

The 90s game show, in which contestants enter a ­labyrinth divided into zones and face various mental and physical challenges, was revived for a charity special in the UK last year and the response was so good Channel 4 decided to go ahead with a series reboot.

They signed Ayoade, a comedian, actor, writer and director, who first came to prominence in The IT Crowd, a sitcom written by Father Ted creator Graham Linehan about the socially awkward and largely despised IT department of a company in London (the show also starred two future stars of TV and film, Chris O’Dowd and Noel Fielding).

The multitalented Ayoade has directed two feature films, Submarine in 2010 and The Double in 2013, and a number of music videos, including for Radiohead and the Arctic Monkeys. We have seen him here in Gadget Man and Travel Man, which is screening on TVNZ Duke.

He has also written a book, Ayoade on Ayoade, in which he “interviews” himself – an irony, because he famously avoids publicity and ­apparently hasn’t spoken to a journalist since 2015. He told the Guardian in 2014 he was trying to avoid “the ­Faustian pact with the media to ­cannibalise my personality”.

Nevertheless, he is self-deprecating and droll on camera. He’s a favourite on British panel shows, of which there are many, and on which he is prone to surreal flights of fancy. On The Crystal Maze, he gently teases the teams, which comprise five members, and directs them around the four zones using “the hand”, a wooden hand on a walking stick.

The new show isn’t much different from the old one. The sets still look as if they’re largely made of polystyrene and particle board and the teams’ overalls aren’t much of an upgrade from the 90s tracksuits. The zones are Aztec, Medieval, Industrial and Futuristic and there is usually a limited time for the challenges.

However, one big ­difference is that the challenges are easier. Apparently, the puzzles were so difficult in the original series that only 17 out of 83 teams ever managed to win the hilariously bad prize.

It is excellent family entertainment. “The fun,” says executive producer Neale Simpson, “is for kids at home watching grown-ups making a fist of it.”

This article was first published in the November 4, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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