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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Distraction -- the show, that is.

If you've read my last blog, you know that my plans to return to Belfast have been put off a week because of a ticket issue with the airlines, and that I now have an extra week of homelife to fill. So, you might ask (as if you had nothing better to do with your own life), what are my plans?

Well, one benefit of this unplanned extended visit home is that I get to watch a bit more of US TV (which I seem to do less and less over the years). And to explain why US TV might be a treat this week, let me tell you about a UK tellie show, "Distraction"....

Among the 'guilty pleasures' I've taken to while in Northern Ireland these past 15+ months is the TV "game show" on Channel 4 (the big commercial competitor to BBC besides Murdoch's SKY) titled "Distraction". Hosted by Jimmy Carr, a straightfaced, quick witted comic who demands constant attention to 'what' he says (as opposed to "how" he says it or "what he does" when he says it; I am not a great fan of mimicry or slapstick), Distraction is just plain and simply outrageous. Not funny outrageous, mind you, but "oh my gosh" outrageous.

Here is the premise. Four "contestants" (of the sort who belong on one of those reality TV series like Survivor or Big Brother) are asked a series of relatively simple (e.g. pop trivia) questions through three successive rounds, with the loser of each round being eliminated. But while answering the questions, the contestants are faced with some distraction -- such as having to clip spring-tight clothes pins on their faces or snapping rubber bands on their noses each time they ring the buzzer to answer a question. There was one round when some contestants had to take a swig of their own urine samples (solicited before the show under the pretense of some official drug testing policy) before providing answers after they rang the buzzer. In still another 'episode', to answer a question each contestant had to crawl face up between the open legs of a line of several naked people who had bodies that (to put it bluntly) one would immediately turn away from upon sighting from a distance.... In other words, you must really, really want to win to overcome the distraction of some rounds.

So, through process of elimination, one contestant is left 'standing' -- and then comes the finale. The grand prize offered is usually a car -- yes, a small car, but a car nonetheless. Now Carr asks a series of slightly tougher questions of the contestant, and if she or he gets it wrong, something terrible is done to the prize -- its windshield smashed, its interior spray painted, its fenders sledgehammered. In another variation, the prize is a few hundred five or ten pound notes, about 50 to 100 each stuffed into five electric toasters. The toasters are "activated" and the money starts to burn, and Carr starts to ask the contestant a series of questions -- and only if he or she answers a query correctly can the money be saved by pulling the plug of each toaster....

Two issues come to mind: 1. Why would anyone of their own free will become a contestant on this show. 2. Why would anyone of their own free will sit there and watch it. (Actually, there is also 3. Why would the viewer enjoy it so much!)

The reason I bring this up is that a US version of Distraction will now be broadcast on Comedy Central starting Tuesday. And Jimmy Carr is hosting.... If nothing else, I'll watch to see if the US version comes anywhere close to being as outrageous, bizarre and 'entertaining' as the UK original....
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