The Kids Are Alright I Guess

Ok, so Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod is a quiz show. Not a comedy quiz show – a good old-fashioned, we’re seriously keeping score so you’d better give the correct answer, quiz show. But is it funny?

Two episodes in and we can safely answer that question with… kinda? It’s hosted by Shaun Micallef, a man who has proven over and over that he can get decent laughs out of very little. And often this seems like an exercise in generating “very little”, as he takes somewhat seriously his job of being the quiz master on a show that is most definitely not in any way making fun of the Year 11 students answering the questions.

That’s not to say comedy doesn’t arise naturally out of these interactions. For one, the contestants, as you might expect, tend to lurk slightly further towards the “smart-arse” end of the teen spectrum. Micallef does a good job of giving them enough rope, without ever yanking on it too hard.

It’s tempting to say the whole thing is a showcase for just how good Micallef is at working with students, but considering Rove was pretty good at it too with Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader, how hard can it really be?

His style of comedy is pretty well suited to this kind of show too, which is fortunate because this is not a series that’s otherwise ripe with comedic possibilities. He’s often self-depreciating without being annoying about it, and he’s good when it comes to spotting the comedy that comes from taking a typical statement just a little bit too far.

(he’s also not afraid to throw in a semi-random Christopher Walken impersonation, which is always good value whatever the context)

Jokes about the grand prize being $20,000 worth of tuckshop duty from a MasterChef runner-up aside, this is a fairly standard reboot of long forgotten series like It’s Academic and University Challenge. It’s a format where much of the appeal comes from seeing kids being studious and team players rather than violent thugs or professional thieves.

Will this all end like the classic UK film If…., where the students take to the roof of their school and machine-gun their useless teachers? We can only hope.

Far more likely a result is a series of moderately entertaining family-friendly episodes where the viewers at home can either feel smugly superior to the would-be brainiacs, or take comfort in the fact that the next generation is smarter than the one currently sitting at home watching television.

If you’re not a quiz fan, Shaun Micallef’s Brain Eisteddfod is a bit of a mixed bag. The format is a throwback to an earlier era, when television didn’t have to work so hard to grab our attention*, but Micallef himself is a showman who constantly puts in real effort to keep the interest level up. Remember those quiz shows Peter Helliar used to host? This isn’t one of them.

The result is something that couldn’t exist without Micallef. But like a lot of his side projects over the years, it feels a lot like an experiment in seeing if there’s still life left in an old concept – and as always, the answer is “sure, just so long as Shaun Micallef is hosting”.

We’ll pass on Dave Hughes’ Brain Eisteddfod, thanks.

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*though it is noticable that each episode starts off with a fair amount of audience-pleasing comedy banter and then gradually turns into a fairly hardcore quiz show

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