Room 101 Review: Nineteen-Eighty-Poor

ROOM 101: Friday 20th, BBC1, 8.30pm

If I were your average TV personality about to send two things down the 101 chute of no return, I would undoubtedly send chat-shows-which-are-inadequately-and-unnecessarily-revamped-into-second-rate-panel-shows…and Fern Britton.

Funnily enough, both could be found guffawing their way through a primetime slot on BBC One last night. Room 101 is back, but not as you know it.

This long-standing chat-show used to feature guests of a high celebrity calibre talking honestly and openly to Paul Merton (or Nick Hancock) about the things they despise most in the world. Named after the torture room in George Orwell’s novel, 1984, this was a clever interview format which provided the audience with a chance to glimpse the real (and sometimes grumpy) face of personalities who are often found espousing PR-friendly balls.

Unfortunately, however, some bright spark in the BBC’s “Department of Terrible Ideasâ€? has decided to make it into the one thing that is currently missing from our TV schedules: A second-rate panel show. Frank Skinner has taken over as host and, despite being a masterful comedian himself, his presence as host is wholly intrusive. His urge to butt in and steal punch lines, where his predecessors allowed comedy to grow organically through conversation, has very much turned the programme into Frank Skinner’s Gag-A-Minute Express aka Room 101.

Three rounds of arbitrary categories are presumably designed to “keep things movingâ€? for its 8.30pm audience. But it was precisely those unpredictable late night rambles which made the last version of the show so enjoyable to watch.

Gone are the insightful glimpses into Kathy Burke’s deepest nightmares, waving goodbye, as we did, to “mathsâ€?; The subject that plagued her school life so much that she was encouraged her into making a clown of her numerical failings and take up comedy instead (thank heavens). Instead, we have Fern insisting that sci-fi films should go into the room because they are “not trueâ€?.

Robert Webbe, who now appears to have forgotten about writing hit comedies and has become a full-time panel extra, also made an appearance. At least his entries were funny I suppose, and we did get to hear about his bald spot. But the subversive intimacy of the one-to-one approach to Room 101 is now a dim and distant memory.

One moment of delicious irony stood out for this disillusioned viewer and was duly noted by a sheepish Skinner. “Broadcasterâ€? Danny Baker genuinely suggested that he should very much like to rid the world of “panel shows where halfway witted people are pretending to find things funnyâ€?. Now that sounds like a good idea.