Quiz Is Exactly The Nostalgic Slice Of TV Fun We Need Right Now

Photo Courtesy of Matt Frost / Left Bank Pictures.
It may feel like TV is a way of life right now.
It's week three (four? Who knows? Who cares) and counting of a lockdown that has no end in sight. Nerves are stretched to the limit, Zoom pub quizzes have lost their sparkle and that crochet set you ordered off Amazon has an estimated delivery date of mid May.
The trouble is, post-Tiger King everything on TV's a little...meh. In normal times, The Nest on BBC One would be a fine dramatic thriller and Netflix's How To Fix A Drug Scandal the perfect deep docu-dive into corrupt systems. But without people (allegedly) being fed to tigers, sex cults and snakes stuffed with cocaine, you'd be forgiven for feeling a little less than exhilarated by these other televisual offerings.
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Finally though, there's a programme that feels worth it.
Marvellously British, Quiz is a new drama for ITV which tells the story of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire coughing scandal, which blighted the pop culture landscape back in 2001-2003. It stars R29 favourites, Tom from Succession (Matthew McFadyen), Claire from Fleabag (Sian Clifford) and Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant. Oh, and it's just excellent.
For those too young to remember the whole incident properly, it is impossible to overstate how much of a Very Big Deal was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and just how much of a Very Big Deal it was that someone tried to cheat the nation's most treasured game show.
Television game shows these days are generally thought of as daytime fodder or something Nick Knowles presents before the lottery draw on a Saturday night. But before streaming, when most people got their TV from the five main channels or their rich mate who had Sky, TV game shows were huge. And Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with its primetime Saturday night slot and, at its peak, 19.2 million viewers (more than anybody watched anything last year) was the biggest of them all. Which was why, when a couple who were literally the walking embodiment of the Waitrose clientele tried to cheat the system, it became very big news indeed.
The cheating wasn't hugely sophisticated. Wiltshire couple Major Charles Ingram (McFadyen), his wife Diana (Clifford) and Tecwen Whittock, a college lecturer from Cardiff, were charged with fraud after suspicious coughing was heard during Ingram's turn in the hot seat. The coughing turned out to be Diana and Whittock signalling which multiple choice answer Ingram should select in order to walk away with the £1 million prize. Despite Whittock protesting about an ongoing dust allergy, the trio were found guilty and served suspended sentences.
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The detail in Quiz is perfect nostalgia fodder. There's something about watching Who Wants To Be A Millionaire again – experiencing the lights, the set, the music (which, by the way, was designed to mimic a heartbeat, increasing in pace as you get nearer to the million pound question) – that transports you right back to 2001. Charles' uniform of rugby tops and bad jeans, quiz questions about Craig David's first album, Michael Sheen's near-perfect impression of Chris Tarrant's nasal drone and his hideous Armani suits, once considered sophisticated but now misshapen and boxy. Quiz features landline telephones and Nokia 3310s. Massive televisions and old ITV logos. It's like a warm bath in a time gone by when, you know, there wasn't a global pandemic going on outside your window.
But Quiz is also very funny. Based on the successful play of the same name, it captures the fumbling, self-deprecating side of British humour. From the unbearably uncool gang of middle class, middle aged, middle England Who Wants To Be A Millionaire obsessives practising with their homemade fastest finger machines to McFadyen's portrayal of Ingram as a bumbling pinhead who finds himself in way over his head, to the cash-rich TV execs caught off guard by Clifford's Diana, a determined quiz nerd with the power to throw a serious spanner in the works. The narrative plays out like a series of farcical balls-ups and is marvellously entertaining to watch. If Quiz had a different soundtrack it would be Hugh Grant and Charlotte Coleman in Four Weddings and a Funeral, late and shouting "Fuck! Fuckity Fuck!"
Sadly, Quiz is only three episodes long. On the upside, it's being shown over three days, meaning that there's no weeklong wait between episodes, which is nice because at the moment a week feels like a month. It's a story that has drama and tension but it's also a story where no one really gets hurt. Unlike, say, the 6 o'clock news, Quiz provides a safe space in which to experience jeopardy. It's escapism without repercussions. So sit back, take that mental load off and settle in. Because it's time to play... Who Wants To Be A Millionaire!
Quiz is airing on ITV on 13th, 14th and 15th April at 9pm, and streaming over on ITV Hub.

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