Last summer, as I was queuing to get into some random gig in Edinburgh, I took a call from a producer at the BBC. He was making a new science/engineering show for Children’s BBC; might I be interested in helping out? Well, yes. Durr. But – ooh! ooh! – what they really wanted was someone to lead some ideas workshops with teenagers, and Rick Hall was just the man for that. Given that he’d been running NESTA’s Ignite! programme for a while, which was all about fostering creativity and all that.
By the time I got out of the gig, Rick had signed the deal and there was no room for me on the show. Bastard. (it’s OK, he’s bought me beer since so we’re square).
The second weird connection is that the series presenter is newcomer Greg Foot, whose previous major claim to fame was presenting a pilot of a How2 spinoff that had been shot by… er… me. (In a third connection, he’s now working with ex-How2 researcher Amy, who herself used to work with Flossie at Techniquest and got into TV via Screenhouse after I didn’t have room for her on The Big Bang one year, and… etc etc. It’s all terribly incestuous, this science communication lark.)
Anyway, I finally saw the show – Whizz Whizz Bang Bang. Verdict? Bloody hell! It’s Scrap It!
Now, Scrap It! was a show I made for Discovery Kids a couple of years back. It was cheap – and looked it – but had a certain rustic charm. The studio bits of Whizz Whizz Bang Bang are ridiculously similar. Close enough to be a rip-off? Unlikely, to be honest – much more plausible is that it’s a case of convergent editorial decisions.
Did I like the show? Well, ish. As with Scrap It!, the studio elements look rather flat – less excusable in their case, since I suspect they had more than a few angle-poise lamps to light the thing. But just as Will Andrews made Scrap It! work by filling the screen with his amiable lunacy, so Greg mostly carries the show. There are some editorial decisions I wouldn’t have made – notably the Einstein wig and specs, ugh! – but they’ve made the right call about the science. That is, they’re not afraid of having pretty decent explanations.
Where it starts to fall apart for me is, ironically, in the building of the invention. The show’s premise is that a kid has come to them with an invention idea which they then build, with the build forming the backbone narrative for insert content. A 30 minute show is a lot for a single build, and despite Greg’s best efforts it all feels a bit drawn out. But what really hacked me off with this episode specifically was the build itself. It was lazy.
The original idea was a rocket-powered bed, which evolved into a jet-propelled bed. Fine. We didn’t see much of the final jet engine, which was a shame because little jets are rather lovely, even if turbocharger centrifugal compressors are rather different to large axial-flow units, but meh, whatever.
The problem was that the build wasn’t a jet-propelled bed. It was a jet-propelled go-kart with a bunk bed welded on top. The driver sat in the go-kart, not the bed. Then, of course, with no roll cage or … well, safety features, the kid himself wasn’t allowed to drive the bed (which wasn’t adequately explained) and they ended up with The Stig from Top Gear doing it.
Which is fine, but… they ended up with a mute guy in a racing outfit driving a sedate if noisy kart. Which is a long way from the original image of a kid in bed rocketing down a runway, a whole lot less appealing, and… I can’t see why. I may be rubbish with a welding torch, but I know a thing or three about designing achievable bespoke engineering for television, so I say with both conviction and authority: this could and should have been better.
It’s not a bad show, and for a first series is actually remarkably good, but… gaaaaah, it’s annoying. All these mistakes have been made before, and it’s frustrating that the show isn’t better. I’ll have to watch more episodes before I really lay into it, but at first glance – so close, yet so avoidably limited.
(as far as I can tell, there’s no CBBC website for the series. Which is bizarre, and possibly suggests it’s not coming back. Wikipedia have a very brief entry.)