Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Dutch QI Episode 2 - War

This week's review is brought to you by Peti.

Last Saturday was the day that VARA broadcast the second episode of the Dutch series of QI, and your reporter was installed by the television at 22:00 sharp.

Let's start at the very beginning with the opening credits. They are not a copy of the original: there is a different theme – not as catchy as the one Howard Goodall composed – and they show a supposedly comical animation of host Arthur Japin and panellist Thomas van Luyn travelling through interesting parts of history and having information put in their heads. It's a bit cheesy for my taste, but it highlights one of the major differences between the original programme and the Dutch version. The focus is on being funny more than on being interesting. As Japin opens the show "This quiz is all about interesting answers. We give out the most points for nice stories and funny anecdotes." What is this? Is interesting the same as funny now?

The set designers have borrowed heavily from the British version, with the panellists sitting around a big "Q" with a lower case "i" in the middle. The big Q seems to be scaled down, so the panellists are sitting much closer together, although it may simply be that it is recorded in a smaller studio. Behind the guests are two large screens used to a similar effect as the British version for displaying the klaxon answers and videos. The klaxon is quieter, or as one of the panellists said, "It's like I've hit the jackpot!"

For the second episode, the panellists sat with Japin and Van Luyn were Diederik van Vleuten, Lenette van Dongen, and Richard Groenendijk. It's good to see that the producers are employing good comedic talents instead of the usual selection of minor actors and television presenters that usually appear on Dutch panel shows. I do really like Van Vleuten and Groenendijk had some of the most amusing answers and stories.

The second episode of the Dutch QI was all about war. Lovely! Some of the questions, like in the first episode, were taken from the BBC programme, like the "kamikaze pigeons" and the number of soldiers under the command of a centurion. However, some of the questions haven't appeared in the broadcasts of the British version so it would seem that they are making an attempt at some original research. For example, one of Saddam Hussein's sons produced a cola drink with a Pepsi logo on it, and SS personnel had their blood type tattooed in their armpits. My favourite was that Napoleon gave his soldiers yo-yos because he thought it was good for the blood flow.

One question concerned a "secret weapon" employed by the ancient Greeks. Van Luyn: "Homosexuality. The ancient ones did that, the younger ones not so much, they thought is was a bit yucky." He goes on mocking hoplites and their stylish outfits, but it turns out his answer was right: there were armies of homosexuals. Plato suggested in his "Symposium" that if two lovers would fight, they would try to protect each other. This is followed by the inevitable mocking of homosexuality.

Groenendijk: "How did they fight? Pulling each other hair?"
Van Luyn: "Throwing handbags."
Groenendijk: "With beautifully styled hair. No, watch out for my hair!"
Van Luyn: "Throwing Gucci shoes."
Groenendijk: "So that was the secret weapon of the Greeks. But were the enemy soldiers all straight? So they turn out to be stronger. If it takes too long for us, we don't finish things."
Van Dongen: "I just have to watch the Eurovision Song Contest now!"

The programme has all the elements: good comedians, interesting facts, gay jokes...So why is it just not as good as the original? Obviously, it doesn't have Stephen Fry, the host of hosts. Also, the entertainment value is rather reduced if you know the answers to the half the questions, because they've been copied from the BBC series. But there are two major problems. One of them I mentioned before: the object of the Dutch QI is not to discover interesting facts. The object seems to be to let the comedians tell "funny anecdotes", and that's just wrong! Points are for interesting facts, whether they're relevant or not. The comedians are supposed to be funny; it's their job. The second problem is the way Japin hosts the show. He's no Stephen Fry, but he doesn't have to be. I just have a problem with him just being there to read up questions, and judge the answers. He is just a bit too serious and stiff. Now, since this is the first time he's done anything like this, it makes sense. I just hope he grows into his role.

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