B.and rights, the new Channel 4 gameshow One Question should be terrible. It’s one of those slightly generic big money quiz shows that comes saddled with a maddeningly compromised premise. “Answer one question right and win £100,000!” it screams up top, as if that was all there could possibly be to it.
If only. In reality, contestants are asked a question, and then given 20 possible answers, and they have to whittle them down in a manner that drastically reduces their chances of winning the full amount. there are Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-style lifelines. there are deal or no deal-style offers. It is, on paper, a generic sludge of older and better ideas.
And yet, I can’t remember any gameshow entertaining me quite as much as the first two episodes of One Question, and this is down to its presentation. If you were to tell anyone the rules, it’s highly likely they would all picture the same thing; to black studio, Stephen Mulhern looking stern at a lecture, maybe a big useless button to press at opportune moments to ramp up the tension.
But this isn’t the case with One Question. Instead, it looks as if it was filmed in a hotel lobby, or an especially posh building society branch. There are trendy exposed light bulbs dangling from the ceiling. The contestants answer questions from the comfort of an immaculate designer sofa. There is a studio audience, but they surround the action in distant clusters, as if they were politely awaiting canapes.
It’s a bracing change. For 20 years we have been force-fed a diet of cartoonishly masculine gameshows, with black and chrome sets like a divorced dad’s new flat. So a show doing something as simple as prioritizing basic comfort feels slightly radical. And better yet, One Question is hosted by claudia winkleman.
Instantly, this is where all the tension of the series lies. The role of a gameshow host is essentially to keep contestants and viewers abreast of the myriad rules and twists of the game. It’s a precise, logical job that best suits someone sharp and exacting. Which, by all accounts, is the very opposite of claudia winkleman.
Winkleman, by all historical evidence, is violently anti-logic. She communicates almost exclusively in chirps and whistles. She is the concept of free jazz made corporeal. She has made a career of appearing to say whatever happens to be ambiently floating through her head at any given moment. Only a maniac would hand her a gameshow.
But without her, One Question is nothing. Winkleman’s God-given ability to seem like she’s winging it gives this series almost all of its juice. Nestled in a giant armchair like a glam Ronnie Corbett, she instantly makes it her mission to become best friends with contestants. She treats the show like an afterthought. Sure, it has rules and to structure, but she repeatedly insists that the contestants just blurt out the right answer so they can knock off early and get drunk together. Imagine Jeremy Paxman doing that. imagine Anne Robinson doing that. The closest thing we have to Winkleman’s compulsive loosey-goosiness is Bradley Walsh on The Chaseexcept that she is better because she never looks as if she is going to wet herself because one of the questions has the word “knickers” in it.
What she provides, in short, is a spark of humanity in a genre that has taken the majority of its tonal cues from The Demon Headmaster. And it turns out that this is all it takes to make a gameshow watchable. Not a compelling format. Not life or death tension. Just a host who palpably seems to be having fun. If Claudia Winkleman can keep this up, One Question could run and run.