In the 1990s, British TV game show The Crystal Maze was essential viewing. It was a cross between Gladiators and a Mensa IQ test. The real joy of it, however, were the hapless contestants who blundered from one challenge to the next as if it were a giant bloopers reel while being berated by host Richard O’Brien. O’Brien – creator and star of The Rocky Horror (Picture) Show – essentially played a version of himself, gleefully mocking every mistake made. He was larger than life. Now, the show has returned and with an all-new presenter…And it’s The IT Crowd’s Moss!
Actor and comedian Richard Ayoade, channelling much of his inner Moss, has successfully stepped into the spotlight. Ayoade’s garish pink suit and gold boots were an instantly eye-catching fashion nightmare, even more than anyone could have hoped for. His clipboard prop looked like something a primary school teacher would use as he checked off the dubious credentials of his “celebrity” guests. His cane, with a gold hand attachment on the end of it, was used to great effect as he refused to make any physical contact with the contestants whatsoever.
If it were anybody else, they would be accused of being purposefully ridiculous. Yet for Ayoade, it all seemed perfectly natural. With a trademark lack of enthusiasm, he batted away the excitement of the team players. Their boisterous comments were taken literally by Ayoade, making them look even more foolish, while he also offered up a variety of bewildering comments which broke the fourth wall completely.
While being a charity episode and raising £10 000 for Stand Up To Cancer, the contestants still faced a few fiendish challenges which offered a glimpse of what to expect when the regular series kicks in. From attempting to balance an oversized set of scales in a swimming pool in the Aztec Zone section to traversing a set of swinging planets in Futuristic Zone, nothing came too easily… although, hopefully, the tasks set for future contestants will be even tougher. Because, for many, The Crystal Maze is more about the epic fails than it is the successes.
But the real key to this show’s rebooted future has to be Richard Ayoade himself. The Crystal Maze’s zones have been recreated and updated beautifully at great expense, but as Richard O’Brien proved all those years ago it’s the host that sells the show. O’Brien is a tough act to follow even over 25 years later, something witnessed by his previous successors Ed Tudor-Pole and Stephen Merchant, neither of whom managed to recreate the original magic.
Ayoade looks set to be the one who can do it though. His comedic timing is impeccable and, with a mere look, he conveys the impression that he’s like a bored mad scientist who will only be happy when his actions have brought about a global apocalypse (or when somebody asks him about his collection of antique teaspoons). His performance isn’t Moss, but more like a hybrid of Moss and Ayoade, and it works perfectly.
Based on the charity special, The Crystal Maze’s return looks like a lot of fun. It may never quite rival the original, but it’s pretty damn close.