Aidan Wilson writes…

Is ‘Chad’ a saint, a cyclone, or as Annabel Crabb thought, a regional term for underpants? Is Alejandro’s Sensual Beach House really the name of a Colombian soap opera? What does the expression to lick it into shape mean, and where does it come from?

These are the sorts of questions that Andrew Denton will put to the contestants on Randling, a new gameshow, simply about words, such as Randle, which Denton assures us refers to ‘a nonsensical poem recited by Irish schoolboys as an apology for farting at a friend’, as he found out reading Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous words. I don’t have a copy of said dictionary, so I’ll have to take Denton at his word, so to speak.

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Co-created by Denton and Jon Casimir (The Gruen Transfer, Enough Rope), Randling pits ten teams of two, replete with their own team names, banners, colours, and blazers reminiscent of England’s private schools, against one another in a ladder-style competition for the trophy, which we’re told cost the ABC so much to build, that Four Corners will from next year be Three Corners and a Gap.

I’m the sort of nerd that not only watches Letters and Numbers everyday, but who also gets out his pad and pencil and plays along. Randling however is a very different show; sure, it contains enough language and word trivia to satisfy the geek in me, but it focuses much more on the inherent absurdity and humour to be found in words and, just as Spicks and Specks found an audience beyond music lovers, Randling will appeal beyond word nerds.

While Randling may take inspiration from sucessfull shows like QI and Spicks and Specks, it’s very clearly an original creation. The team rivalry is an especially original part of this show, and promises to be one of the more engaging aspects of the series as a whole. I can already see myself leaning towards some teams over others, and at the moment, Roget’s Ramjets are looking to be my team, not only because of Rob Carlton (Chandon Pictures, The Hollowmen) and Robyn Butler (Librarians), but also for their great name and banner, a clever combination of Roger Ramjet and P.M. Roget, of the eponymous thesaurus.

The key to the success of this show is the repartee between Denton and the contestants, which include Rockwiz host Julia Zemiro, journalists David Marr and Annabel Crabb, writer Benjamin Law, The Chaser‘s Chris Taylor, and actor Angus Sampson, one of whose earlier roles was the Enforcer on ABC’s Saturday morning music show Recovery (you can find a full list of teams on the Randling website). Not all contestants are known for their comedy, and not all are known for their intellect, but Randling claims to be a show where smart people can be funny and funny people can be smart. Merrick Watts of the West Coast Odd Sox proved this in episode one, when he surprised all and sundry by correctly solving a particularly difficult hieroglyphic, although he was visibly indignant that no one had the least bit of faith in his intelligence.

The ABC are likely hoping that Randling can fill the monumental gap that Spicks and Specks left behind when it aired for the last time in November last year. With everything that Denton and Casimir and the ABC have put into this –10 years of planning according to The West Australian – they stand a great chance of succeeding, and Randling may well turn out to be a long term fixture of Wednesday nights.

I just hope that Mrs Byrne’s dictionary has enough obscure words to last.

Randling starts Wednesday 2nd May 8:30PM on ABC1.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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