Sharyn, one of the contestants on the first episode of Channel Nine's new Sunday night game show You're Back in the Room, is host Daryl Somers' most ardent fan. "I'm excited about you," she declares, gazing admiringly at him before professing her love for the Hey Hey It's Saturday mainstay. "I've been ready for you all my life." Somewhere a pink ostrich is disconsolately shaking its head.
Somers, a performer not averse to being the centre of attention, almost bounces up and down with excitement as Sharyn fawns over him, which is no mean feat for a 64-year-old who has survived fronting Dancing with the Stars. The smitten Sharyn is, of course, under hypnotic suggestion. That's the hook of this new show, which plays like it's trying to take audiences back to the future of television.
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Daryl Somers is back
Nine's new Sunday night game show You're Back in the Room will be hosted Daryl Somers. Vision: Today Show, Channel Nine.
The underlying question is: can the repetitive You're Back in the Room dupe a national audience?
2016 has so far been a terrible year for Nine, which has seen previously dependable prime-time offerings like Reno Rumble crushed by Seven's reality juggernaut My Kitchen Rules. The renovation competition has already been shunted out of its 7.30pm timeslot, and while it hasn't been sent to purgatory – i.e. screening on one of Nine's digital channels – the network's scheduling filler has already been deployed on Wednesday nights: more episodes of The Big Bang Theory – one of them is even new.
When a television network is in a hole it can take a chance on new programming or fall back on the familiar. Given that Nine has decided to resurrect the cultural countdown clip show 20 to 1, you can hazard a fair guess as to which way they've turned. That said, they're also got an Australian edition of Celebrity Come Dine With Me in production, because if there's one thing we lack it's a show featuring slightly famous people competing against each other for attention.
You're Back in the Room isn't exactly original either. It's a facsimile of the British show of the same name, which premiered last May to decidedly mixed reviews. The Australian take uses the same Irish hypnotist, Keith Barry, to implant comically embarrassing suggestions in the quartet of contestants: one of them may believe that they're Elvis Presley, another will be convinced they're naked in public.
Barry promises "crazy, foolish and outlandish things", and the show vaguely delivers that. The defence line for You're Back in the Room is that it's harmless fun, but the problem is that harmless fun doesn't have a long lifespan. At an hour long, each episode quickly plateaus and then slowly descends as the participants go from one silly set-up to the next.
It doesn't help that the show's feel is decidedly retro and the choices conservative. Within the confines of the format, and the need to keep the studio audience howling away, there's little that is illustrative about the pliability of human nature or assumed roles. The first two episodes also have a questionable outlook in terms of what a middle-aged woman is assigned versus the other contestants.
The celebrity guests, left at the mercy of the hypnotised foursome, are wheeled in for the second half hour, and once the likes of Derryn Hinch – yes, someone tells him "shame, shame, shame" – and the beauty pageants pin-ups have been procured, it's down to contracted Nine talent; spot the moment in the second episode where Gyton Grantley realises he's going to have this on his CV forever.
The throwback feel is completed by Somers, with the veteran light entertainer throwing out prefabricated banter and stepping into segments so that the spotlight stays reassuringly close. His introductory interviews with the participants are brief but excruciating – feigning interest in the lives of others is not his forte.
What he represents is a reminder of an era when network television ruled supreme and a ramshackle variety show featuring a wig on a stick, a master of suggestive innuendo in a voiceover booth and various stuffed objects delivered millions of viewers every week. That world, without pay television or streaming services, no longer exists, and tepid shows such as You're Back in the Room are just speedbumps on the road to whatever comes next.