The Phone

By David Knox on January 14, 2009 / Filed Under Pay TV, Reviews 21

The first of Foxtel’s new local brands kicks off next week, a “high-tech reality series” that seeks to stray into Amazing Race territory.

The basic premise: two mobile phones are ringing in two locations in one city, whoever answers them has the chance to win $25,000 through a series of challenges.

It’s a Dutch format made in Australia by Foxtel and one, we are told, is to be hosted in the US by Justin Timberlake for MTV. Actor Justin Melvey (maybe there was a contract clause stipulating it had to be hosted by a ‘Justin’) is our host, or “Clue Master,” a sort of Charlie’s Angel executive giving the two contestants shrift instructions to veer from one location to the next.

The show opens with 24-style credits, graphic overlays and aerial cityscapes. Oddly, it’s even accompanied by an American voice-over despite the fact it’s set in the city of Sydney. We zone in on a phone ringing near Circular Quay. A few passers-by seem distracted. Then a pretty young girl walks up and answers the call.

“Would you like the chance to win $25,000?” asks voice of Melvey.
“I certainly world!” answers 21yo Carmen.
“Good. Press 1 to continue.” (She presses #1)
“The game is simple. You have three hours to find a suitcase of cash…” (etc)

Without asking any questions (for instance ‘Who is this?’ ‘Is this a joke?’ or ‘Are they still filming Surprise Surprise Gotcha?’) the girl sets off on her adventure, including taking control of a van that’s been left nearby.

About now you’re wondering “hang on is this for real?” Why would a stranger seemingly go along with someone on the end of the phone, including changing the course of her day, for a stranger’s promise of cash? Not without checking their credentials, surely?

Cut to another phone ringing in a gymnasium. 25yo Stuart, doing a workout in his black tank top, is teased with the same offer. His reaction is a little more blunt. “F**k yeah!” He too drops everything and sets off on his course.

Yep, there now seems little doubt these two were pre-selected for the game. Both were too willing to jump in boots and all to the bizarre premise, added to the fact the producers neglected to include a few people who should have just hung up and laughed in Melvey’s ‘face.’ We’re Aussies after all….

By the end of the first destination, Carmen and Stuart are thrown together for the rest of the journey traversing Sydney suburbs. As the game proceeds we are privvy to interview reactions spliced into the action. Stuart reckons Carmen’s pretty hot, but she has a partner. Gee, what are the odds two strangers would have unresolved sexual tension too? Bonus. Oh wait, Carmen’s just taken off her top, now her matching black top practically matches Stuart’s. Yep, they’re really random strangers.

Various challenges take place at a hotel, a phone shop, a car yard (all three are named by brand), a golf course, cemetery and shipping yard.

Melvey awkwardly plays something of a young corporate shark with a loose backstory punctuated by some silent Japanese executives and a girlfriend. As a B plot it gets in the way here.

One challenge requires Stuart and Carmen to “break into” a house cat burglar-like and steal the keys and car of the Japanese executive who’s having a shower. The two keep telling us they ‘can’t believe’ what they are getting up to. Given they can seemingly believe all the cameramen that are shadowing them around corners, you’d think they’d have given up the pretense by now.

Failing to complete challenges in time costs them money, and that $25,000 kitty keeps coming down across the episode.

One of the key elements of The Amazing Race, apart from its diverse casting and exotic locales, is the viewer believes what’s going on. There’s nobody there to help them and nobody acting. Reality television is all about creating situations that invoke a reaction (be it positive or negative). Whilst it’s likely Carmen and Stuart had no idea what they were in for, I felt like they had separately agreed to their adventure in some casting room weeks before.

It’s taken a lot logistically to put this together. As light entertainment it’s cute enough. But at one hour it’s also too long with insufficient jeopardy for our players. While the first episode is in Sydney, different city backdrops in subsequent eps might boost its appeal. A final twist at the last destination was a good inclusion, and may provide novel endings to the show.

The Clue Master helps them so much you get the feeling everybody would be really put out if somebody just said “I’ve had enough of this rubbish I’m going home.”

I was a bit like Stuart. About halfway through the episode I wanted to “phone a friend.”

The Phone premieres 8:30pm Monday January 19 on FOX8.

21 Comments »

  1. Justin December 30, 2009 at 4:14 am -

    Sorry to say ! Funny what people really think or waste their time to publish such rubbish ! get a fricken life ! Everything was real ! if someone has the opportunity to make some money dont be pathetically jealous about their success !! Such typical “tall poppy syndrome ” !
    get a life people !
    The show not underbelly is just a bunch of light entertainment !
    Please …get behind Ozzie TV for once !
    Sad this still exist in our fellow countryman !
    “the Actor in the Phone drop kicks !
    PS the only edit is when they pick up the phone ,and run from the premises ! “They have to sighn a TV waver first for permission ! So we dont get w*nkers like the ones i”ve just read involved in this fun show ! The 2 contestants come back on Sat in the same clothes on Sat with 25 cameras watching and they play for real ! Just a TV edit dummies !
    Please get a life !
    Love the Actor

  2. KEISHA May 2, 2009 at 9:30 am -

    I am loving it beast boom baby LOL

  3. Craig January 20, 2009 at 8:29 am -

    I watched The Phone last night and sat through the whole ep but it felt like it was a scripted show, I won’t be surprised if this turns out to be true.

    I don’t think I’ll be back unless their is nothing else on.

    Also at one point it felt like a Vodafone ad.

  4. brad January 19, 2009 at 11:54 pm -

    Totally cringe worthy embarrassment. I too am watching this, just for its humour value. If you are going to fake something like this, pick decent actors, make situations realistic (opening scenes for example – total fake)

    How stupid do these people think we are??

    And two model/actors… why didnt the old lady pick up? Would like to see the hotty gym boy get it on with her.

    Puhlease!

  5. Donna January 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm -

    What rubbish. I’m watching it at the moment, and won’t watch it again. I wanna see some 60 year old woman pick up the phone. Not some hot young things obviously hand-picked. Not worth all the hype.

  6. Michael January 18, 2009 at 10:43 am -

    Given Carmen’s a promotions model I think it might be setup.

  7. Freaka January 16, 2009 at 4:17 am -

    Isn’t there signs around these days that say “unattended bags will be confiscated” and “report suspicious behavior” that make other people suspicious and call the cops or at least security? Or just those nice people who give items into lost and found. How is it possible that nobody just walks up and grabs that suitcase. I love the magic of TV.

  8. Zambora January 15, 2009 at 1:52 pm -

    agree with ‘JohnP’ and this wording in age article says it all “producers approach those who answer the phone and if they are deemed acceptable”
    Let’s see 21-30 good looking, blond hair, blah blah blah…
    Why not just have casting call ?
    Show looks more and more like ‘follow the dots” and hardly freeflowing.

  9. JohnP January 15, 2009 at 10:20 am -

    “A story in The Age indicates producers approach those who answer the phone and if they are deemed acceptable, they return to film the next day.”

    The show should just say this upfront rather than turning off viewers who will think it is completely staged. If I got a call with someone asking me to do a task for them for $25,000 I’d go to the police! Now that would make a great show as the police track down and bust a crappy reality show syndicate…

  10. James January 15, 2009 at 8:47 am -

    The commercial I’ve seen shows a mobile phone taped to the underside of a table. If I were a passerby and I saw that, I’d be calling the cops.

  11. David Knox January 15, 2009 at 1:15 am -

    A story in The Age indicates producers approach those who answer the phone and if they are deemed acceptable, they return to film the next day.

  12. Rick January 14, 2009 at 9:35 pm -

    I just saw a ‘sneak peek’ of this .. It looks like utter tripe. What a pity

  13. Rick January 14, 2009 at 2:29 pm -

    What a pity. This concept sounded great, but I see it more as a 5.30 program each weeknight for 22 minutes.

    Let’s call my version of the concept “The Call”

    The whole thing is ‘real’: the people had applied and “the call” came to them at their office/home/mobile without warning. All they know is that they might get a call at any time in the filming season. If they do, they have to accept or decline right there and then. (You’d need a few spare film crews at some backup locations in case people couldn’t participate for some reason.) The entire $25k always goes off — no reducing it.

    Three or four challenges .. the aim is to get to the end of the race first, just like in TAM. You don’t get a van. Take public transport or anything. The contestants never meet up, they’re on two different trajectories with equivalent challenges. The case is just sitting in the middle of the footpath, shopping mall, or somewhere ‘open’ and the first contestant there picks it up and heads home. (of course, the cash in the case is fake coz you’re not going to give them anything until it airs ..)

    In “The Call” there is no host other than the disembodied voice on the phone. The final scene of every episode is the winner walking off with the case. The credits roll and then the loser’s phone rings. “You lose”.

  14. mickey January 14, 2009 at 2:29 pm -

    im looking forward to this show being cancelled because i cannot stand those annoying ads with the phone constantly ringing-its driving me nuts!

  15. Zambora January 14, 2009 at 1:39 pm -

    Like your comment “pre-selected” – try a “set-up” or fixed.
    Sounds far too contrived and to get strangers to do things illegally like break into a house (with camera crew in tow) – gimme a break.
    Just looks and smells like a totally staged and scripted show.
    I pass !

  16. David Knox January 14, 2009 at 12:04 pm -

    Kramer was gold. “Why don’t you just TELL me what movie you want to see?”

  17. Jason January 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm -

    “Would you like the chance to win $25,000?” asks voice of Melvey.
    “I certainly world!” answers 21yo Carmen.
    “Good. Press 1 to continue.” (She presses #1)

    If he’s on the phone with her already – isn’t that sort of like Kramer doing the moviephone?

  18. Reality Raver January 14, 2009 at 11:45 am -

    Sounds like a good concept but not done well. Of course the contestants must be set up. How many people have had call centres phoning home the people say “Madam you have the opportunity to get a free mobile phone/ holiday etc”, where you know there is some catch.

  19. Adam January 14, 2009 at 11:38 am -

    There is no way they are just plucked from the streets, what if one had a gummy leg, short sighted? The insurance would be need to be considered for injury. What if they weren’t licenced to drive?? All sounds casted to me.

  20. VMan January 14, 2009 at 11:35 am -

    For me it’s way too set up…this is reality television at it’s worst.

    When they show they guy saying ‘fu** yeah’, obviously they’ve already talked to him, cuz you can’t just go up to someone and start filming them with a camera for no reason.

    So it’s completely disingenuous.

  21. Steve Roderick January 14, 2009 at 10:40 am -

    it doesnt sound like a bad concept. but overall i wouldnt really watch something like it.

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