The liberties of clumsy storytelling and fictitious recounts of true events are defended instantly by the black and white placard of “Some incidents and characters have been changed for dramatic purposes,” and while Quiz does change a hefty amount of both incident and character, its changes are remarkably odd and ineffective. Allegedly cheating his way to a £1 million win on gameshow Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, the story of Charles Ingram is a simple one, but the right level of cannon fodder for a miniseries. All three were found guilty of cheating and conspiring to con the show, and it was typical tabloid fascination for the brief time the Chris Tarrant-hosted show was at the height of its popularity.
Quiz will never reach such popularity, mainly because it is not all that good. Slow zooms onto nefarious characters behind the making of this toxic quiz show paired with a tale of desperate people conning a new gameshow out of some cash. It’s quite the mixture. Why, then, does Quiz feel like a neutered bit of light entertainment? The Syndicate of quiz show question sharers is taken with a degree of seriousness. The finest pub quizzers in all the land, it is said, gather in a room in London to answer questions. It is truly, embarrassingly serious. Adrian Pollock (Trystan Gravelle) cannot get on the show, so rigs up his own fast finger button at home. This detail is interesting, but the lightning striking as Pollock welds away is, once again, dreadfully embarrassing.
Few performances come through as anything beyond competent. Michael Jibson and Matthew Macfadyen certainly leave much to be desired, but Sian Clifford and Mark Bonnar are on hand to clear up the dreck. Michael Sheen as well, his impression of Chris Tarrant is fine, and Sheen is far too delightful and dedicated to give off a bad performance. Jibson, Macfadyen and Clifford linger on melodrama as they bring the Ingram story to life. How director Stephen Frears constructed this piece is worrying. He utilises some strange, forced perspectives that make Ingram look huge, with his confidant and coughing comrade in the background look as though he were both right behind him yet miles away. These technical disasters pile up. They are not brief or something we can overlook. Frears has fumbled his way through three ugly-looking episodes of television.
Unlikeable characters perform self-interested tasks. It feels a bit like Tiger King at times, but with fewer tigers and no kings. Just losers. Or, at least, that is how Frears is presenting his subject matter. A trio who found themselves in a hard spot and swindled their way to a million pounds. Quiz feels like a first draft affair. Ingram and his family are dull and their performances leave a lot to be desired. The stuffy suits and background behind Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are interesting, but the tale of Ingram is presented as uninteresting and ill-performed. Are they guilty? Innocent? A desperate family caught by the allure of quick cash from a new game show? Who cares? Quiz doesn’t give us a reason to.