As long as Marvel’s universe continues to expand, TV has got no shortage of spin-offs, but spin-offs of spin-offs are still a relatively rare breed. Here is one, though, in the form of No Such Thing As The News, the televisual and topical adaptation of a podcast which itself sprung from research left over from QI. Following a five-episode run over the summer, the news bulletin/panel show hybrid is back for eight more episodes with, according to its panellists, the same paltry budget (which is instantly believable after looking at the set).
If another BBC show had not bagsied it, Have I Got News For You would be an apt title for this show, whose format sees a quartet of QI researchers unearth gems of trivia from the week’s mountain of news. Most of these facts are funny, like the fact parliamentarians from Kyrgyzstan seeking to amend their constitution have discovered the document is missing. Others are surprising, like the news that the first proposals for a third runway at Heathrow were compiled in 1946, when check-in was still a row of tents. One fact – that Norfolk hosts the World Snail Racing Championships every year – inspired an odd local pride in this reviewer.
Perhaps because it is technically a BBC News commission, the first comedy from that department since David Frost’s That Was The Week That Was in 1962, NSTATN seems to avoid the rather stilted one-upmanship of, say, Mock the Week. Instead, this show offers fresh, fluid conversation between four people who are clearly friends as much as colleagues. The two middle panellists, Anna Ptaszynski and Andrew Hunter Murray, account for most of the laugh-out-loud one-liners, but all four get a chance to demonstrate the razor wits they’ve honed at live editions of the original podcast, or in Schreiber’s and Murray’s cases, at individual stand-up gigs. In another welcome break with panel-show tradition, no one here seems very interested in the kind of edgy offensiveness that can make the other two panel shows mentioned before a bit tiresome.
As a fan of the show’s parent podcast I am used to the team emerging from the archives with pearls of weird trivia I would never stumble upon myself, so it seems a shame that the TV show’s limited airtime is sometimes spent showing viral videos that anyone who is logged into Twitter that week is likely to have already seen. That would be my only criticism, though, and as for the cheap set, I would say it is actually a virtue. The flimsy backdrop is just one part of the unique charm which, spin-off squared though it is, NSTATN has in abundance.