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8 November 2023

Why did Brian Cox agree to this terrible James Bond reality show?

If Anthony Hopkins had been announced as the new face of Eggheads, I could hardly be more appalled.

By Rachel Cooke

What are we to make of Brian Cox’s embarrassing new job? One gathered from interviews that the man who made Logan Roy so convincingly intimidating rather disapproved of the method acting of his Succession co-star Jeremy Strong, a technique he regarded as both unnecessary and ridiculous – and, thanks to this, I think we all picked up the idea that our Brian is the kind of serious thesp who would never willingly make a fool of himself.

But alas, it turns out that we were quite wrong about this, for here he is, appearing unaccountably as the presenter of Amazon Prime’s preternaturally tedious and stupid new reality game show thingy 007: Road to a Million. Oh, Lord. Why on Earth did he agree to this gig? Is he on the road to a million himself, or has he just lost his mind?

If Anthony Hopkins had been announced as the new face of Eggheads, I could hardly be more appalled. But then, I’ve seen one and a half episodes of 007: Road to a Million; I know just how bad it is (conscientious as I usually am, I just couldn’t manage any more, for which I hope you’ll forgive me). This show’s producers – Barbara Broccoli, the controller of the Bond franchise, is among them – have signed off on an unbelievably lame combination of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Deal or No Deal, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Race Across the World by simply stamping it with a logo (007), as if the whole sorry mess was a handbag or a baseball cap.

The assumption is, I guess, that people will buy anything if it comes with a whiff of Bond. And in this case, it really is only a whiff. What connection, if any, does the series have to Ian Fleming’s creation, beyond those three magic numbers? Hmm. Well, there’s its theme tune, which reworks the one we know from the movies. And it is quite… international. Two contestants run sweatily around Venice, like Roger Moore in Moonraker, minus the hovercraft-style gondola. But that’s about it, to be honest. Peel off the logo, and you’re looking at the kind of hopeless knock-off you’d find down some East End market.

[See also: The confessions of Robbie Williams]

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Contestants compete in pairs: brothers, sisters, friends, married couples. Each hopes to win a million quid by answering questions posed to them in out-of-the-way spots, the challenge being to find the question, as well as to answer it. If they get the answer wrong, they’re out. If they get it right, they move to the next level, the pot of cash growing bigger every time. It’s both repetitive – each pair goes through more or less the same challenge – and wildly implausible.

In the first level, for instance, contestants are directed to climb mountains in the Highlands of Scotland, a task they perform in poor weather in jeans and trainers, and carrying no rucksacks – or anything at all. In Fort William, the mountain rescue team will look on in despair. Unless you’ve got a camera crew in tow, and you’ve signed the requisite disclaimer, please don’t try this yourselves, kids!

What about Cox? Is he running around in tracky-bots with a mic like Anneka Rice? Don’t be daft. He’s indoors, in front of a bank of TV screens, like a supermarket security guard (if, that is, security guards wore what looks very much like a cravat). Cox is the Svengali of the show: Ernst Blofeld meets, er, Noel Edmonds. Should a contestant answer a mysteriously ringing phone, it’ll be him they hear on the line, issuing instructions; when they find the metal suitcase in which the next (multiple-choice) question will be stored on a laptop, it’s his voice that emanates from its screen as they open it.

He keeps a little account book, in which he writes “banked” with his fountain pen every time someone wins some cash. To indicate impatience, he drums his fingers. “The hares are running,” he says, trying to sound dastardly. “Which army defeated the Scottish clans in 84 AD?” he asks, his ludicrously pompous tone suggestive of a hitherto unknown sideline as the Emeritus Professor of Tartan Studies at the University of the Purple Thistle in Clootie Dumpling. Honestly, it’s pathetic. Eat your heart out, Logan Roy. Next week: Chris Tarrant stars as Coriolanus at the RSC.

007: Road to a Million
Amazon Prime Video,
available from 10 November

[See also: The madness of Burton and Taylor]

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This article appears in the 08 Nov 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Age of Fury