Fantastic, laugh-a-minute telly, with the tension of a good quiz show, the momentum of a crime caper, and the this-really-happened appeal of a true story.
This recap of The Quiz Episode 2 contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
ITV’s wonderfully entertaining true story of a shockingly obvious quiz-show heist proved tonight that the first episode was far from a fluke, as the eccentric, bumbling Major Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen) sat opposite Chris Tarrant (Michael Sheen) and blagged his way to a million quid with the help of his devoted wife Diana (Sian Clifford) and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock (Michael Jibson). It was funny, farcical, can’t-miss British telly, redolent with a kind of dopey middle-Englishness that finds the well-off but obsessive, idiotic Ingrams as national jesters, playing fools for us all.
Quiz Episode 2 makes no secret of its socio-political subtext but keeps it as just that – subtext, second fiddle to a consistently pleasurable caper that co-opts the inherent drama of a clever quiz show to naturally build tension. The general dismissiveness of the show’s crew and Tarrant’s mockery of Charles, his wife, and his brother-in-law put the audience on the side of the swindlers, and as Charles continues to rack up the cash, the more exciting things get. The drama of the criminal plot mixes with the excitement of each implausibly correct answer mixes with the increasing disbelief among all the onlookers. It’s a masterful concoction.
Just like how the first episode traced the origins of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Quiz Episode 2 allows us behind the curtain of what was going on both during and in the immediate aftermath of Charles’s winning effort. The producers and other show staff pick up on Charles’s bizarre playstyle, and then work through the various oddities in classic procedural fashion, trying to isolate coughs and establish connections. The fact we know what happened never takes anything away from the show; on the contrary, when Tarrant congratulates Charles on his victory, insisting he’s quite an amazing man and that he has “no idea how he did it,” it feels like another cheeky wink for our benefit, much like the wonderfully-timed cough in the episode’s final second.
To what extent Charles cheated will, presumably, be dealt with in the third and final episode tomorrow night. I don’t suppose it really matters. The story in and of itself is riveting stuff, and is told here with a wonderful cast and a near-perfect sense of dramatic irony and comic timing. Quiz is fine domestic television, and one of the year’s clear small-screen highlights.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.