Mastermind

returned after a more than 20 year absence tonight, lifting the IQ of Sunday primetime several notches along the way.

As quizmaster, newsreader turned cardreader Peter Williams might have been sat behind a desk seemingly carved from marble to match the gothic high-gravitas surrounds of Auckland University's Clock Tower which is the new programme's moodily-lit set, but this was no flash new reinvention of the classic format.

True, it has added a New Zealand section to the specialist and general knowledge rounds.

That's something that will help with audience engagement, especially after the traditionally head-scratching arcane start of each episode where contestants tackled their pet subjects.

Advertisement

With the first four's subjects including everything from the New Zealand Wars to the life and works of Stephen Fry, the opening episode might have started off a little dry.

But overall this delivered the various Mastermind entertainments of old - like know-it-alls on one subject fading when the questions go wider. Or the rich variety of facial expressions that come from getting a lucky guess right or a knowing the answer to a passed question after all.

Williams, not the most exciting on-screen presence in his news roles, is a natural fit as quizmaster.

He may not have the dazzling smile or dazzling hair of the late Peter Sinclair who hosted the show for so long.

But Williams rattled through those questions - some of them seemingly composed as if whoever scripted them was getting paid by the word - with the elocution of the seasoned pro he is.

It was fitting perhaps that the first heat winner last night/tonight was Don Rae, whose specialist subject was the history of the New Zealand Trotting Cup - absorbing racetrack commentary must be a good brain-trainer for this gig.

And although there wasn't much of a points spread in the final scores, it was interesting to note that unlucky last was Andrew Taylor who chose the movie Princess Bride has his specialist subject and pop culture for his New Zealand category.

This might be our first post internet Mastermind and the series is promising more narrow-subject pop culture geeks among the rest of the 32 contenders.

But it was trotting cup expert Rae's quick mind and wide general knowledge that won him the night.

Mastermind isn't the only quiz show around and follows a little-seen but entertaining revival of University Challenge on Prime.

What's looking good about the new Mastermind is what was always good about Mastermind: It's fast, tense, competitive, mentally challenging of participant and couch-potato alike and banter and gimmick free.

It's delivered straight - no Chaser.