Good news. You can stop all of this immediately. Stop drafting that text to your WhatsApp group about a get-together for the “non-Dry Jan legends”. Stop saying you’re finally going to write a novel this year. Stop pretending you’re going to socialise in the evening; cease all attempts at self-improvement. The Traitors, one of the biggest runaway TV hits in recent memory, is back on BBC One, and all you have to do for the rest of the month is sit on your sofa and watch it.
Yes, we’re back – finally – in the Scottish castle, with 22 people trying to win £120k by working out who the “traitors” are among the “faithful”. Knowingly camp and precision-engineered for chaos, the series is basically a glorified party game in which host Claudia Winkleman flirts with oak furniture (the series opener starts with her talking to an owl).
Last time round, the show went out just before Christmas and ended up being viewed more than 34 million times on iPlayer. January is a much better time for it, really (the twilight zone for mental health, as we all know), and also, as our fringed friend points out early in the first episode, “as if we’d do the same thing”. Don’t think you’ve got the game worked out just because you’ve seen it before, she teases the contestants. But will it be as addictive the second time round?
The early signs are strong: yes, the drama relies on the small betrayals and suspicions that vibrate through the ever-shrinking group, so there’s lots to wait and see, but the cast are a hoot. We have a mixture of eccentrics – a clairvoyant, a man called Aubrey who has a cat called Luther Vandross – and Type A people who actually enjoy group activities (which is also quite eccentric). And, of course, the sweet, inoffensive ones (who you probably need to watch): an illustrator and two veterinary nurses.
Satisfyingly, the first trio picked to be traitors are excellent. There’s Paul, who grins like he’s just been told a girl fancies him when he gets the nod; Ash, who is too nice to be suspicious (but is deeply thrown when Sonja – self-described as “full-on” – walks up to her and says, “Are you a traitor?”); and army boy Harry, who wears an earring like Adam Ant and admits to Winkleman his strategy is to basically pretend to be thick.
But there’s a new twist: the traitors must recruit another member. We won’t find out who until the next episode, which has the fun effect of making us faithfuls too, trying to pick up clues and work out who is pulling the wool over our eyes. I seriously hope it’s Diane, who tells us she thinks she’ll do well because playing board games with her family has taught her some things, but then spends the whole day staring at people like a silent assassin. (She may, in fact, be on to Harry already.)
So far, so good. It seems like The Traitors still has all the things you liked before. Winkleman commenting drolly on outdoor activities (“the green boat is now on its fifth circle”). An innocent young man saying something innocuous and then having the finger of blame pointed at him (“Sorry, it’s come across way more malicious than it is… I just heard you couldn’t row,” stutters parliamentary advisor Zack). People making statements about themselves in a vaguely threatening tone (“I’m very astute,” says Aubrey). And extremely impressive poker faces (“I’ve just got a feeling like it’s somebody you wouldn’t think it would be them?” says one sap in a car. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, of course, yeah, yeah, yeah,” nods traitor Paul.) The show must be a living panic attack to participate in, but it’s so, so much fun to watch.
‘The Traitors’ starts on BBC One tonight at 9pm, with the first three episodes available on iPlayer