Outside of a few scenes, “Quiz” is very cleanly divided into three chapters almost like a film with a three-act structure. The first episode, airing May 31st, is the set-up, introducing us to the two narratives. In the first, a man named Paul Smith pitches his idea for a new event series game show to ITV, a network in need of a hit. It’s fun to watch the show that would become “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” be refined in board rooms. An early iteration has less time per question before someone realizes that it’s even better to have no time limit at all and watch people work through their process. A scene in which the head of ITV kind of plays the game in his office is stellar. It’s easy even without the cameras or audiences to see why this game became a phenomenon.
At the same time, we meet an Army Major named Charles Ingram (Matthew Macfadyen), his wife Diana (Sian Clifford), and her brother Adrian (Trystan Gravelle), who becomes somewhat obsessed with translating his pub quiz skill into something that could actually make him money. He builds a “fastest finger” set-up in his garage and ends up getting to that round more than once, largely through the help of a group of fans who have figured out how to get through the selection process. Adrian finally gets on the show—although producers have noticed with a raised eyebrow that he’s been there four times already—but he doesn’t climb as high as hoped and debts are climbing. Diana takes his spot and performs largely the same. And then Charles gets his turn.
The second episode centers almost entirely on the controversial episode. Spoilers here, I suppose, but it’s a true story so you probably know already that Charles becomes the second winner of a million dollars ever and controversy starts before he even says “Final Answer” for the first time. If “Quiz” is to be fully believed, the producers of the show were suspicious while Charles was on it, hearing whispering and coughing that seemed to signal him. It’s also fascinating that Charles was one of those contestants who had to be held over to the next live show. He answers a couple questions at the end of one show and did so horribly, using lifelines early. He came back, his style had changed, and he made history. While I’m not saying for sure Ingram cheated, Paul Smith isn’t wrong when he testifies later that Ingram played like no one else ever had before.