Thursday 27 July 2017

Pat Stacey: Dermot Bannon's Room To Improve is not supposed to be funny but it's comedy gold

Dermot Bannon's Room to Improve is 24-carat comedy gold
Dermot Bannon's Room to Improve is 24-carat comedy gold

IT TAKES a big man to admit when he’s made a mistake. I can assure you, I’m not a big man. I’m a fairly small man. Quite the short-arse, if I’m being brutally honest.

But if standing on a stepladder is what it takes to demonstrate my contrition, then stand on a stepladder I shall.

So here goes: I think I’ve probably been a little harsh on Room to Improve over the years. What can I say? Sorry.

It’s only fair to point out at this stage that Room to Improve never was, and never will be, my kind of TV show, because property programmes generally aren’t.

Dermot Bannon and Lisa O'Brien. Photographer Verona McQuaid,
Dermot Bannon and Lisa O'Brien. Photographer Verona McQuaid,

I’d rather swallow a whole bag of nails than watch a man in a hard hat and high-vis vest hammering them into a wall for any longer than is absolutely necessary. This is not a state of affairs that is going to change in the foreseeable future.

But still. Having watched Sunday’s show purely out of critical curiosity, I can kind of understand why so many people — the present Mrs Stacey included — find Room to Improve so incredibly addictive.

Maybe I just got lucky and this edition, the first of the 10th series, was a happy fluke.

Maybe Room to Improve has never hit such giddily entertaining heights before and is destined never to do so again.

Whatever the case, this was 24-carat comedy gold, immeasurably funnier than any of the intentional comedy RTÉ has been sporadically pumping out for decades.

A lot of the fun came from Dermot Bannon’s face. Dermot may be a hugely successful architect and television personality, yet he has a face custom-built for melancholy, disappointment and disenchantment.

If faces were places, Dermot’s would be a lonely rural cemetery, full of long-forgotten graves and crooked, weathered headstones, on a grey, drizzly Sunday morning that lasts till Tuesday.

There were moments during the programme when Dermot’s face knotted so tightly into a mask of hopeless, helpless anguish, you genuinely feared he might pull a muscle in his eyebrows.

The cause of Dermot’s woes was, as it invariably is, his latest clients, a Dublin couple called Julie and Robbie, who were — and I say this with the best will in the world — hard work. Very hard work.

Julie is elfin but possessed of a spine of steel. When she doesn’t get her way (which, this being Room to Improve, happens often), she takes on the countenance of an angry woodland sprite.

Robbie is big and garrulous and loudly exhausting, and has a hipster beard and nuclear-white teeth — as well as a matching son with a matching beard.

They spent €420,000 on a dilapidated 1940s cottage in Malahide, intending to build a big, two-storey extension with three (or hopefully four) bedrooms in the spacious, overgrown garden.

Rather touchingly, Dermot reveals he walked by this very cottage every day as a boy but has never been inside it. Unfortunately, neither have Julie or Robbie. They splurged nearly a quarter of a million quid on the place based on how it looked from the outside.

Inside, it’s a “dingy, smelly” (Dermot’s words) dump with light switches that pre-date the discovery of electricity. Julie and Robbie have a maximum of €180,000 to spend. Dermot tells them that won’t be enough to create their dream home.

“I’m gutted,” says Julie. So, soon enough, is the house — but not before Robbie decides to save costs by demolishing bits of the place himself, attacking walls with a sledgehammer while singing Miley Cyrus’s ‘Wrecking Ball’.

“No injuries, thank God,” he proclaims, sneering in the face of fate. After the commercial break, we learn Robbie broke his leg on holiday and is out of action.

He’s done a great demolition job, though — he’s left so much rubble in the garden that the pissed-off contractor can’t even locate the drains.

It all comes together, eventually. Sort of. Dermot suggests a white kitchen; Julie and Robbie agree, then go off and order a grey one anyway. They argue over windows.

By the end, Dermot looks like a broken man. He’s feeling guilty, too: “I probably threw my toys out of the pram.” Don’t apologise, Dermot. If I were you, I’d be hurling Meccano sets and Tonka trucks.

Room to Improve is currently available on the RTE Player.

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