Sunday 23 July 2017

Television: Finally, RTÉ comes up with something to dance about

Winning formula: The opening sequence to RTE's Dancing with the Stars, which has taken thirteen years to arrive on these shores
Winning formula: The opening sequence to RTE's Dancing with the Stars, which has taken thirteen years to arrive on these shores

John Boland

Over the last few weeks, RTÉ's hype about Dancing with the Stars has been relentless, though perhaps only our national broadcaster could manufacture such excitement about a talent show that's been 13 years late in arriving.

BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing was first aired in 2004 and rapidly became a ratings phenomenon. A year later, its American offshoot, Dancing with the Stars, met with similar popular acclaim - and both shows are just as much audience favourites today as when they were launched.

So, at this stage, what does RTÉ's belated version bring to the party? Quite a lot, actually, though that's mainly because a key part of the concept's basic appeal - the rewarding of honest endeavour by non-professional contenders - retains its impact. In that it's unlike such ersatz confections as The X Factor and The Voice, where half the contestants can't sing for toffee and the posturings of preening judges seem more crucial than the labours of the would-be warblers.

And then, of course, there's the celebrity aspect - though four of the 11 contestants here were unknown to me when I started watching Sunday night's opening show and a couple of them would have pleased me if they'd remained that way. "I can get bored quite easily," declared Big Brother runner-up Hughie Maughan from Ballymun as he was being coached in the cha-cha, and I certainly got quickly bored by his incessant grandstanding.

But sports broadcaster Des Cahill was endearingly earnest, if not exactly fleet of foot, while both Kerry footballer Aidan O'Mahony and boyband singer Dayl Cronin were impressive learners of their respective dances.

And the judges were an amiably knowledgeable trio, even if flamboyant Julian Benson has already cornered the market in extravagant praise: "That was hot, hot, hot", he told Des Bishop, "You were on fire tonight!" he assured Aidan O'Mahony, while even Des Cahill was "the darling of the dance floor", an accolade that seemed to surprise the sheepish Des. A word, too, for the professional dancing partners, who were engaging mentors and who also got to strut their stuff in an exuberant showpiece reserved for themselves.

So RTÉ looks like it has a genuine winner on its hands. It could certainly do with one.

A night earlier, BBC1 launched Let it Shine, a talent show that seeks to find five boyband stars for a proposed musical about Take That and that's hosted by the wearisomely self-loving Gary Barlow of Take That fame. Also in the presenting mix are the ubiquitous Graham Norton and Bake Off defector Mel Giedroyc, while among the judges are Martin Kemp and Dannii Minogue, though if you give two hoots about the show's basic premise you're a far more indulgent viewer than I'll ever be.

Meanwhile, ITV has acquired the rights to former BBC talent show The Voice UK, though in this country it's viewable on TV3, rather than UTV Ireland. That vanished into thin air last Monday evening, to be replaced by be3, which seems to be a channel about nothing, unless you simply can't get enough of Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Loose Women.

I sat down to watch the second episode of legal drama Striking Out (RTÉ1) purely on the understanding that solicitor Tara had rid herself of charmlessly cheating boyfriend Eric, but within two minutes she was soulfully leaning her head against his chest at a funeral.

"Grief makes people do weird things," she later reflected, but the same could be said of woeful storylines and cardboard characters, both of which this episode had in abundance. The love-hate badinage between barrister Vincent and young criminal Ray made no psychological sense and nor did the contrived aggro between two sisters that ended up in a cack-handed court hearing.

In place of acting, Amy Huberman resorted to a lot of emoting, while there was some very ropey playing in subsidiary roles. Indeed, the makers seemed less interested in basic credibility than in slaveringly extended shots of the to-die-for mansions and offices in which the characters lived and worked. I thought the Celtic Tiger was supposed to be over.

Ryan Tubridy clearly doesn't share my views. "It's been getting rave reviews," he assured Huberman and fellow Striking Out actor Neil Morrisey during a Late Late Show interview that preceded the mostly negative reviews the series actually received. Are we already living in a Donald Trump world where truth is what you say it is?

On the same Late Late, the host interviewed journalist Ian Kehoe at such length about The Great Irish Sell-Off, which was screened three nights later, that I felt disinclined to watch the actual programme, feeling that I already knew everything about it. Why does RTÉ persist with these spoilers? As it happened, Kehoe's film was a chilling expose of how global vulture funds have acquired €200bn of Irish assets, but only my job as a TV critic encouraged me to persist with a programme I'd already learned so much about.

On The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTÉ1) the host had never heard of interviewee Vogue Williams. If I didn't review television, I probably wouldn't know who she was, either, and my life might be none the poorer, though Tiernan's show is based on such flying-by-the-seat-of-the pants gimmickry. When he first came up with this notion in a pilot show last year, it turned out be a crock and it remains a crock, even if Tiernan himself plainly thinks it's daringly innovative.

John Boland

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