Thursday 21 September 2017

Television review: Tommy Tiernan and the art of relaxation

* The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTE1)

Let's talk: Tommy Tiernan
Let's talk: Tommy Tiernan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When I am reading a good newspaper article, or watching something good on television, I am visited by this strange feeling of relaxation. Indeed I think there is too little attention paid to the way that we respond to these forms of goodness, there is a banal notion that we become euphoric or otherwise elated, that goodness gives us some kind of a high.

Personally I am inclined to believe that the kind of pleasure we receive from something of outstanding quality, is not so much the presence of a high, as the absence of a low.

That it is only when we are experiencing some sort of excellence, that we realise how much stress we are under all the time, from the myriad forms of rubbish that are being thrown at us.

We take it all in, all the poorly-crafted and wrong-headed writing, all the music that we would never choose for ourselves, and we think we are just dealing with it, and that it's doing us no harm. But it is doing us harm, it is creating stress of a kind that we can hardly even measure, until we hear something like, say, The Blades's new album Modernised - and then we get that feeling of deep relaxation, and we understand that whatever we are hearing on the radio in taxis, whatever is coming at us on television, all that random noise which we encounter, is actually quite bad for us.

So it is quite possible that when we experience some sort of aesthetic pleasure, it is essentially a form of pain relief. When I see Tommy Tiernan arriving into the studio to present his new talk-show, for a while at least, I am at peace. It's not just that I am confident that Tommy is going to be funny and interesting, I am also confident that if for some reason there are moments when he is not funny or interesting, it doesn't matter because he'll put that right soon enough.

Even when he did that documentary of the tour in which his shows were entirely improvised, in which he had no idea what he was going to say until he went onstage, I was feeling strangely calm throughout.

I believe in Tommy. His talk-show may invite a heightened level of stress due to the fact that Tommy doesn't know who his guests are going to be, until they walk into the studio, but I don't feel that stress. No, I feel relaxed because I am not watching some other talk-show which may be elaborately prepared and even rehearsed, but which I know will only be funny or interesting if some kind of a crazy miracle takes place.

That's the stuff that is bringing us down, slowly and insidiously, that is why we feel that our burden is so much lighter when Tommy is working the room. Indeed the fact that he has nothing prepared for his guests apart from the entirety of his life experience, is perhaps a liberating moment for the talk-show in general. If anything, by the time a guest arrives on the couch these days, everyone is over-prepared, the situation is too controlled, and most of the normal impulses of humans have been swept away in the service of mere public relations.

Brendan O'Connor is able to get around this due to his refusal to accept these limitations, his desire to be always looking for a moment of truth, while Tommy too has a hunger for truth which indeed he displayed on a recent O'Connor show, when he spoke movingly of his hopes for his beloved Liverpool Football Club this season.

Completely untroubled by the fact that the other three people around the table had very little idea what the hell he was talking about, he spoke of what was in his heart, his longing for a Premier League title, his fears that the departure of Sadio Mane for the Africa Cup of Nations may be problematic.

Armed with this iron integrity, when it comes to his own show, he is able to get an astonishing version of Ave Maria out of Christy Dignam, or a guide to the minutiae of sex-change operations out of Vogue Williams, and it's all quite…relaxing.

Soon we are feeling no pain.

Catch up now

Emily Hourican

Spies

Channel4 OnDemand, until March 1, episode 1

Finally, a reality TV show designed entirely for me, and showing the new norms of the spy system. Alas, it seems it no longer comes about via a discreet tap on the shoulder at Cambridge, but is a self-selecting profession like any other. Spies on Channel4, made by the people who brought us SAS: Who Dares Wins brings together 16 wannabe spooks - well, make that 15, and one mole who they may or may not spot - who are put through their paces to see if they have what it takes to lie, dissemble, cheat and keep secrets, all in the name of sociopathy and the good of their country.

In this first episode, they have to follow a man through a crowded market without being spotted, and come up with a convincing cover story; both tests based on real intelligence-officer training.They also have to prove their credentials in terms of confidence and charisma, because apparently all that James Bond-seduction stuff actually is important. The question is, do they get a job at the end of it, aka The Apprentice, and if so isn't there a flaw in the system...?

Wrecking The Rising

TV4 Player, until January 31, episodes 1-3

A three-part Quantum Leap-style time-travel comedy, with all three parts now available to watch on TG4 Player. Three latter-day Dublin lads (played by Peter Coonan, Sean T O Meallaigh and Owen McDonnell far left), with a love of 1916 re-enactments, who believe their own lives to be unexciting and unimportant, get a chance to swoop back in time and see how they might actually have fared in the days of guts and glory.

Made on a shoestring, with a script by James Phelan, this is funny and charming. It gently mocks some of the more bombastic Centenary celebrations - there is a pretty good, long-running Joe Duffy gag - while raising interesting questions around masculinity and a sense of life purpose, as well as the place of women before and after 1916.

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