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Thursday 18 September 2014

'Callan's Kicks' just doesn't compare to 'Apres Match'

Pat Stacey

Published 14/07/2014 | 15:40

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Oliver Callan's new sketch show, Callan's Kicks, was funniest when it avoided toothless political satire

Ireland must be one of the last places, possibly the last place, where impressionists - the kind that "do" funny celebrity voices rather than the kind that paint pictures - are still considered viable material for primetime television entertainment.

Callan's Kicks ** Apres Match *****

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The BBC shucked off the likes of Mike Yarwood decades ago.  Even Rory Bremner, who's rarely on television these days, used mimicry sparingly, as a tool of satire rather than the centrepiece of his comedy.

RTE, however, remains absolutely besotted with impressionists.  Two offerings last week demonstrated it's a love affair that yields mixed rewards.  Callan's Kicks, a six-part sketch show, ploughs pretty much the same furrow as The Mario Rosenstock Show (callan, of course, once worked with Rosenstock on Today FM's Gift Grub slot) and features many of the same political targets.

Anchored by Callan's witheringly accurate Bryan Dobson - although the real one is not as Paxmanesquelly condescending - and obviously recorded as close as possible to transmission time, it has a more topical flavour than Rosenstock's show.

Thus there were references to the Garth Brooks fiasco, the World Cup and to Joan Burton's elevation to Labour leader and Tanaiste.  But having a topical edge doesn't automatically translate into sharp comedy.

Enda Kenny extolling the talents of "Job Bridge Joan" and noting that "our diaspora has grown beyond all expectations" was lame and obvious.  martin O'Neill saying that if we'd qualified for the World Cup "two squads of Englishmen would have been eliminated in the first round" was strained and passe.

If Callan's show shares the same gallery of characters as Rosenstock's, it also shares its chief failing: flabbiness in some of the sketches.  A skit featuring Imelda May took a slim premise (she's been on every RTE show ever made) and stretched it until it snapped.

If any politician is deserving of satirical skewering of the most vicious sort, it's James Reilly; instead, Callan gave us the comedy equivalent of pelting him with sponge balls in a sketch where "Wreck-It Reilly" villainously decapitates a little girl with a chainsaw.

The show was at its funniest when it stayed away from politics altogether.  The one moment of genuine bile and bite came in a sketch featuring the grotesquely smug Rachel Allen wafting around Ballymaloe and taking a shotgun to a computer hard drive, while talking about "that thing we never, ever talk about".

The Walkinstown Dead, with Callan got up in sheriff's garb and phoning Liveline as zonked out skanger zombies laid siege to the family home was inspired lunacy.

"Why are they like this?" his terrified son asks. "Because we're Northsiders living on the Southside, son."

With more of this kind of thing and fewer heavy-handed swipes at politicians, Callan's Kicks would pack a bigger comic punch.

It's unfortunate for Callan that his series arrived just as the Apres Match team of RisteArd Cooper, Barry Murphy and Gary Cook neared the end of a month of sustained hilarity that featured more back of the net moments than a Germany-Brazil game.

Where to begin?  I honestly don't know, because pretty much every sketch has been a gleaming gem, and all of them are available on the RTE Player for a limited period.

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