Tuesday 27 September 2016

'Cutting Edge' review: 'Smart, fast-moving, amusing, even a little moving on occasion - welcome back Brendan O'Connor'

Published 19/05/2016 | 07:15

Brendan O'Connor is pictured on the set of his brand new series 'Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge'. Picture Andres Poveda
Brendan O'Connor is pictured on the set of his brand new series 'Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge'. Picture Andres Poveda

When Brendan O’Connor’s Saturday night chat-show was cancelled last year, there was a strong, very understandable backlash from press and public.

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Whether you liked that programme or not, he had come close to matching the viewing figures of previous-day rival The Late Late – on one famous occasion, even taking top spot in the ratings – on a fraction of the budget or star wattage. Essentially, O’Connor (and his team) did it all by himself.

People were tuning in for him, often in spite of the Z-list guests the show had managed to get. He brought something different to a stale format – a spikier and more playful personality, a good sense of humour, and a surprisingly sensitive touch when addressing “difficult” subjects. And the viewers clearly liked it.

So why drop him? The decision didn’t, and still doesn’t, make much sense to me. It was compounded by the fact that O’Connor’s replacement, Ray D’Arcy’s chat-show, was basically the same thing but, so far anyway, not as good.

Brendan O’Connor on the set of his new RTÉ series. Photo: Andres Poveda
Brendan O’Connor on the set of his new RTÉ series. Photo: Andres Poveda

Anyway. The Corkman belatedly returned to our screens tonight with Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge, as a news-driven panel show. “A newshound, a comedian and someone from the world of sport, media, business or the arts” aiming to knock some crack out of the week’s news – and hopefully make us think too.

I was expecting something akin to Have I Got News For You. This turned out to be more like Tonight with Vincent Browne, although with one huge difference: unlike that show, which is usually an unbearable cacophony of squawking morons and pinched-mouthed know-it-alls, Cutting Edge was quite enjoyable.

They had a semi-decent heavy metal riff for the theme tune, which was a good start. Guests tonight were comedian/actor/professional Tipp man Pat Shortt, Newstalk’s Chris O’Donoghue and businesswoman Norah Casey.

The show is metred out into different sections, as they review the week: “Who’s on the slab”, “Signs of Life”, “Donor Card”, “Weight of Brain”. This was a bit high-concept and muddled for me, I’m afraid; I didn’t always get the connection between the different sections’ titles and their content…I am a bit slow, in fairness.

The chat was lively, though: intelligent without being pompous, funny without trying too hard. O’Connor steered it all with a steady hand; he seems to have that sixth-sense as to when the host should step in and when they should let the talk flow. Plus, unlike many TV presenters, he actually has a functioning personality and sense of humour – always helps in light entertainment, I find.

They covered internet bullying of Sinead O’Connor, mental health, Alan Kelly, Donald Trump, Eurovision, special bags for wine – how bourgeois – smokers’ rights, online dating, nudist beaches and, God spare us, selfie rooms in coffee shops.

We also had the views of some taxi-driver, a daft but fun audience interaction bit, George Hook giving an unexpectedly moving little spiel about loss and life after death, and intermittent sight gags e.g. Putin rolling out the tanks after Ukraine won Eurovision. These were as lame as O’Connor’s jokes used to be on the chat-show, though I suspect that may be the point.

Overall, Cutting Edge is not bad at all. The show settled into its groove right from the jump – a rarity in television, in my experience – and was smart, fast-moving, amusing, even a little moving on occasion.

I think much of its success will depend on the guests each week. Tonight’s panel were all solid operators; bring on three bores and the programme will be boring. Or worse, it’ll devolve into an unbearable cacophony of squawking morons and pinched-mouthed know-it-alls. Shudder.

But a good start for sure, and Cutting Edge will surely get better as they find their feet. Welcome back, Brendan O’Connor.

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