Thursday 8 December 2016

Satire and silliness says it all about the state of the nation

* Irish Pictorial Weekly, RTE One
* Coronation Street, UTV Ireland

Published 02/04/2016 | 02:30

Comedy act: Alan Shortt and Abie Philbin Bowman in RTE's 'Irish Pictorial Weekly'
Comedy act: Alan Shortt and Abie Philbin Bowman in RTE's 'Irish Pictorial Weekly'

Are we nearly there yet? Are we nearly there yet? That's been the sound of my inner child - and what an insufferable little brat he is - as the commemorations of the Rising continue to drag on for longer than the Rising itself.

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As the rebels learned, sometimes you just have to submit and anyone who has been watching RTE for the last few weeks would be forgiven for marching out to Montrose waving a white flag and solemnly proclaiming - 'enough! We get it. Now can you return to showing repeats of Neighbours in the afternoon?'

Of course, like everything else in this country, our commemorations of the Rising aren't really about the events of a century ago. After all, nobody who is currently commenting - and I include myself in this category - has a bog's notion of what we would have done back then.

While Official Ireland seems to have succumbed to terrorist-envy and likes to imagine they would have been stuck in the GPO, the reality is that most of us would have been looters or informers. Sure it's the Irish way, so it is.

No, the whole point of the marking of the Rising, it would appear, is to settle contemporary scores using historical events as the weapon of choice.

So, anyone who pointed out some uncomfortable truths was immediately denounced as a West Brit - that most meaningless of all Irish insults - or a traitor to the memories of the dead heroes.

So what does that make the likes of Barry Murphy, Paul Howard, Eleanor Tiernan, Paul Wonderful and the rest of the creative team behind this week's brilliant Irish Pictorial Weekly: 1916?

Frankly, I imagine the authorities would have to conjure up an entirely new category of impudent sedition to cover the number of sacred cows which were slaughtered with gay abandon during this scabrous deconstruction of the myths we peddle ourselves.

It has often been claimed that the best comedy has its roots in tragedy but I've never really bought that theory.

If anything, the best comedy has its roots in a burning anger and the recurring thread throughout this special edition of Irish Pictorial was a seething, simmering fury and contempt for the gombeenism that was officially codified into the DNA of the fledgling State.

There were moments of inspired silliness, of course, most notably the fake local news programme which featured a lost and found item about a missing bee called Henry which viewers were warned not to approach: "Because Henry is a very narky bee."

But while there was enough pure surrealism to keep the average fan watching, we learned more about the state of the nation from this 45-minute special than any of the chin-stroking, navel-gazing nonsense which has passed for serous analysis.

Rather like the recent Rubberbandits 1916 special, some of the information on offer will have come as a surprise to many, and reminded others of just how rotten things are at the heart of this country.

The Irish committee meeting to discuss TDs' entitlements and pensions as the GPO was obliterated around them would have seemed heavy-handed until they ran a list of the actual pensions received by the highest-earning retired politicians. That single scene carried more righteous fury than any number of Prime Time Investigates could ever hope to convey.

Similarly, their recreation of a Dail row from last year would have been fantastical and depressing if it wasn't an exact reading of the transcript of that debate. So, it was just depressing, really.

A lot of Irish satire doesn't really work because the Irish have a more diffusive sense of humour - we tend to be more comfortable with someone telling stories rather than hammering home points.

But Irish Pictorial worked on every level - both as a damning indictment of the country, and for those who had little interest in the socio-political observations, there was more than enough silliness on offer.

No doubt the people behind the Rising would quite like the idea of their actions being marked by a programme featuring traditional Irish poetry, music and song.

This featured all the above, although I doubt it's what they would have had in mind.

If here was one quibble, however, it would surely be their shameless stealing of the classic Ding Dong Denny O'Reilly tune, 'The Craic We Had The Day We Died For Ireland.' I hope Mr O'Reilly had his lawyers watching for any copyright infringement...

If you're in bad form and fancy looking at a load of huffing, red-faced Cockneys being 'orrible to each other - and that's just the women - then Eastenders is yer man. If you want something lighter, then you probably prefer Coronation Street and its more gentle brand of Mancunian whimsy.

But they've gone full Reefer Madness this week and it is truly a joy to behold. Wheelchair-bound Izzy is in constant discomfort and, as many have done before her, she turned to cannabis for pain relief. This being a soap, she then has a bad trip and her mother-in-law is shocked that she is 'using drugs'.

No soap is going to make a pro-dope episode. But this is Manchester. Frankly, it would have been more shocking if she wasn't off her face.

Irish Independent

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