Saturday 22 October 2016

Whatever you do, don't interrupt TV's own Mr Dark

The People's Debate with Vincent Browne, TV 3
* Birthday, SKY ARTS

Published 13/06/2015 | 02:30

Vincent Browne presents The People's Debate on TV3
Vincent Browne presents The People's Debate on TV3

The People's Debate with Vincent Browne TV 3 Birthday SKY ARTS

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Well, it's that time of the year again. The sun began to make a timorous appearance from behind the clouds, like a frightened mouse sticking its head out of its hole to make sure there were no predators lurking. Men who should really know better have taken to wearing wildly inappropriate and aesthetically horrifying shorts and, of course, RTE seems to have gone on holidays.

Given the number of repeats and summer fillers that have already begun to spew out of Montrose, it's a wonder the rest of us haven't started itemising our licence fee and making our own deductions from the bill when we realise we've already paid for most of this stuff.

Let's put it this way, this newspaper wouldn't decide to publish a six-month-old edition today, because nobody would voluntarily choose to pay for it.

But then, 'voluntary' is a redundant term when it comes to the compulsory nature of the licence fee.

On the other hand, in the notoriously streamlined operation that is TV3, which can't rely on a tithe from the general public, its stars don't have the luxury of going on holiday, oh no.

Presumably, that's the reason why Vincent Browne is still wandering around the country with his People's Debate and stopping off in some of the nation's more inhospitable spots like a weird, journalistic tribute to Something Wicked This Way Comes.

That's not to imply that Browne is wicked of course, heaven - and libel lawyers - forbid, although there's no shortage of politicians still suffering PTSD following a roasting at his hands who might disagree.

This week saw TV3's very own Mr Dark pitch up his tent in Laois/Offaly, presumably because somebody has to.

But there was something odd, something amiss, something so jarring that the average viewer would have been roused from their usual couch-based slumber to wonder if Mr Dark had been replaced by one of the Pod People.

Featuring Browne, alongside local TDs Charlie Flanagan, Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley, something rather untoward happened exactly 14 minutes into the show (and I can be so precise on the timings because I actually rewound several times to make sure I wasn't hallucinating).

As Flanagan, one of the more interesting and capable politicians in the Dáil was talking, he was heckled - although 'grumbled' might be a better term - by some disaffected members of the audience.

That's par for the course for these shows, of course, and was hardly a thing out of the ordinary.

But what happened next was, to anyone aware of Browne's work, quite extraordinary.

Because once Flanagan had finished his contribution, the host turned on the crowd and barked: "We respect what other people say and we don't shout other people down. I think that's only fair...If some of you do shout someone down, then you've broken your word."

Really? No, I mean, really?

This is the same Vincent Browne who has never asked a question he didn't like and never heard an answer he didn't interrupt?

For a man who has cemented his TV career by being the most disruptive, contemptuous and downright rude interviewer there is, the idea that he, of all people, would demand a bit of ciúnas to allow someone to speak without interruption was surely a most unexpected first.

And then it hit me.

Forget about Something Wicked This Way Comes, or the Pod People from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, Browne has obviously managed to make a few clones of himself a la Multiplicity, but there are still obviously some design flaws in the new models. Such as asking for respect for his guests.

So I guess maybe the real Browne has gone on holidays after all.

Joe Penhall will be best known to some of us as the man who wrote the screen adaptation of The Road, so he's someone who knows his way around a nightmare scenario. But while his latest TV project may not be quite as apocalyptic as his last big-screen outing, it was still pretty bloody terrifying.

Yes, Birthday, posits the idea of male child birth.

Starring Stephen Mangan and Anna Maxwell Martin, this was an adaptation of his own successful play of the same name and saw a completely freaked out Mangan becoming increasingly frustrated and scared as he sits in his hospital bed waiting to give birth.

Mangan (Green Wing, Partridge etc) made his bones as a comedy actor and the initial sight of him, bloated and sweaty and short tempered and full of self pity, certainly played things for absurd laughs.

Whether he was complaining that the recommended alcohol intake during pregnancy is so low that he's reduced to only sipping Budweiser or ranting that: "I've more hormones than a Bernard Matthews turkey", the notion of men giving birth (or more pertinently, their reaction to giving birth) is undeniably rich in comic potential. After all, the very real and frequently debilitating condition known as 'man flu' is routinely snorted at by those women who are lucky enough to have never suffered from it.

But slowly the laughs grew fewer and a real drama emerged, seemingly from nowhere.

As tensions grew between the couple, and the child was born seriously ill, we went from an essentially silly 'what-if' scenario into a serious drama about resentment and simmering grudges.

Still available on catch-up, Birthday managed to both funny and poignant and, most unexpectedly, surprisingly moving.

There was just one crucial flaw in the plot - if men had to give birth, we'd have invented a test tube for it by now.

You know it's true.

Irish Independent

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