John Boland: Nothing compares to Baku for our babbling Marty. . .
'Land of friends" was one of the promotional captions that accompanied shots of an idyllic Azerbaijan during the first semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest (RTÉ Two). Well, maybe not too friendly if you're one of the 70 dissidents currently locked up in Azerbaijan prisons for expressing their opinions.
Needless to say, you didn't hear about that from RTÉ's man on the spot, Marty Whelan. In fact, for the first 10 minutes of the show, and frequently thereafter, Marty's fondness for rabbiting on while the stage presenters were talking over him meant that you couldn't hear him at all.
This turned out to be something of a blessing, given the bits that turned out to be audible. Listeners to his Lyric FM morning show will be all-too-familiar with his inimitable brand of surreal chatter, but for those unacquainted with his radio persona he came up with a few choice examples here.
I especially liked his reaction to Albanian contestant Zona's way with a power ballad: "What a performance! What a voice! That reminds me: did I close the curtains when I left?" And other gems featured his hankering for a chocolate boost and yearning for a toilet break.
If such ruminations suggested a man who was less than entirely engaged with the job in hand, the impression was reinforced by an overall performance that could have given lessons to Dean Martin in the art of being so laid-back as to be practically horizontal. Maybe the recent honour of being voted Ireland's best-dressed man had persuaded him that all you had to do was turn up and have your cuffs straight.
Still, he was mindful of the viewers' economic welfare, reminding us four zillion times not to waste our money by voting for Ireland as "there's no point and you'll be charged anyway".
And at the end, when Jedward (who looked like the Pet Shop Boys in Arthurian guise) finally made it through to tonight's final, he roused himself to Molly Bloomish esctasy with an orgasmic "Yes and yes and yes and yes and yes" -- concluding with a heartfelt "Fantastic, absolutely wonderful, I'm not well".
Me neither, Marty.
Meanwhile, in Eurovision's Dirty Secret (BBC One), spoilsport Panorama reporter Paul Kenyon was getting all righteous about Azerbaijan's human rights record, to which he awarded "nul points". In fact, it was so bad that he and his camera crew felt obliged to masquerade as tourists while filming the programme.
'Running Scared' is the title of the country's Eurovision entry, which caused Kenyon to observe that "some people in Azerbaijan have been doing just that for years".
The viewer got to meet a few of them and to hear from the country's UK ambassador, who couldn't understand Kenyon's scepticism about the 94pc vote won by oil-rich President Aliyev's wife when she ran for election as an MP. "Why not?" he asked with a broad smile.
There were no smiles during The Frontline's Treaty Referendum Debate, least of all from the viewer, who had to endure one of the most shambolic current affairs programmes seen on RTÉ in quite a while.
Pat Kenny, normally a master of cantankerous situations, kept ineffectually pleading for order -- at one point actually going down on his knee and begging an anti-treaty activist in the audience to shut up.
However, it was the debating panel of Eamon Gilmore, Nora Casey, Mary Lou McDonald and Declan Ganley who were the main culprits, constantly interrupting each other and on frequent occasions all ranting at the same time.
After about 25 minutes of this, a weary Kenny informed them of complaints from exasperated viewers and advised them to mind their debating manners. The resultant lull lasted all of 90 seconds before Ganley (the main vocal offender) started his heckling interruptions all over again.
All in all, a deeply unedifying experience, though not as tawdry as TV3's Behind the Crime programme on parental sexual abuse, in which reporter Alison O'Reilly interviewed three young women about the ghastly ordeals to which they'd been subjected.
The theme is distressing, but a good -- perhaps even necessary -- programme could have resulted, especially with three women as articulate as they were here.
However, the approach was relentlessly and dismayingly tabloid in its fascination with lurid details, and long before the end I wondered at the point of it all.
There was no point whatsoever to the screening of My Big Fat Fetish -- except, of course, as the latest instalment in Channel 4's ongoing fascination with the freakish and with the viewership figures it thereby hoped to attract.
The programme was preceded by the latest episode of Embarrassing Bodies, though in My Big Fat Fetish none of the featured women were in the least embarrassed by their gigantic torsos -- many of them displaying their corpulence online for the sexual gratification of men and the benefit of their own bank balances.
Apparently, this is a growing phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic, but the film showed no interest in teasing out its social, psychological or sexual implications. Instead it just gawked at the women as they displayed their sizeable wares and asked the viewer to do likewise.