Blind date with bangers - the secret formula for TG4's hit dating show Pioc do Ride
The Irish language station's dating show with a twist 'Pioc do Ride' has proved a smash hit with viewers. But it's no surprise, writes our reviewer - since its inception, TG4 has always been one step ahead of the game
When Teilifis na Gaeilge was launched in 1996, it was widely regarded as a vanity project for Michael D Higgins. Another drain on the licence fee, the idea of a channel transmitted solely in Irish seemed like a colossal waste of money for something which was obviously designed to cater for a small rump of gaeilgeoirí who resented the fact that there weren't enough Irish language programmes on the air.
It's now nearly 20 years since the channel was launched and what initially appeared to be a wasteful boondoggle designed to keep the culchies happy has become the most interesting and innovative channel in Ireland.
Rebranded with the snappier name of TG4 in 1999, the channel first began to gain attention outside its rather narrow target audience with an inspired selection of American imports.
It was hard for the average Dublin smart ass to snigger at something as apparently ridiculous as an all-Irish TV channel when they became the first broadcaster in Britain or Ireland to show programmes like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Survivor and, of course, the greatest and most underrated TV show of all time, OZ.
In fact, as the station grew in confidence, it quickly became the hippest channel in the listings and through its combination of remarkably good-looking presenters, a genuinely groundbreaking soap in the shape of Ros na Run, and a brilliant choice of imported programming, it managed to achieve something that would have been beyond even Michael D Higgins' dreams - it made Irish trendy again.
Given the fact that many people spent half their childhood being brutalised by Irish teachers in school, it's safe to say that few people ever thought the language of Peig would ever become sexy, yet that is exactly what they have managed to achieve.
What has been most impressive about TG4's own programming is the fact that they consistently prove that while production budgets are obviously important, it's ideas that really count and the charmingly bonkers dating show Pioc Do Ride (Pick My Ride) is a perfect example.
Presented by a suitably mischievous Aine Goggins, the idea is a simple yet ingenious combination of cars, snooping and dating, with a rather deliciously cruel twist.
One contestant gets to root through the cars of three potential suitors to gain an insight into their personality before making their choice. But that's only half the battle, because then the lucky car owner gets to decide whether to take ¤250 for a night out or, instead, they can kick that person to touch and use the cash on a voucher for Pit Stop tyres.
What sort of monster would turn down a date with a willing lass just to get a voucher for a new tyre?
Well, this is Ireland, where many young men love their car more than they will ever love a girl and Pioc Do Ride even managed to garner international attention - and controversy - when one young fella picked the voucher over the date, to the visible shock and mortification of the poor girl standing beside him.
We've all become used to increasingly cruel dating shows on English telly, but this was infinitely better; not out of any sense of cruelty - well, maybe just a little bit - but because it was, in its own very weird and very Irish way, a classic example of how many Irish young fellas are, basically, dopes who would rather put money into improving their motor than bringing a girl out for dinner.
That incident managed to attract the ire of the professionally offended, who said the whole episode was demeaning and insulting to women, but let's be honest, nobody on the programme looks like they're taking themselves, or the show itself, too seriously.
There's a lack or artifice about the contestants, most of whom seem to realise that they're going on for a bit of a laugh, not to find a life partner.
The fact that the producers actually sourced some of the contestants through their Tinder profile is telling - much like that dating app, this isn't a TV relationship to take too seriously.
But in a country which has been shorn of many of its young people, particularly in those rural areas where emigration has ripped the guts out of many small Irish towns, there is something almost defiantly, unashamedly rural, such as one of last week's contestants who was definite about what she wanted from the show: "I don't want someone from the city, I would like a farmer."
This could have been - sorry, in advance - car crash telly, but there is something so genuinely bonkers and charming about the format, the presenter and, indeed, the contestants, that it really is worth a look.
Let's put it this way, I have never, ever driven a car, I don't speak a word of Irish and have been openly hostile to it in the past and I'm too old and decrepit to be the target audience for a dating show.
But I'll still be tuning tonight.
It really is that good.
'Pioc do Ride', TG4, tonight, 10pm