Entertainment Television

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Damian Corless TV review: RTÉ flogging a dead horse with hours of mindless fluff

Welcome to the Twilight Zone: The new third series of Stetsons & Stilettos
Welcome to the Twilight Zone: The new third series of Stetsons & Stilettos

Damian Corless

Supported by your licence fee, RTÉ have made 33 promo clips of self-praise which they subtly sprinkle amongst the ad breaks. Embracing everything from soaps to sports to song and dance, each short signs off with the slogan: "Supported by your licence fee."

Intended to show Ireland's swelling legion of licence refuseniks the errors of their ways, these reminders of who's paying the piper are a strategy not without risk, and at no time is the risk greater than between 7pm and 10.30pm on Tuesdays. That's the time when between them, RTÉ1 and RTÉ2 block-book three-and-a-half hours of mindless fluff guaranteed to get up the noses of the many obedient licence-holders who feel the demand for mindless fluff is more than well met by the commercial sector.

Sandwiched between Stetsons & Stilettos (RTÉ1) and First Dates Ireland (RTÉ2), there's a two-hour repeat of Dancing with the Stars, originally screened just 48 hours earlier. Even if the hosts' scripted wisecracks wouldn't make it into a box of pound-shop Christmas crackers, DWTS is still in a different class to its bookends. Compared to either, it stands as a work of towering adequacy, the giddy love child of The Eurovision Song Contest and Busby Berkeley. Damning with faint praise? For sure. DWTS exists beyond meaningful criticism, but Stetsons and First Dates take the viewer beyond the beyond.

With Stetsons & Stilettos, you are now entering the Twilight Zone. If you ever wondered who made Nathan Carter the biggest thing here since CB Radio, look no further than the Country'n'Irish lovin' truckers who filled the first show of the new season. Citizens band radio was the portable communications device of choice before the 'brick' mobile phone. The CB craze swept Ireland in the late-1970s on the back of movies, records and TV shows glamorising the exploits of footloose truckers who flouted stupid laws, outsmarted bumbling cops (Smokey Bears) and spoke a bizarre jargon of "ten-fours", "good buddys", "breakers" and "rubber ducks". Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

As we learned from Stetsons & Stilettos, it hasn't gone away, you know. We followed several truckers, some of them doubling as singers, as they burnished their rigs, re-stencilled their Honk If You're Horny logos, and geared up for a big gathering in Punchestown.

The event itself seemed like a nostalgic effort to recreate either the set of Mad Max 2 or the worst gridlock at the M50 toll plaza at the height of the Celtic Tiger madness. Rows of trucks lined up in serried ranks, their hazard lights flashing, their engines snarling, their exhausts spewing fumes. A local hero belted out a song that began "I'm sick of sucking diesel", and went rapidly downhill from there. Throughout, narrator Hector Ó hEochagáin seemed on a mission to outdo his counterpart on Come Dine With Me for aggravating wackiness. While it's not a country song, the perfect signature tune for this episode would have been 'Let's do the Time Warp Again'.

As for First Dates Ireland. Aah, no, life really is too short ...

The Simpsons (RTÉ2/Sky/C4) in their heyday did a much better job than Stetsons & Stilettos covering similar sub-cultural ground. On Monday, Sky aired the classic Colonel Homer in which the head of the family takes an unknown redneck singer Lurleen Lumpkin, ('I'm Basting a Turkey With My Tears, 'Don't Look Up My Dress Unless You Mean It', etc) and makes her a star on the TV showcase Ya-Hoo.

Sadly, we have to go back many years for the last time The Simpsons repaid 30 minutes of viewing time every time. To borrow from The Smiths, this joke isn't funny any more.

Ditto The Big Bang Theory (RTÉ2/E4), which was great fun throughout its early runs, as it gleefully mashed up its own heavy borrowings from Frasier and 3rd Rock From the Sun. Eleven years in, like The Simpsons, the show is running on empty, and has fallen into the tiresome habit of recycling what started out as some of its freshest and funniest gags.

The joy of the early Big Bangs was that here were a bunch of nerds who just didn't 'get' the world about them, leading to all sorts of misfiring situations. The fun was in watching them learn slowly and painfully from their mistakes. Inevitably, this learning process had to result in the group getting a grasp on life, and with that loss of innocence it's all gone awfully dull and predictable.

The Big Bang's central character, Sheldon Cooper, is one of the supreme comic creations of recent decades. The spin-off, Young Sheldon (RTÉ2/E4), is a different type of comedy to its parent show, in that it's not particularly funny. Apart from retreading storylines previously plotted out in The Big Bang, there's a bigger problem. A grown man who childishly points out flaws in others because he doesn't know any better can be laugh-out loud funny. A precocious nine-year-old brat who tells his teacher she should shave her moustache is far less so. That's what nine-year-old brats do.

This week's most profoundly depressing programme was Panorama (BBC1). Entitled 'Who Should We Let In?', it canvassed Tory anti-EU ideologues, deeply concerned business leaders and the average man and woman on the street about post-Brexit immigration to the UK. Here in Ireland we are constantly urged by people styling themselves as fair minded not to dismiss the 52pc vote for Brexit as largely the product of congenital xenophobia amongst the undereducated classes.

For those who feel perfectly fine blaming poor education and congenital xenophobia, Panorama made for guilt-free, reinforcement, comfort zone viewing.

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