Sunday 25 March 2018

Pat Stacey: Three servings of Mrs Brown in Christmas week? Joke’s on us

Brendan O'Carroll is lining up Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas specials until 2020
Brendan O'Carroll is lining up Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas specials until 2020
Mrs Brown: The classic 'Irish Mammy'?

Pat Stacey

Bing Crosby never, as far as anyone knows, sang about dreaming of a brown Christmas. Someone in RTE clearly is, though.

The programming elves in Montrose were obviously working their little curly-toed shoes off in recent weeks as they laboured over what televisual gifts to stick into the Christmas stockings of the country’s licence-payers this year.

After much late-night deliberation and many mugs of steaming hot chocolate topped with melted marshmallows, they decided lucky viewers can have programmes in any colour they like – as long as it’s Brown with a capital B.

RTE1 is giving sitcom Mrs Brown’s Boys, the popularity of which will mystify me to the day I breathe my last,  a prominent place in its Christmas schedules. Two new episodes go out on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Needless to say, the BBC, which makes the series, will also be showing them, although probably not at the same time as RTE1.

Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
Brendan O'Carroll in Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie

It’s understandable that both broadcasters would want to give a sitcom like Mrs Brown’s Boys a seat at the top table for the feast. Based on past performance, it’s virtually guaranteed to pull in some of the biggest domestic audiences of the festive season.

What’s less understandable – even downright unacceptable – is that RTE1 thinks it’s perfectly fine to ram the abysmal big-screen spin-off  Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie down viewers’ throats on Christmas Night.

We hardly need reminding that the film was savaged by critics everywhere; it currently holds a seven per cent approval rating on the RottenTomatoes site, which aggregates reviews from hundreds of critics around the globe.

But as Brendan O’Carroll himself would probably say, feck the critics! What do they know? Look at the huge viewing figures for the TV series. Mrs Brown’s Boys is critic-proof.

I wouldn’t argue with that. But the critics weren’t the only ones who hated the film. Check out the IMDB entry for Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie and have a look at the Users’ Reviews section, written by regular cinemagoers. You’ll find an overwhelming number of negative reviews, many rating it 1/10, by self-confessed fans of the TV series and theatre shows.

But whether you love or loathe Mrs Brown’s Boys is irrelevant. The real point is that RTE is perfectly happy to make one of the worst-

reviewed films of all time – and one that even diehard fans of the sitcom don’t seem to have liked a whole lot – a main attraction on the one night of the year when more people than ever are watching television.

The head honchos running the organisation couldn’t have done a better job of handing the initiative to their rivals if they’d wrapped it in nice, shiny Christmas paper and popped it into the parcel post.

We’ve probably all grown weary at this point of hearing RTE suits using the stiff competition they face from the UK broadcasters – and latterly streaming services – with bigger budgets as a reason for sub-standard programming.

Frankly, that doesn’t wash any more. Over the last few years TV3, which doesn’t have anything like the twin-source resources of RTE to play with, has on occasions shown itself capable of producing imaginative programmes on a tight budget.

TG4, which works on a budget that’s less like a shoestring than a thread of gossamer, has consistently turned out innovative and ingenious documentaries and dramas made for the kind of money that wouldn’t keep the RTE canteen in disposable coffee cups for a year. If past Christmases are anything to go by, I imagine the Irish-language station will have a few gems on offer during the festive period.

The full horror of what’s in store for us won’t be revealed until the latest issue of the RTE Guide hits the shelves (probably today). In the meantime, the highlights package announced by RTE last week suggests a pretty desultory effort.

If anything is likely to put out the flame on your pudding it’s the news that a special edition of At Your Service, featuring brothers Francis and John Brennan, is one of the “highlights” of Christmas Day.

December 27 offers Well Holy God It’s Glenroe, featuring reminiscences from cast and crew members from the sedentary rural drama that ended all of 14 years ago.

Mike Murphy is back on screens after a long absence with something called Play It By Year – a trivia quiz, apparently, that runs on consecutive nights,

If your pulse is not racing by now, it’s unlikely to be stirred into action by some of the other names that tumble out of the fug: Christy Moore, Tommy Tiernan, Panti Bliss (who’s double-jobbing and delivering TV3’s alternative Christmas Day message). Mick Flannery, Mary Kennedy, Kathryn Thomas, Keith Walsh.

I’m sure there’s a few more, but I’m afraid I can already feel the will to live dribbling into my socks, so it’s probably advisable, on health grounds, to leave the rest ’til our proper Christmas TV preview.

If this is genuinely the best RTE can manage, we’re in trouble. If, on the other hand, this is the best RTE thinks it can manage, we’re in worse trouble. 


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