Wednesday 23 January 2019

Television gives itself a slap on the back at Emmys

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan

Sarah Caden

At last Monday’s Emmys, straight after the traditional in-memoriam montage of TV stars who have died since the last awards, actor Billy Crystal took to the stage to talk about the late Robin Williams. Crystal was a close friend of Williams, but he has also been several times the Oscars’ host, which says a lot about the high opinion in which TV holds itself these days. It’s not the little brother of the big screen any more, it’s big business. Or “enjoying a golden age”, which sounds  less mercenary and more meaningful.

  • 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Tuesday, Sky Living
  • 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, Monday, Sky 1
  • State Funeral of Albert Reynolds, Monday, RTE 1

Crystal talked with warmth and emotion about his recently deceased friend, and it was a reminder that television was where Williams started, in Mork and Mindy. That 1970s sitcom was the kind of show that just might sink like a stone in this so-called golden age, where Mrs Brown’s Boys is the exception that proves the rule, a comedy that allows indulgence of the daft and childish side of your sense of humour. Mork and Mindy was on every week, same channel, same time. And, every week, families tuned in to watch it and passed a few moments together. Weird, huh?

Last week, one month short of a year since its finale was screened in America, and seven months after it could be seen here on Netflix, Breaking Bad cleaned up at the Emmy, taking five awards, including Outstanding Drama Series.

Given the way we watch TV now, in binges and bursts, Breaking Bad was a bit like eaten bread by last week. Since its finale, we’ve had True Detective, Fargo and a full second series of Orange is the New Black, the first two of which scored a single award each and the latter,  which didn’t merit a single prize. In a way, Breaking Bad won, not for its quality, but for its clout as a cultural phenomenon. It won prizes, perhaps, for establishing television as the new movies. Through Breaking Bad, last week, television slapped itself on the back.

The modern phenomenon binge-watching the telly — not to mention the rise of less family-friendly and more sexually shocking, brutal and bloody drama — can’t help the likes of 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy. The six-part series, which started on Sky Living last week, is part travel show, part family portrait, featuring Baz Ashmawy and his mother, Nancy.

To kick off the first episode, Baz introduced himself — to the uninitiated UK audience — and explained how Nancy, after years of hearing about his adventures, surprised him with a request to be taken on a sky dive.

“I thought, ‘Hmm, that could kill her.’ And then I thought, ‘What else might kill her?” he asked. The intro was a bit misleading, however, as is the title. What this show is about is not the efforts of Baz and Nancy to kill her off, but their efforts to keep her feeling alive.

In the first episode, they went to Vegas, where they got the giggles as they tagged along with

an unamused bounty hunter; they drag-raced and they gambled, which went against every mammy instinct in Nancy’s body. They laughed a lot,  and mostly at each  other, and they were real and relateable and refreshing. With each episode running an hour long, the concept might be a bit overstretched,  but they are a likeable pair. Whether people will take

a break from their bingeing habits to make a weekly appointment with them, however, is another matter. Love and laughs and likeability just might not be enough to keep people coming back any more.

There are some moments that are once-offs, however, and Albert Reynolds’s State funeral, broadcast by RTE on Monday, was one of them. From the altar, his grown-up children talked of the real things that make a life: the affection, the ambition, the successes and disappointments, the supporters and naysayers, and the ones who love you to the end, even if you have, to some extent, left them already. It was a moment, of which you felt part as you watched, and then it passed. No prizes. No repeats. Just a moment.

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