Sunday 17 December 2017

Eureka review: 'Amiable, mildly inventive and surprisingly informative'

PJ Gallagher, Neil Delamere, and Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin. Photo: RTE
PJ Gallagher, Neil Delamere, and Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin. Photo: RTE

They’re something fundamentally wearying, depressing and a little obnoxious about TV panel shows. Worse yet, most of the time they’re not at all funny: rather a problem for comedy.

Ironically – given how Irish telly is often criticised as being so beneath its UK counterpart in standard/quality – probably my favourite panel show of all was Irish. The Panel was funnier and more likeable than almost any comparable British show, especially in its earlier years and by comparison with hateful “this is worse than seeing your own death on screen” drek like Mock the Week.

It’s still missed by some of us. (Okay, maybe just me.)

The latest Irish effort, Eureka! The Big Bang Query (RTE2), isn’t quite as funny as The Panel at its height – but it’s very amiable, mildly inventive, surprisingly informative and passes 25 minutes perfectly enjoyably.

With that lame-but-amusing-pun in the title, you kind of know where you are from the jump: what is referred to (almost always disparagingly) as “safe” television. Harmless, good-natured, gently funny, a wee bit cheeky in places: the sort of thing you could watch with Granny.

This, as all beard-stroking Arbiters of Good Taste will insist, is automatically a bad thing. I don’t quite understand where this thinking came from. Are they trying to appear cool or something?

Whatever – it’s silly. I mean, I like edgy comedy like Brass Eye just fine, but I can appreciate that not everybody does, or should. Sometimes safe and nice and gently funny are fine.

Hosted by Neil Delamere, Eureka! The Big Bang Query takes the standard panel format and gives it a few small tweaks. We’ve still got the host in the middle, flanked by two team captains – here PJ Gallagher and Aoibhinn Ní Shuilleabháin – themselves in turn flanked by two guests each. (In tonight’s first of ten episodes, two scientists and two comedians.)

There are “rounds”, and Neil D asks questions and awards “points”, all in that “this isn’t really a proper competition” panel show way. We had an unrelated trip to a quarry to blow some stuff up, in tribute to a pioneering Irish scientist, and a daft but fun “captain’s challenge” involving whipping the table-cloth from under a pile of dishes.

I guess it’s something along the lines of an Irish version of QI, but not so erudite/showy-offy/high-falutin’. The gags were okay, the show whipped along breezily, the credits were cool in a retro, Monty Python-esque way.

Eureka! probably won’t win any awards or reshape the course of TV history. But it was at least as entertaining as most panel shows – and a hell of a lot more likeable.

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