Sunday 25 February 2018

Girls behave badly in new RTÉ attempt at comedy

Implausibilities abound: Nika McGuigan and Seána Kerslake in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope
Implausibilities abound: Nika McGuigan and Seána Kerslake in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope

John Boland

Five minutes into the first episode of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's brilliant Fleabag (BBC2) and already I had a real sense of the main character: funny and transgressive, but needy and lonely, too, her subversive humour not quite masking the desolation behind it.

Yet after two whole episodes of RTÉ2's new sitcom Can't Cope, Won't Cope, I had no sense at all of what kind of people the central duo were supposed to be or why they were behaving as they did.

"If I wanted to watch people all over each other," art student Danielle said to hot-shot fund-adviser Aisling in a late-night bar, "I'd go dogging", to which Aisling replied "My God, Danielle, let's do it, let's go dogging".

And so they immediately took a taxi to Dollymount and crept over the sand dunes in the early hours of the morning to watch people having sex in a car.

Why on earth would they do that, except in the imagination of creator/scriptwriter Stefanie Preissner, who clearly thought it would show how feckless and madcap these two young women could be? And never mind the fact that, only a few hours earlier, the brilliant Aisling had been saving the ass of her boss Kate (a somewhat thankless role for Amy Huberman) with an implausible phone call to the widow of a suddenly deceased investor.

Other implausibilities abounded in a script that was less concerned with credibility than with offering an edgy Irish take on such girls-behaving-badly shows as Lena Dunham's Girls, Sharon Horgan's Catastrophe and, indeed, Waller-Bridge's Fleabag.

I can see what the series is trying to do, and I liked very much Seána Kerslake's exuberant playing of Aisling (Nika McGuigan's Danielle got much less of a look in during the first two episodes), yet I couldn't help thinking that surely there was more to these young women's lives than endless drinking binges, casual sex and improbably daft antics - and, indeed, a scene between Aisling and a woman doctor about promiscuity suggested that Preissner is capable of something more poignant and telling.

Whether that will happen remains to be seen, and I'm aware that I'm hardly the target audience for Can't Cope, Won't Cope, but then again, I'm not the target audience for Fleabag, either, which, with just one more episode to go, I've liked an awful lot both for its beautifully observed comedy and its underlying sadness.

There's nothing comic about National Treasure (Channel 4), even though it concerns a funnyman who has been entertaining British audiences for decades and who, on entering a taxi, is requested by the cabbie to recite his famous catchphrases.

At the opening of this week's first episode, though, the police had called to his suburban mansion and he was being arrested for historical sex crimes, leaving him at the end of the episode to protest: "They think I'm f***ing Jimmy Savile".

Whether he is or not may become clear when this four-episode drama develops, but already it has been gripping, with Robbie Coltrane's Paul Finchley a character of unsettling complexity and with Julie Walters outstanding as wife Marie, who had endured his infidelities for decades and was now trying to stand by him even as the accusations of depravity multiplied.

Jack Thorne's script was excellent (an incredulous Marie asking her husband "Who watches porn on their phone? Couldn't you get the laptop open quick enough?"), and there was a marvellous scene between Finchley and his daughter (Andrea Riseborough) in a halfway house for recovering drug addicts, the troubled young woman raising disturbing spectres of early life with her father.

Too long absent from our screens, Coltrane is the obvious draw here, but overall the drama was so sure-footed and riveting as to demand further viewing.

There'll be no further viewing by me of Lords and Ladles (RTÉ1), which inexplicably has been granted a second season in which to offer its mishmash of cooking, potted history and obsequiousness towards the estates of Ireland's landed gentry and their owners. In this week's opener, set in Huntington Castle, Carlow, there was the customary forced banter between chefs Derry Clarke, Catherine Fulvio and Paul Flynn, and the usual silly gimmicks, too, as each of them was assigned his or her allotted task.

A spit-roasted pig and a hash of lamb were among the dishes being served up at the end of an interminable 50 minutes, but I had exited the castle long before then.

Nor did I feel encouraged to sit through Pride of Ireland Awards (UTV Ireland), which appeared to be RTÉ1's old People of the Year awards under a different name and on another channel.

It was all very worthy, with people being honoured for doing commendable and often courageous things, and Amanda Byram did her darnedest to be an enthusiastically cheerleading host, but it was hard to escape the feeling that the occasion was more for the winners and their loved ones than for the fickle viewer.

I liked, though, Richard E Grant on Ealing Comedies (Gold), partly because of the subject and partly because of its effervescent presenter, who, even though born in Swaziland, is as quintessentially English as the films he was celebrating.

The studio's history was deftly sketched in and there were fond tributes to such early Ealing classics as Hue and Cry and Passport to Pimlico. Next week such imperishable movies as Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers will come under Grant's affectionate gaze, and I for one will be watching.

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