In praise of: A house-sharing show that's free of cynicism and full of warmth
There are few things more likely to turn the blood to ice-water in seconds than the prospect of yet another series about bed-and-breakfasts. It’s not as if we haven’t seen enough of them already.
RTÉ appears to have a fetishistic fascination with programmes featuring B&Bs. To date, we’ve had 11 long years of At Your Service.
At first, it was a fairly low-key, inoffensive makeover show. Flamboyant hotelier Francis Brennan and his brother John, the quieter of the two (which wouldn’t be difficult, frankly), travelled the country dispensing practical advice to the owners of B&Bs, guest houses and small hotels who wanted to improve their establishments.
In recent years, however, At Your Service has morphed into At Francis’s Service, a star vehicle designed to persuade us that the exhausting older Brennan – a man who’s never come across a silence he didn’t feel compelled to break or encountered a space in a room he didn’t want to fill with himself – is an inherently hilarious, natural-born entertainer who deserves to be elevated to the status of national treasure.
The worst thing about all this, as anyone unfortunate enough to see even five minutes of Francis Brennan: All Hands on Deck will know, is that Brennan himself appears to have bought into the notion and is playing up to it accordingly. There hasn’t been this much ham on screen since Peppa Pig.
And then there’s Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip. This was originally a UTV Ireland series and ranked as the short-lived, disastrously ill-advised broadcaster’s solitary ratings success. About 15 seconds after the channel nobody wanted and almost nobody watched disappeared forever beneath a wave of public indifference, RTÉ swooped in to snap the series up.
Last year, RTÉ also brought us the three-part Billionaire B&B, which proved beyond all doubt there is no bottom of the barrel, just a cleverly concealed trapdoor leading to another barrel. That title turned out to be quite the cheat. Billionaire B&B – which didn’t include any actual B&Bs – was three soul-robbing hours of Yasmine Akram hanging out in the capacious homes of various rich bastards in Spain, Los Angeles and Barbados.
Those tuning in expecting to see matronly rural landladies baking homemade brown bread in a kitchen with a cosy-clad teapot on the table and a picture of the Sacred Heart on the wall instead found themselves dropped into the middle of a full-scale property porn orgy.
Given all this guff, you can imagine how fast microscopic icicles formed in the bloodstream at the news that Virgin Media One had made a series called OAP B&B, which ranks among the most off-putting titles ever conceived.
It didn’t take them long to melt, though, because OAP B&B, which goes out on Thursdays, has proved to be a lovely surprise. It’s an absolute charmer of a series and the sweetest thing you’ll see this side of a Christmas selection box.
On paper, the premise doesn’t sound promising: a twentysomething renter moves in for a fortnight with an elderly homeowner who lives alone (and may even be finding life lonely after the loss of a spouse), in the hope the two of them will hit it off and make the living arrangement permanent.
In practice, OAP B&B is a delight. There’s no faked-up tension, no backbiting video diary confessions, no age-gap/culture-clash clichés.
The participants, young and old, come across as genuine people who aren’t there just to get their faces on television – or maybe even parlay their 60 minutes of fame into a TV career.
Four episodes in, for a variety of practical reasons, only one of the young renters has opted to live permanently with their hosts. But in every case a warm bond of friendship has been formed that you know will continue once the cameras are turned off.
It’s refreshing to see a show like this that’s so lacking in cynicism.
Due to Champions League Football, OAP B&B continues next Thursday. You can catch up on previous episodes on Virgin Media Player
At this stage, five days after his passing and with countless tributes already paid, there's little more to be said about Gay Byrne beyond the indisputable fact that he was the outstanding and most influential Irish broadcaster of his era.