Sunday 17 November 2019

RTE's weekend chat shows play a Game of Drones

Ryan Tubridy and Brendan O'Connor (inset)
Ryan Tubridy and Brendan O'Connor (inset)

Pat Stacey

Easter is supposed to be a time for reflection, so when better to reflect upon the differing fortunes of Irish television’s two chat show pugilists, each of which displayed their individual strengths and weaknesses during the bank holiday weekend bout?

In the red corner, just about managing to stay on its feet but, like the protagonist of Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, “soft in the middle now”, is The Late Late Show, lumbering under the guidance of Ryan Tubridy towards its 53rd year in the ring.

In the blue corner, The Saturday Night Show, the supposedly younger (though at 45, host Brendan O’Connor is four years Tubridy’s senior), sassier and edgier rival for the chat show crown.

The 6ft 4ins Cork heavyweight came close to nicking Tubridy’s ratings title a couple of times, before being floored by an uppercut from a surprise contender, the 50-year-old Kildare flyweight Sugar Ray D’Arcy.

Okay, enough with the ropey (sorry!) boxing analogies. The truth is that any comparison these days between the merits of Tubridy and O’Connor’s respective shows tends to yield the same result: a victory for The Late Late.

Some victories are narrower than others, though, because any chat show stands or falls by the quality of its guests, which can never be consistent.

Tubridy has been striking lucky on this score lately. The Friday before last he had Alan Rickman and Kim Cattrall on. The week before that there was one of the biggest fish you can land, Russell Crowe, who was in warm, playful form and even sang a Johnny Cash song, and Ryan O’Neal, whose bizarre appearance is destined to take its place in the parking lot reserved for moments of horribly watchable car-crash television.

In other words, it was something resembling a vintage Late Late. Friday’s got off to a good start, too.

The ever-amiable Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones was top of the show, although the culturally savvy Tubridy seemed to be deliberately shaping the interview for viewers who had never even heard of GoT, let alone seen it (and given The Late Late’s middle-aged-to-elderly core audience, this is entirely possible).

Watching the programme was a bit like being forcibly bounced on a trampoline. One minute you’re up in the air, the next – boing! – you’re down on your arse enduring June Rodgers singing a comedy song about the water charges. Then the fabric tears and you’re face down in the mud while Nadia Forde discusses whether or not she’d be prepared to get her kit off for Playboy.

Friday’s edition wasn’t the first one that felt like half the show it could be and twice the length it should be.

Then again, time is relative, which is probably why O’Connor’s show the following night felt like it lasted the entire weekend.

Twenty minutes of unlikely sex thimble Marty Morrissey – who I can never look at without being reminded of a sinister ventriloquist’s dummy that will try to murder you the moment you turn your back  – followed by 30 minutes of Pippa O'Connor.

And for the big finish . . . Pat Rabbitte, a man who O’Connor said is possessed of a “rapier wit”.

Is that what it is? I’ve always thought of the former communications minister as the grown-up incarnation of a smug schoolboy who’s the smartest kid in his class and keeps going out of his way to remind everyone of the fact.

You don’t expect much from television on a bank holiday weekend. In this case, expectations were well and truly met.

The Late Late Show (RETE 1, Fri), The Saturday Night Show (RTE 1, Sat)


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