Tuesday 20 February 2018

Television: No laughing matter as this RTÉ comedy couple return

Sitcom: Bridget and Eamon
Sitcom: Bridget and Eamon

John Boland

The first season of Bridget and Eamon (RTÉ2) aired last February and went on to win an IFTA award for best comedy, which tells you something about IFTA's judging standards.

Or am I the only one who thought this sitcom unfunnier than a cold sore? Perhaps there really are people out there who resemble Jennifer Zamparelli's upwardly mobile airhead and Bernard O'Shea's cretinously bigoted spouse, but they made no sense as an onscreen couple, while their antics in the provincial midlands of 1980s Ireland were so grotesque as to seem made up on the spot by desperate screenwriters.

That scripting role, as it happens, was undertaken by Zamparelli and O'Shea themselves who, along with co-writer Jason Butler, have now cobbled together a new season - that being the appropriate verb for an opening instalment that was cobblers from start to end.

Here our unlikely, not to mention deeply unlikeable, duo were befriended by a gushing Ken-and-Barbie couple who were so credulously American that they paid for 50 rounds of drinks when informed that it was an "ancient Irish tradition", and who were thrilled to meet James Joyce, even though they'd heard he was long dead.

Other would-be gags involved Bridget and Eamon stripping naked when they assumed their new friends were swingers rather than makers of swings, and a visit to a Chinese restaurant during which Eamon convinced the US guy that the dishes on offer constituted "authentic Irish food".

Some of this was so daft that, in other hands, it might have been amusing, but the curiously mean-spirited tone that prevailed throughout, especially in the character of the unpleasant Eamon, precluded any chance of laughs.

In the second instalment of Vogue Williams: On the Edge (RTÉ2), the presenter made the startling announcement that "this summer I was the victim of a wounding personal assault". What she meant was that in a tabloid newspaper and on social media she was "branded fat" and thus became "a target for the body shamers".

Other young women might look at her physique and think she has little to worry about, but the pressure to be physically perfect led Vogue to wonder how far she would go "to achieve a shame-free physique". And so what had begun by seeming to promise an interesting consideration of body dysmorphia disorders and other psychological concerns became mainly a showcase for its presenter as she readied herself to compete in a bikini body athletics contest in Birmingham.

At the end, while not making it into the competition's final reckoning, she was given a prize, pleased that "no one had told me I was too fat to be there" and that her body hadn't been judged by "vile internet trolls". But the programme wasn't nearly as inquiring or interesting as her previous week's documentary on gender choices.

At the outset of Hacked (RTÉ2), presenter Keelin Shanley warned that, although the internet has transformed all our lives, there are attendant risks and that in Ireland "we are vulnerable like never before" from online criminals.

"Think before you click" was the advice of one security expert, though former hacker Darren asserted that most of the firewall products we buy are easily circumvented, and Ervia's information officer was of the view that "there is no perfect protection out there".

So what can we do? Not a lot, it seems, beyond heeding the counsel of the Garda Cyber Crime Bureau's man, Michael Gubbins, who urged giving "an extra couple of seconds before you click on that link".

Common sense would tell most of us the same thing, though it took this programme almost an hour to do so.

Leonard Cohen has been a constant companion throughout my adult life, and I'm proud to say I remained loyal to him during those decades when critical opinion had chosen to dismiss him - after which a new generation came along to honour a man whose increasing gravitas, wit and wisdom inspired their devotion.

His death is to be mourned, but the grace, graciousness and beauty of his music will remain for those with ears to hear. And those qualities were all in evidence in Bird on a Wire (BBC4), which pieced together footage long thought lost of a 1972 European tour that began in Dublin.

Cohen was 37 at the time and was somewhat more earnest than in his self-deprecatingly amused later years, though even then he generously accommodated even the silliest and/or most pretentious of interviewers. The backstage and hotel-room scenes were fascinating, too, while the concert footage revealed a man who had begun to revel both in performance and in interacting with his audience.

Tony Palmer, who has made many arresting music profiles for television, was the director of this outstanding insight into both the person and the performer. If you missed it, you should be able to catch it when reshown on BBC4 or elsewhere.

Deep Water, which concludes on BBC4 tonight, is a four-part drama, based on real events, about the killing of gay men in the Bondi Beach area of Sydney. Last weekend's opening two-parter was workmanlike rather than riveting but Yael Stone was so persuasive as the young woman detective doggedly piecing the clues together that I'm keen to discover how it all pans out.

Meanwhile, there's more crime drama on the way from this enterprising channel.

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