Thursday 23 November 2017

Television: TG4 is top of the box when it comes to Christmas fare

Soap and glory: Holy God, it's the cast of Glenroe
Soap and glory: Holy God, it's the cast of Glenroe

John Boland

The gimmick behind The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTÉ1) is that the host hasn't a clue who his guests are or what they do until they walk out of the studio wings and start chatting to him.

The Navan comedian, who has expressed frustration and boredom with the stand-up act that made him famous, recently developed a fondness for this flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach - a documentary last year showed him attempting stand-up without the safety net of a script, though the end result was shapeless, meandering and pretty dismal overall.

And in this week's first instalment of a four-part series, it was hard to see what was being gained by Tiernan not knowing anything about mixed martial arts fighter Aisling Daly or about the increasingly stellar career of Love/Hate actor Robert Sheehan - only finding out there and then, for instance, that Sheehan has been playing Richard III in London under the direction of Trevor Nunn.

"It's like listing my CV," a bemused Sheehan remarked of enquiries that should have been made in advance by the host's researchers, while Daly seemed somewhat nonplussed, too, though her engaging manner and game willingness to go along with the gimmick somewhat saved her part of the show.

But nothing could save the two appearances by Tiernan's colleague, comedian Fred Cooke, who recently fronted an entirely unamusing RTÉ documentary about learning to drive and who was just as chuckle-free here.

However, the permanent home of the chuckle-free is RTÉ2, which ended the year with yet another lame attempt at comedy.

Sketch, created and written by Tadhg Hickey and also starring him, along with other Cork-based comedians, came in the form of eight sketches that were as pointless as they were devoid of humour.

Happily, there was better fare on offer in the run-up to the New Year, much of it coming from TG4. Robert Shaw - Jaws, Deoch agus Deora was an engrossing profile of the actor who moved to the Tournkeady area of Mayo in the 1970s and died there of a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 51.

A charismatic but complex man, he wrote a number of fine novels and mainly acted, according to third wife Virginia, "because he had to pay the school fees" - he had 10 children, four of them with actress Mary Ure, who had died suddenly at 42. "Both of them had that fatal flaw, issues with alcohol," their son Colin recalled.

There were recollections, too, from Mayo locals who, while attesting to his drinking habits, hadn't a bad word to say about him. Indeed, he seemed to be a thoroughly decent man who was beset by demons that harmed only himself. He was also a commanding actor - aside from brilliant turns in A Man for All Seasons, The Sting and Jaws, he was the best-ever Bond baddie as blond-haired assassin Grant in From Russia with Love.

Brian Reddin's film made you want to know even more about him and to revisit the books that he deemed to be his real achievement.

I was very much taken, too, with Liam Clancy, Mo Chara (TG4), a fond tribute by family, friends and fellow musicians to a man I came to know well and who was so exuberantly alive that I still can't quite believe he's no longer with us.

One musician who worked with him in his later years recalled that playing with him "was like going to school every day with that teacher you liked", while daughter Siobhan felt that "he gave himself as a gift to every person". Indeed he did, Finbar Furey remembering him as both "an icon and a good man". Tadhg Ó hUallacháin's film paid fine homage both to the artist and the person.

And I also liked the re-screening of Maureen O'Hara and The Quiet Man (TG4), her recent death giving topical relevance to a documentary that was originally called Dreaming of the Quiet Man. Here, the late actress was one of many luminaries - including Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich - contributing to an absorbing account of the film's making.

Well Holy God it's Glenroe (RTÉ1) didn't add a lot to the documentary that was made a few years back about the rural soap that ran every Sunday night from 1983 to 2001. Indeed, it was mainly interesting when considering the show's eventual decline and demise - co-creator and producer Brian MacLochlainn conceding that, in terms of plot lines, it "went off the tracks" and actress Geraldine Plunkett lamenting that it "changed into a soap and a soap is just a conveyor belt".

Some of us had thought it was always that, but I knew what she meant.

Fab! The Night the Beatles Came to Dublin (RTÉ1) was another fond remembrance, though somewhat trite in its potted sociological history of "a country on the cusp of change". That was 1963, when the Beatles flew into Dublin for two shows at the Adelphi cinema and "took the city by storm".

We got to hear the insights of historian Diarmaid Ferriter and to rewatch Frank Hall's RTÉ interview with the fab four, but the film was mainly taken up with recollections by those who'd been there on that November evening.

I wasn't, though I did get to see Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson at the same venue. Now that was a concert to remember.

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