Saturday 21 September 2019

Television: Why Mario's sketch show is pointless... not pointed

What satire: Rosenstock as Vincent Browne with the real Louis Walsh.
What satire: Rosenstock as Vincent Browne with the real Louis Walsh.

John Boland

'Here we go again", a dishevelled Vincent Browne harrumphed at the outset of The Mario Rosenstock Show (RTÉ1). "There's six weeks of this and it's all about laughing".

If only that were true. By my count, there were 17 sketches in Sunday night's opening show, and I managed a faint smile at just two of them - none at all during the six that featured the pretend Browne and that never managed to capture either the broadcaster's crankiness or mannerisms.

There were also five sketches featuring Louis Walsh - not a skit version of the impresario but the guy himself, hamming it up for the occasion and chortling in that peculiarly mirthless way of celebrities who are keen to let you know they're up for a bit of fun, even if it's at their own expense.

But here it wasn't. Walsh would seem an ideal candidate for gleeful mockery in a show that aimed to be satirical, but the nearest Rosenstock got to venom was when his pretend Miriam O'Callaghan told Walsh that everyone in the audience would get a free pair of knickers, "especially if they talk as much shite as you". Walsh duly guffawed at this toothless rudery.

Other skits featured developer Johnny Ireland (ho, ho) exhorting us "to party like it's 1999 again", Donald Trump at his most sexist and crime reporter Paul Williams telling children about the drug-dealing "scum-sucking parasite" who had to be battled by an inner-city boy in Jack and the Beanstalk - but there was little bite to these impersonations.

And though I quite liked John Creedon's inane outer-space travelogue and Christy Moore's mournful singing presentation of the Lotto draw, I was left wondering about the point of these impersonations. Television comedy has come a long way from Mike Yarwood, Rory Bremner and even Armando Ianucci, and the whole notion of such impressions now seems curiously antiquated.

Indeed, they work much better on radio, where Rosenstock and Oliver Callan regularly come up with much more pointed and edgy material than they manage on television and where they're not burdened by trying to look like the people they're lampooning.

And, in the case of last Sunday night's show, allowing Walsh a free pass by inviting him to join in the supposed fun made a nonsense of any supposed satirical intent.

Liveline: Call Back (RTÉ1) was another example of a show that should have been on radio, which is where it had all begun. The real Paul Williams popped up here, recalling the notorious 2007 incident in which gangland criminal John Daly phoned Joe Duffy's Liveline show from his Portlaoise prison cell - thus creating a controversy about the easy access prisoners had to mobiles.

And Duffy himself remembered getting a "dressing-down" from RTÉ and being "absolutely furious at this caving in to political pressure". He had other forthright things to say, too, including his observation that criminal thugs are "glamorised by nonsense programmes like Love/Hate".

Two other notable Liveline callers were also featured in this first of a looking-back series, but it was hard not to wonder at the point of it all - beyond giving Duffy the opportunity to remind us of some of his greatest radio hits. What next - a TV series celebrating some of John Creedon's best Radio One music choices?

I missed the first instalment of Designing Ireland (RTÉ1) but caught up with the second, a sleekly-filmed hodge-podge that covered a bewildering variety of topics - within the first 30 minutes, it attempted to provide a crash course on Viking settlements, Anglo-Norman influences, tower houses, the Georgian era, Irish independence, Eileen Gray, Dublin airport, RTÉ logos and Kilkenny Design.

The presenters providing the crash course were architect Angela Brady and design writer Sandra O'Connell, and someone had the daft idea of filming them in tandem as they strode down piers and across bridges while finishing each other's sentences - Sandra, for instance, declaring, "From where it all began" and Angela continuing with "to where it's going to end".

It was dreadfully stilted, not to mention entirely uncritical, with hyperbole and sweeping statements the preferred mode - Eileen Gray was "the seminal figure of the modernist movement", Mainie Jellet was "responsible for bringing modern art to Ireland" and Michael Scott's Busáras was "the first great modernist building in post-war Dublin".

There were interesting bits of information along the way, but the overall effect was of a corporate video about Irish design.

Storyville: The Man Who Would be King (BBC4) told the fascinating tale of Jimmy Ellis from Alabama, who was blessed, or cursed, with a voice that was a dead-ringer for Elvis Presley's and was persuaded, after Elvis's death in 1977, to impersonate him.

The persuader was Shelby Singleton of Sun Records in Nashville, who also got Ellis to wear a mask and call himself Orion. This worked for a few years and then it ended - not least because Ellis himself wanted to be his own man. He eventually opened a roadside Alabama pawnshop, where he was murdered by an arms robber in 1998.

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