Sunday 19 January 2020

The Tommy Tiernan Show review: 'Brendan O'Carroll clearly relished being asked some intelligent questions'

REVIEW: The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTE1) - 5 stars; Deadwater Fell (Channel 4) - 4 stars

The Tommy Tiernan Show, RTE
The Tommy Tiernan Show, RTE

Pat Stacey

“What is the nature of happiness?” Tommy Tiernan asked his first guest, Brendan O’Carroll, on Saturday’s edition of The Tommy Tiernan Show.

“Not enough people ask that question,” O’Carroll replied. Actually, nobody asks it, certainly not on your average RTE chat show, where guests are wheeled on, seemingly on the basis of their availability more than anything else, to plug whatever record, TV programme, book or talent show appearance they happen to be flogging that week.

But this isn’t your average chat show, and Tiernan isn’t your average host. He’s that rare thing: an effortlessly instinctive interviewer, genuinely curious about people and interested in what they have to say, who never fails to draw the best out of his guests, famous or obscure.

O’Carroll, who I’ve always found infinitely more engaging and interesting when he’s being himself, as in his riveting Who Do You Think You Are? episode, was at his best here. So was Tiernan.

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Any other host would invariably have begun by asking about Mrs Brown’s Boys. Tiernan took a completely different tack, quizzing O’Carroll about living in America (“bonkers” at the moment, and “more provincial than Ireland”), his home for 18 years.

In fact, O’Carroll’s divisive comedy character was barely raised at all, which allowed us a refreshing and fascinating glimpse of the man as opposed to the celebrity.

O’Carroll – who we already know is a smart cookie with an IQ of 153 – clearly relished being asked some intelligent questions instead of fielding the usual superficial guff.

He responded with openness and enthusiasm, talking at length about his relationship with his mother (“I adored her”) and his devotion to positive mental attitude (PMA), born out of years of striving to please those above him in the pecking order rather than being true to himself.

“Happiness is an entitlement,” he said. “Every single one of us is entitled to be happy.”

You got the impression that O’Carroll’s happiness – which he said lies not in the end in itself but in the journey – is hard won and, whatever you think of his brand of comedy, deserved.

He spoke movingly, too, about the most painful personal tragedy anyone can suffer: the death in 1979 of his first child, a boy who was also called Brendan, at the age of only two weeks.

“Like everybody else,” he said, “I had all the things figured out in my head: white picket fence, swing in the garden, he’d play football just like his dad did and I’d go to the games with him.

“And it changed overnight and it leaves a hole. I’m very lucky to have three fantastic kids, but they don’t fill that gap. Not that you’d want them to, but they don’t.”

This was as much of a revelation to Tiernan as to the studio audience and those of us watching at home. It was a fantastic show.

hf deadwater.jpg
David Tennant in Deadwater

You can tell a lot about a man by his beard. The one David Tennant’s Scottish village doctor Tom sports in Deadwater Fell (Friday) is one of those carefully cultivated jobs that ends in a, well, razor-sharp line at the neck.

His best mate, police sergeant Steve (Matthew McNulty), meanwhile, has unruly perma-stubble. Which of them would you peg as a murderer? Has to be Tom, really, since he’s the only survivor of a house fire that killed his depressed wife Kate (Anna Madeley) and their three kids. Ah, but the kids’ room was padlocked from the outside and CCTV showed Kate buying the lock. But stil... that beard.

Deadwater Fell is drawing comparisons with Tennant-starring Broadchurch, but it’s shorter (four parts) and so far tightly-written by Daisy Coulam.

It’s extremely well-acted, too, by the above three and Cush Jumbo as Steve’s partner Jess, who once had an illicit fling (or maybe more) with Tom.

For once, copious flashbacks illuminate the story and characters rather than obscure them.

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