Tuesday 20 February 2018

What might these Hollywood stars have thought of RTÉ2's sitcom?

Casting couch: Mel Gibson, John LIthgow, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg get to grips with Irish telly on Gogglebox Ireland
Casting couch: Mel Gibson, John LIthgow, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg get to grips with Irish telly on Gogglebox Ireland

John Boland

Passing through Dublin to plug his latest movie (the critically savaged Daddy's Home 2), Mel Gibson found himself on the Gogglebox Ireland couch (3e), alongside co-stars John Lithgow, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. It was a surreal sight.

Lithgow detected "a certain lack of urgency" in RTÉ1's Fair City (somewhat kinder than the regular Gogglebox participant who thought it "a load of crap"), while during the same channel's Stetsons and Stilettos, Wahlberg and Ferrell invented a parody C&W song about drinking beer on the end of a pier.

Lithgow, however, inexplicably enthused over Ireland's Fittest Family ("This is exciting. I'm into this") and asked Gibson if he underwent such competitive exercises at home. "No, never", the once disgraced but now seemingly rehabilitated star replied. "We're not the fittest family, maybe the fattest."

Overall they were tolerant, if clearly bemused, about what they were being obliged to watch, though it's a pity they didn't get to see the first episode of The School (RTÉ2), a mockumentary so awful that their genial masks might have slipped. Certainly my lower jaw never left the floor throughout its screening.

Set in a fictional primary school in rural Cork, it features a resentful teacher called Tom who was so unbelievably unpleasant in this week's opener he made The Office's David Brent seem a paragon of likeability and you wondered how anyone could think his aggressively nasty behaviour towards school principal Dominic even remotely amusing.

Clearly, though, Tadhg Hickey thinks otherwise because not only does he play the part of Tom with the smirk of someone who thinks the character somehow endearing, he's also the show's writer and director, and all the other roles in this first episode were subservient to his screen-hogging turn - despite Laura O'Mahony's over-the-top attempts to upstage him as slovenly school secretary Briege.

Neither her character nor that of Tom made any sense (in a real school they'd have been fired within 10 minutes), and as for the documentary crew supposedly eavesdropping on all the anarchic goings-on - ever since The Office this has become a tediously derivative device, and it was so sporadically used here that it soon became quite meaningless.

RTÉ2 has commissioned many witless comedy programmes down through the years, but I'm finding it hard to recall one quite as dire as this laugh-free nonsense. And there are two more episodes to go.

On a more cheerful note, Blues Sisters (RTÉ1) provided an absorbing hour in the company of the Dublin Ladies football team, defeated for three successive years in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park but hoping to redress the balance in their 2017 season.

We got to meet most of these young women as they prepared for their crucial last five games, and a likeable and articulate lot they were, too, even if we didn't learn the backgrounds of most of them or what had drawn them to this particular sport, though family obviously played a large part with many of them - including Lauren Magee, who was hoping to win the All-Ireland medal that had eluded her devoted father Johnny in his career with the Dublin team.

We also got to meet their new manager, Mick Bohan, stern when he saw fit but mostly encouraging and kindly towards his youthful players and a dab hand, too, at delivering such team-spirit mantras as "Together we'll be successful, on our own we will fail" and "Fear stops you doing the things you're normally able to do". In the run-up to the actual final, he told them that "this next four weeks, as long as you are on this earth, you will remember" and when they beat Mayo a month later you could see on their faces the truth of his remark.

Pat Comer's film never addressed the lowly regard in which the women's game (or, indeed, that of such traditionally male sports as rugby or soccer) is still held, but this was a fine celebration and vindication of what has been achieved. Maybe now the GAA might get round to calling the players women rather than ladies.

Paul Hollywood, who likes to call his female cookery colleagues "girls", is the subject of the four-part Paul Hollywood: A Baker's Life (Channel 4) and in this week's first episode he wondered why he was being called a "traitor" for moving to the commercial channel for The Great British Bake Off when, in fact, it was Mary Berry, Mel and Sue who had "abandoned" him by staying loyal to the BBC.

From a 2010 filmed interview, we saw how he got the Bake Off gig, declaring of a supermarket bun that "it looks pale, it looks ill, it looks disgusting - I wouldn't give it to my dog". For the rest of the programme, we saw a man very pleased with his rise from obscurity to fame.

On Monday night's Nationwide (RTÉ1), satirist Oliver Callan marked the 50th anniversary of fellow Inniskeen man Patrick Kavanagh's death by chatting to Kavanagh's nephew and sundry other figures.

The previous day, he was quoted in a newspaper as maintaining that "Official Ireland" continues to belittle Kavanagh as "the bog-man poet who is best forgotten".

But is that true? Kavanagh is the greatest Irish poet after Yeats and I know of very few people who think otherwise.

Godless (Netflix) is a seven-episode western that's both grim and gripping, or so at least was the hour of it I've so far seen. Jeff Daniels is the persuasively psychopathic villain, Michelle Dockery of Downton Abbey is just as convincing as a widowed frontierswoman, the landscapes are bleakly arresting and the violence when it comes is suitably chilling.

You can binge-watch the whole thing over the weekend.

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