RTÉ’s new panel show is more of the same
If sarcasm is, as popularly claimed, the lowest form of wit — and that’s debatable if you’ve ever sat through an entire episode of Bridget & Eamon — then the panel show is the cheapest kind of television comedy there is, excepting stand-up.
By the standards of TV production budgets, making panel shows is a relatively low-cost business. All you need is a studio, a few desks and chairs, maybe some clips, a live audience (at least in pre-Covid times), a host and a bunch of comedians.
Unless it’s a show dependent on topicality, like Have I Got News For You, you can cut costs further by shooting more than one episode in a day.
It’s far more expensive to produce a sitcom, what with all those rehearsals, set-ups and retakes. A sketch show is an even bigger, costlier, more complicated undertaking, requiring multiple changes of sets, costumes and wigs, sometimes for a segment that might last two minutes.
This is largely the reason why sketch shows as we knew them back in the days of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Not the Nine O’Clock News, French & Saunders and The Fast Show have all but vanished from screens.
Cost, as much as fashion, is also the reason why so many sitcoms are now shot on location using lightweight handheld cameras — although the old-style studio-based sitcom with a live audience has made a comeback in recent years with the likes of Mrs Brown’s Boys.
The Americans created the TV panel show, but the format is extinct over there. British television, on the other hand, never ceases beating us over the head with panel shows.
As well as HIGNFY, there’s Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats, QI, Would I Lie to You?, The Last Leg, Taskmaster, A League of Their Own, Big Fat Quiz of the Year and countless more, nearly all of which feature inordinate quantities of Romesh Ranganathan and Rob Beckett, either separately or together.
When broadcasters can squeeze this much mileage out of the same basic formula, is it any wonder they’re so fond of stuffing the schedules with panel shows?
As in so many other areas, RTÉ has slavishly taken its panel show cues over the years from other broadcasters. Don’t Feed the Gondolas was essentially the national broadcaster’s answer to HIGNFY.
The Panel, which was a launchpad to bigger, better things for its host Dara Ó Briain (who’d previously been a regular on Gondolas), was adapted from an Australian show of the same title.
The Panel ran for eight years. Long before the end, though, it had degenerated into a tedious pissing contest between comedians loudly and desperately trying to prove they were the funniest person in the room.
There are few things more trying than a comedian trying too hard, and it’s one of the main problems with RTÉ2’s new Thursday night panel show Clear History, hosted by Kevin McGahern, who’s forever doomed to look far too pleased with himself, even if deep down his soul might be silently screaming in agony.
The team captains are Joanne McNally and serial panellist Colin Murphy, who deserves a series of his own called 8 out of 10 Irish Panel Shows I’ve Been On. The wobbly concept is they and the guests — last week, radio host Laura O’Mahony and rock ’n’ roll immunologist Luke O’Neill — share embarrassments from their pasts they’d like to erase.
Murphy tells a rambling story about being mistaken for a racist in a coffee shop. McNally recalls getting pissed at an office party and passing out. O’Mahony bangs on about singing at a wedding. O’Neill waffles about a sailing mishap. It’s woefully unfunny.
The segment where they get to erase an embarrassment from Irish history feels like a lift from Room 101, while having members of the public relate their own embarrassments on video is reminiscent of Graham Norton’s red chair segment.
Covid means there’s no studio audience, but McNally fills any silences by laughing manically at everything the others say. You’ll have no trouble erasing Clear History from your memory.
CLEAR HISTORY IS ON RTÉ2 AT 9.35PM ON THURSDAYS