Why is RTE so devoted to hidden-camera comedy?
Two prank shows in one night is a cheap and lazy way to fill a schedule
Aren’t we lucky, all the same, to be alive in the times we are?
Yes, there might be a lot of things wrong with this country right now, and yes, there might be a lot of things wrong with the world as a whole — the refugee crisis, religious fundamentalism/terrorism, a new Cold War, a resurgence of nuclear tensions, a new rise of the far right, and the fact that American politics, society and standards of decency have been corrupted by the toxic outpourings of an orange-faced narcissist and demagogue with candy floss for hair.
But hey, why not look on the bright side for a change? We’ve still got great television, right?
Okay, so maybe not all of it is great. Having 600 channels at your fingertips doesn’t mean 570 of them aren’t pumping out trash you wouldn’t watch if somebody put a rolled-up copy of Hello! magazine to your head.
But that’s all right; nothing’s perfect. Most of us would probably rather have 600 channels to choose from (or ignore) than six. It doesn’t change the fact that we’re living through a new golden age of television.
There’s never been as much TV drama as there is now, and the general standard has never been higher.
Comedy is in a pretty healthy state, too, despite the BBC reversing gear to less enlightened times with the likes of Mrs Brown’s Boys, Citizen Khan and its recent pointless remakes of old sitcoms.
Thanks to the internet, access to TV, both current and vintage, has never been easier.
With all these possibilities, all this choice, you have to wonder why anyone would waste their time watching hidden-camera prank shows — the cheapest, laziest, most witless strand of TV comedy there is.
More to the point, with such fierce competition between television channels, you have to wonder why any big broadcaster, and especially one funded by a licence fee, would waste scant resources on making them. Maybe we should ask RTE to enlighten us.
British broadcasters, with the exception of ITV, have pretty much turned their backs on the genre. Not RTE, though.
They love hidden-camera prank shows in Fortress Montrose. Always have done. That’s why they’ve made so many of them.
In the last 10 years or so, we’ve had Naked Camera and the truly abysmal PJ Gallagher solo spin-off Makin’ Jake, the celebrity-in-disguise vehicle Anonymous, presented by Jason Byrne, and the execrable The Fear, which was basically Naked Camera all over again, but with Jennifer Maguire (as she was then) plus added F-words and dick jokes.
RTE loves hidden-camera shows so much, in fact, that on Monday night, it unleashed not one but two new ones on RTE2, either side of The Republic of Telly — which, let’s not forget, has a hidden-camera prank segment of its own.
First up was Scorchio (if you’re going to make something wholly unoriginal, I supposed you might as well steal a catchphrase from The Fast Show while you’re at it).
It was the same tired old guff as before, only this time on the beaches of Spain, and with wind-ups so feeble and characters so over the top (including a homesick Cavan man who wears a flat cap with his Speedos), none of the marks looked like they believed a word of it.
TMI, presented by Stephen Byrne, a young man who looks so pleased with himself, he could be involved in a bromance with his own reflection, went one step further. It managed to be both deeply unfunny and highly dubious.
In time-honoured prank show fashion, the marks — all of them millennials — are lured into fake job interviews, into fake sessions with a psychic or accosted on the street by someone pretending to be a TV interview and duped into revealing their names.
Back in a control room, Byrne and a team of snoopers rifle through the person’s social media profile, feeding the actor questions through an earpiece, which he or she then uses to baffle and bewilder the unwitting target with snippets of personal information about themselves.
Frankly, it’s faintly creepy, with a whiff of online stalking about it, and a lot of it makes for distinctly uncomfortable viewing.
I imagine Byrne and his team had a lot of fun on the cutting room — which is where TMI should have been left.