Saturday 21 September 2019

Wingman: new series trades heavily on 'Brand Baz' but that's no bad thing - it's entertaining and compelling

Wingman: Jimmy Byrne and Baz Ashmawy, RTE One, Sunday April 28, 9.30pm
Wingman: Jimmy Byrne and Baz Ashmawy, RTE One, Sunday April 28, 9.30pm
Wingman: Jimmy Byrne and Baz Ashmawy, RTE One, Sunday April 28, 9.30pm
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Having crafted a successful career around his own charming everyman persona, earning an Emmy along the way for 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy, Baz Ashmawy is back with another series which trades heavily on Brand Baz.

That’s not a bad thing in the case of Wingman, an endearing hybrid of ‘Living with Lucy’ and ‘Ashley Banjo’s Secret Dance Crew’ which sees Baz play wingman to members of the public with something missing from their lives, whether that's an unfulfilled ambition, a love lost, or a dream stifled by self-doubt.

In the first of three episodes that dream is, on paper, a fairly modest and, one might assume, easily achievable one; Louth dairy farmer Jimmy Byrne wants to stage a two-man play, Malachy McKenna’s The Quiet Land.

Jimmy, who is in his fifties, relates to the themes of isolation and vulnerability.  His marriage, he says, did not work out.  It’s ‘not healthy’ to be alone so often on the farm in Togher, and he admits he sometimes feel isolated.

“It’s about rural crime and how it affects two farmers in their 80s and how they feel isolated and vulnerable,” says Jimmy of the play, adding that these days “there’s more people, there’s less of a community”.

He did try to have the play staged, approaching a local drama group, but they told him they would put it “on file”.  So Baz descends upon the farm, an angel in blazer and swanky slip on shoes, to help Jimmy salvage his dream.

Tone-wise it’s nearer 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy than All Bets Are Off, and once it gets past the first half hour of banter and quips about ‘shite’ and ‘ bandit country’ and arsing about on the farm, it digs deeper depths.

Amid excursions to Dublin to practice voice-overs and cattle marts to research the habitat and quirks of the elderly Irish farmer, there’s a blossoming bromance between Baz and Jimmy.

However, Wingman is not without its moments of tension.  Jimmy’s struggles to learn his lines rub Baz, and the director Peter Reid, up the wrong way.  Their exasperation is palpable, but Jimmy is such an endearing character it’s impossible, as a viewer, to feel anything but empathy for him.

When they take to the stage for their first show you may find yourself watching through one eye and parted fingers, as much for Baz’s accent which is, according to one audience member ‘on a world tour’ as for Jimmy’s performance.

However he performs on the big night itself you’re rooting for Jimmy on his personal journey, and while it’s a little stretched at an hour long, Wingman’s more moving moments are earned - it makes for compelling, as well as entertaining, TV.

Wingman airs on RTE One on Sunday, April 28th at 9.30pm.

Read more: 'I was told by someone high up in RTE that I didn't have a career in telly' - Baz Ashmawy

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