Monday 19 November 2018

Could this be RTE's worst comedy ever?



Has there been a worse sitcom on RTE than The Roaring Twenties? The competition, I acknowledge, is intense, with last autumn's The English Class making a recent and very persuasive bid for the title, but The Roaring Twenties, which is about four young flat dwellers in Rathmines, has all the ingredients necessary to claim the prize: a woeful script, dreadful acting, a complete defiance of basic logic and an utter absence of anything that might remotely be considered funny, even by an inebriated student in his bedsit at 2am.

You can't fault creators Steven Stubbs and Ray Sullivan for nerve -- at the very opening they offered a hostage to fortune by having one of their principal characters assert that "sitcoms are funny," a statement plainly contradicted by everything that followed, and later on another of the main foursome hopefully referred to "our pathetic yet hilarious lines," only one half of which bore scrutiny.

I'm at a loss to describe what went on because none of it made any narrative or psychological sense. I just sat there with my lower jaw on the carpet as the performers were allowed to chew the scenery and the director made the occasional ill-advised stab at surrealism.

To be honest, I'm not really blaming the makers, who are film-school graduates with little to no experience. I'm blaming the commissioning people in RTE who encouraged them in their delusion that what they had come up with was good enough to be filmed and then decreed that it was of sufficient merit to be screened. And could someone please explain to me what RTE thinks it's up to in consenting to a sitcom that runs for a half-hour one week and that concludes with another half-hour the next week? Where's the sense in that?

Or, indeed, in Makin' Jake, RTE2's other new sitcom of the week? Here Dublin comedian PJ Gallagher, whom I've always found as funny as a boil on the bum, takes himself to Hollywood in search of fame and fortune. Or, rather, he takes Jake Stevens, a shiny-suited persona he's created whose idea of mirth is to stand in an agent's office and yell: "I need a' job" or threaten: "I'll bend you over and rip down your jocks and shove a spoon up yer hole."

The people he meets, who include Lou "Hulk" Ferrigno and Eric "Chips" Estrada, are presumably in on the intended joke, but that doesn't stop them from looking bewildered as this crass yobbo shouts and screams at them for 30 minutes. This is so unfunny as to be offensive and already I feel like taking back what I said about The Roaring Twenties because Makin' Jake really is the pits -- not just cack-handed but positively unpleasant, too.

It was a relief to spend an hour with a master of comedy in Graham Linehan: Funny Business (RTE1). He emerged as a thoughtful, somewhat melancholic man as he spoke of his obsession with getting the most, and best, laughs out of his various creations. We never quite learned the reasons for, or details of, his professional break-up with his writing partner Arthur Mathews, or what either of them really feels about it, and unsaid also was the unavoidable fact that his solo attempts at comedy haven't come near the sublime heights the duo managed with Father Ted -- The IT Crowd is amiable and endearing, but not especially funny. I couldn't help thinking of Lennon and McCartney -- geniuses together but just talents on their own.

So many programmes this week and so little space. Barry Humphries: The Man Inside Dame Edna (Channel 4) afforded an engrossing hour in the presence of a brilliant comic and his main alter egos, by the end of which you weren't sure who was the real person.

I met Humphries in Dublin many years ago and spent a few bracing hours in his engaging, erudite company as he visited various antiquarian booksellers. He was just as engaging here as he revisited his home city of Melbourne but, though he was forthcoming and frank about his life, foibles and addictions, you felt all the time that he was eluding you, which seems to be the way he wants it. Still, we always have Dame Edna and Sir Les to fall back on.

TV3 had oodles of new shows. I opted to forego the undoubted pleasures of Facelift Diaries, America's Pushiest Parents and The Girls Whose Skin Could Kill and plumped instead for the remake of Bionic Woman, which in the 1970s featured Lindsay Wagner as the heroine who could foil her opponents by running slower than any of them.

Here Michelle Ryan, formerly of EastEnders, vanquished the villains by amazing shows of speed and martial arts skills. As befits a Noughties remake, her controllers were shadowy and sinister and there was a determinedly dark feel to this pilot show. The premise, of course, is daft, but the action was kind of nifty and I thought Ms Ryan sassy, sultry and rather sexy, which probably means I'm hooked. Dammit.

On Future Shock: Fat Nation (RTE1), Kathryn Holmquist informed us that Ireland was "in the grip of an obesity epidemic". A medical gent agreed -- it was "an epidemic". A few minutes later Kathryn reminded us that it was "an epidemic" and that it would have "potentially devastating consequences".

I've no doubt that all she said was true and that children would be far better off if they ate better food and got a bit more exercise, but the alarmist presentation was alienating, just as it was when George Lee hectored us about the oil crisis this time last year. Still, maybe it encouraged some parents to change their children's diet, which would be a good thing.

Certainly I decided to change my chicken-buying habits after watching three nights of Hugh's Chicken Run (Channel 4) in which Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall demonstrated the difference between free-range and mass-produced birds. I'm sure there have been more horrific programmes on the subject than these, but they did the trick for me.

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