Monday 18 December 2017

Ian O'Doherty on Television

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Count Arthur Strong

Monday, BBC2, 8.30pm

Andy Murray – The Man Behind the Racket

Monday, BBC1, 9.30pm

The Walking Dead

Tuesday, RTE Two, 9.50pm

A well-loved character on Radio 4 by now, where it has already enjoyed 7 seasons, Count Arthur Strong is Steve Delaney's ageing, forgotten variety performer who now lives in a world where nobody remembers his name.

Co-written by Delaney and Graham Linehan, we're introduced to Rory Kinnear as Max who, in the course of researching a biography of his father, a former stage hall performer, stumbles across Arthur, living in anonymity.

Unfortunately for Max, Arthur is as hopelessly at sea with the English language as he is with his memory and a quick introductory conversation soon becomes a nightmare of mixed messages and crossed signals.

Delaney plays the Count himself, and while he may have worked in the live arena in a way not dissimilar to Johnny Vegas or John Shuttleworth, on the small screen this hugely respected comedy creation is just bloody painful.

Strong himself is simply a deeply unlikeable old coot who is just an incoherent buffoon.

So we see – oh, how we laughed – a constantly irate Asian café owner who bears the brunt of Strong's ignorant stupidity, as well as a series of identikit, stock characters who all look like they wandered in from a 1970s sitcom.

Count Arthur Strong certainly doesn't deserve the praise that has been heaped upon it since it was a Radio 4 cult hit, nor does it deserve the opprobrium that has been cast its way either (rather like Ricky Gervais's infinitely more attractive Derek, which has been accused of poking fun at those suffering from learning difficulties). Instead, it is that most objectionable of all comedy products – something that is simply impossible to care about, one way or the other.

The BBC's Andy Murray docco first out went out in the dim and distant past of . . . about two weeks ago. But since his victory on Sunday, the Beeb should be commended for doing a quick update of The Man Behind The Racket to encompass Murray's Wimbledon triumph.

And while the first draft was solid, having a happy ending is something that you never expect in sporting programmes – and let's face it, Murray suffered his fair share of knocks.

In fact, even in victory he still had nay-sayers who will never warm to him and while he won't care about that, I wonder if he woud prefer to spend some time in the company of those who loathe him rather than those who love him.

Because amidst the genuinely fascinating tale of his rise to ultimate glory, we had to deal with Sue Barker spewing her jolly platitudes all over the place.

When you watch Barker's witless cheerleading of tennis over the last few weeks, and this programme in particular – stopping the recording once Murray became upset about Dunblane was particularly unforgivable – then you realise just how bloody good Clare Balding is at this stuff.

RTE is currently trying to convince us it is doing us all a favour with its 'Learn To Love It Again' campaign (or whatever the hell they're calling it) of repeats.

But packaging all the repeats as if they're some sort of treat is just taking the piss, and their decision to schedule The Walking Dead as 'new', when they are showing Season 3 and not Season 4, which we are all waiting for, is cynical in the extreme. Nice one, lads.

Irish Independent

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