Tuesday 23 January 2018

John Boland: the viking of comedy? don't make me laugh

Gráinne Seoige's Modern Life RTÉ Two The Only Viking in the Village RTÉ One Money BBC Two Prime Time: The Bail Out RTÉ One America on a Plate BBC Four Riding Giants BBC Four

With RTÉ executives currently undergoing a bout of soul-searching -- or, rather, having it foisted on them by government decree -- it's perhaps appropriate that many of the station's newer programmes involve quests of one sort or another.

For instance, various minor media celebrities are traversing our highways and byways in a series that should be called How to Make the Landscape of Ireland Seem Really, Really Boring but actually goes under the name of Tracks and Trails. Traipsing through Cavan and Fermanagh this week, comedian Colin Murphy proved no more riveting than sports presenter Tracy Piggott had been in her Tipperary trek the week before.

Then there's Francis Brennan's Grand Tour, which isn't grand at all and which -- considering the host's antics as he ferries a coach party through the Mediterranean -- should be retitled Camping in the Med.

There are metaphorical journeys, too, most notably RTÉ's ceaseless search for a format that might suit pulchritudinous presenter Gráinne Seoige -- just as they'd attempted with Bibi Baskin and Carrie Crowley a couple of decades earlier. (And let's not forget the station's 20-year quest to make Gerry Ryan a convincing television personality.) Gráinne Seoige's Modern Life (RTÉ Two) is merely the latest, and so far unpersuasive, vehicle for the sultry siren.

And now we're being asked to suffer through Neil Delamare's The Only Viking in the Village (RTÉ One), a two-part series in which the comedian's claim to Scandinavian ancestry plays second fiddle to his propensity for lame jokes and his unwarranted self-aggrandisment.

I suppose it might help if one found Delamare funny, but he's an acquired taste I haven't acquired and am unlikely to do so after this extended exposure to his smug persona -- most evident in the many snippets from his stage act that bloated out this week's first episode to an unconscionable hour.

Unfortunately, when he wasn't being a smart-arse, unable to resist the most banal of flip remarks, he was just boring, or am I the only viewer who thought that his laboured chit-chats with archaeologists, historians, shipwrights and blacksmiths would never end?

I'm sure the people who devised this series thought it would be a great idea to leaven history with some mischief and humour, but it takes inspiration to make this unlikely blend work, and there was no evidence of that here.

The first instalment of BBC Two's three-part series, Money, was subtitled Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and at the outset, property investor David airily declared that "there's enough money in the world to make everyone a millionaire".

As the film went on to show, that notion is being actively peddled by wealth gurus, who make millions out of peptalk seminars and self-help books persuading the gullible that a fortune is within everyone's avid grasp.

Among these credulous souls was bright-eyed teenager Sarah, whose unswerving belief in these gurus has already left her owing the bank a few thousand quid. Yet she proudly pointed to all the 'How-To-Get-Rich' books on her shelves and scorned the notion of working for a living. "I find the whole notion of having a job quite ridiculous," she said and has persuaded her boyfriend to think likewise, though he's afraid to tell his parents.

Then there was 38-year-old nursery-school worker Janice, who gets up every morning chanting "I'm a millionaire, I'm financially free" despite running up a debt of thousands from all the seminars she's attended and books she's bought.

Presiding over one of these seminars, multi-millionaire Robert Kiyosaki asked if there was anyone in the audience who hadn't read his life-changing tome. When a scattering of hands went up, he quipped "Oh, thank God, there are a few more customers out there." Then they went ahead and bought the tome. You couldn't make it up.

Meanwhile, in this benighted country of ours there's no money at all, and on Prime Time: The Bail Out (RTÉ One) Robert Shortt explained how we'd reached this sorry pass. I might have found his account fascinating, or even vaguely interesting, if George Lee hadn't told me the same things in an RTÉ documentary a few weeks earlier and if Richard Curran hadn't filled me in a couple of weeks before that in yet another RTÉ documentary.

Will someone who's in charge out in Montrose please tell everyone to stop making these programmes, which are as repetitive as they're pointlessly depressing?

America on a Plate (BBC Four) paid homage to that great US institution, the diner, and would have been a lot more interesting if presenter Stephen Smith had been a lot less self-regarding.

As a general rule, presenters of documentaries should keep their personal tics to themselves, but in a celebrity-obsessed age the opposite is encouraged, and thus someone as charmless as Smith gets to strut his annoying stuff while the ostensible subject of the film gets demoted in the process.

No such nonsense afflicted Riding Giants (BBC Four), an enthralling history of surfing, written and directed by former Californian skateboarder Stacy Peralta and celebrating the heroes of the big wave throughout five decades.

Needless to say, I'd never heard of any of them -- Greg Noll, Jeff Clark, Mark Foo, Laird Hamilton -- but the recollections and anecdotes were so vivid and the footage was so arresting that I ended up feeling I vicariously belonged to this fraternity of the brave, the free and the astonishingly skilful.

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