If Three Men Go To Venice on BBC2 last night proved anything, it was that you can have too much of a good thing.
Ideas that once seemed inspired, television series that one felt fresh and full of possibility, lose their magic. Novelty wears off.
It’s five years since Dara O’Briain, Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones were thrown together on a wooden skip in Kingston-On-Thames near London and told to row their way to Oxford. The idea, for a two-part documentary, was to recreate the journey taken in Jerome K Jerome’s 1889 novel Three Men In A Boat.
The show was an instant success. O’Briain, McGrath and Rhys Jones worked well together. They were funny and interesting, with a keen sense of the absurd and some good jokes. Three Men In Another Boat– to the Isle Of Wight - followed two years later. Since then, the trio have been to Ireland, Scotland, the Scilly Isles and, in the latest series, to Venice.
Unfortunately, by now, they all seem bored with the concept and with each other. The easy humour has gone, replaced by forced, obvious, jokes, wisecracks notably lacking in wisdom and, last night, bad Alfred Hitchcock impressions.
The whole thing felt like being trapped in your neighbour’s living room as he showed you his endless holiday videos.
The three men weren’t helped by an utterly contrived scenario. Instead of being given a boat and told to go somewhere, they were asked to persuade somebody to take them from Croatia to Venice.
If this was supposed to create suspense – would they find somebody to take pity on them? – it failed miserably. The many promos for the series had shown them taking part in a gondola race in Venice, so we knew in advance they’d made it.
All we were left with was a pretence at drama and questions about what kind of tv show turns three individually funny men into the equivalent of pub bores. One hopes that the next series will be called Three Men Find Something New And Interesting To Do With Their Lives.
O’Briain was once described in the Irish Independent as the heir apparent to Terry Wogan as Britain’s favourite Irishman and last night on RTE1 the master gave pupil a lesson in how to do a travel show.
Terry Wogan’s Ireland was shown in the Tuesday slot vacated for the summer by Prime Time (because there’s absolutely nothing happening in the world of politics, currently), and demonstrated more energy in its first five minutes than Three Men Go To Venice did over its whole two hours.
Made for the BBC, and broadcast on BBC1 earlier this year, it featured Wogan returning to his home country 40 years after leaving to see how much had changed. His conclusion seemed to be: a lot, but not as much as you’d think. He had the good sense to let the Irish people talk for themselves, rather than impose his own personality too much on the whole thing.
It was clearly meant for an English audience – Ireland was described as part of the British Isles and at one point Wogan – visiting Clear Island - gave a lecture on the Irish language that seemed about 40 years out of the date. But he demonstrated a curiosity about his subject that was sadly missing from Three Men Go To Venice, whose presenters seemed very much focused on themselves.
They weren’t the most annoying thing on television last night, however. The subject of Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN was Beyonce Knowles, who was interviewed on Monday, fresh from her Glastonbury performance the night before.
For such a well-known celebrity, Knowles is remarkably level-headed and likeable, but the problem she presents for interviewers is that she talks in a kind of spiritual Americanese – “stay true to your dreams”; “believe in what you do” – that makes it hard to find out anything new about her.
On at least three few occasions last night, when it seemed as though Morgan was making some progress with her, CNN cut away to report on shootings at a hotel in Kabul, on which they had very little new information.
I get that it’s a news channel, but there seems little point in funding expensive chat shows like Morgans’ if they’re then subject to the whims of every excitable news editor, and especially when there’s no actual news to report.