Saturday 25 November 2017

Last Night’s TV: Stars Go Racing

Diarmuid Doyle reckons RTE’s summer offering is a bit of harmless fun

If it does nothing else, Stars Go Racing will at least allow us to see what happens when a clothes horse meets an actual horse.

Jean Byrne, the meteorologist whose frocks are as famous as her forecasts, didn’t disappoint when she turned up on the first episode of RTE1’s new reality show last night, tottering into trainer Willie McCreery’s stables in Kildare in the kind of high heels which suggested that it is not just the horses that will need to be reshod.

“It’s just a day out”, she said of the task ahead of her – trying to train a winner in a big race. “You win some , you lose some”.

McCreery is the kind of intense competitor who would adopt one of two flies walking up a wall and urge it to get to the ceiling first. You get the impression he was looking for someone a bit more willing to get their nails dirty. There may be some cloudy spells ahead.

Stars Go Racing (the word ‘stars’ is quite loosely defined here) pits six well-known trainers and their celebrity partners against each other, the ultimate aim being to win a race in Leopardstown. Happily, from an entertainment point of view, some of the partnerships - like Byrne and McCreery - seem to have been chosen for their incompatibility rather than their winning potential.

At least Byrne has some experience of horses. By contrast, Francis Brennan, the owner of the Park Hotel in Kenmare, is afraid of them. He’s afraid of dogs too. “I’d like a fine big rugby type”, his training partner Joanna Morgan said, before Brennan – who fits no part of that description – arrived to meet her and her animals. “Do horses spit?” he asked, peering into the face of one of them , which looked like it might answer in the positive.

Stars Go Racing is a quite obviously ridiculous. In the time allowed to them, none of the six celebrities (Linda Martin, Ella McSweeney, Alan Quinlan and Mike Denver are also involved) could possibly have enough influence on a horse’s training regime to turn it into a winner. Their job will be to look good, tell a few jokes and hopefully do something stupid along the way.

But it’s a bit of harmless summer fun as well. The trainers are interesting people with fascinating backgrounds, and it might be interesting to hear a bit more about them. The celebrities are all likeable enough, too. I’ll never watch it again, but it should hold its own in the ratings. That, sadly, is what it’s all about these days.

Some viewers watching Stars Go Racing might have thought to themselves that the last thing the world needs now is another reality show featuring well-known people making fools of themselves. They’re probably right.

What the word definitely doesn’t need right now is yet another Coronation Street documentary about itself. There were enough of those last December when the series celebrated its 50th birthday.

The Corrie Years (ITV1) was the first of a three-part series looking back over the best storylines from those five decades. Last night, it featured plotlines that caused nationwide controversy. And so, yet again, we heard about the Ken/Deirdre/Mike love triangle, Deirdre’s incarceration after being taken in by a conman and Sarah Louise’s teenage pregnancy.

Fans of the show, who won’t have found anything new here, might argue that Corrie should be beefing up some if its current plots rather than smugly congratulating itself on past successes.

It retains the humour which makes it one of the funniest shows on British and Irish television, but after the excitement of the 50th anniversary tram crash last year, it’s become just a touch dull, in need of some new energy.

Could I propose a new reality show called Hacks Go Soaping, in which six completely unknown tv reviewers would work with a Corrie scriptwriter to develop a ratings busting story? It sounds like a winner to me.

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