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Sunday 17 February 2019

News just in – it's an Irish 'South Park' for the post-pub crowd

All the president's men: The first episode of 'Newsbag' sees Barack Obama being accidentally kidnapped by the clueless trio Moss, Lenny and Gig
All the president's men: The first episode of 'Newsbag' sees Barack Obama being accidentally kidnapped by the clueless trio Moss, Lenny and Gig

Joe O'Shea

It's the first-ever homegrown "animated sit-com" aimed at an adult Irish audience. And viewers of a sensitive disposition should probably look away now.

TV3's new animation series, Newsbag, makes its debut next weekend on the 3e channel, with 10 half-hour episodes in the late-night Saturday "post-pub" slot.

Set in a Dublin-based online news operation, it follows the adventures of Moss, Lenny and Gig, three clueless new-media chancers working for a deranged Aussie tech-millionaire who is in Ireland for the tax breaks.

And it is firmly in the tradition of adult cartoons from Beavis and Butt-Head to South Park and Family Guy, a little dumb, very crass and either incredibly offensive or hilariously out there, depending mainly on whether you are in possession of student ID.

Episode one sets the tone, seeing the three lads covering the latest Obama visit to Ireland, with instructions to get a photo of Michelle Obama's boobs.

The clueless trio end up accidentally kidnapping the president, bringing him on a drunken sight-seeing tour to Paedophile Island (an offshore safari destination stocked with paedophile priests) and ending the night with the naked president stuffed into the fridge in their flat.

Further episodes are due to cover issues such as Twitter trolls and the dangers of drink, camera-phones and social media.

Produced by Icehouse Media – an offshoot of the internationally successful children's animation company Brown Bag Films – Newsbag comes from writer and director Gerard Barrett, who earlier this year gave us the critically applauded Irish feature film Pilgrim Hill. And as Newsbag executive producer Darragh O'Connell says, it is made with a very specific audience in mind.

"The target audience is Irish, 18 to 25, maybe a little bit older. It's definitely aimed at the after-hours, post-pub crowd," says Darragh.

"The creator, Gerard Barrett, is a young guy who wanted to reflect the kind of humour that a lot of his friends would have, the way they would talk about current events.

"Yes, it might offend some, but it is on at 10 o'clock at night, there will be warnings beforehand. And we think there is an undercurrent of truth to a lot of the comedy."

O'Connell points to a recent documentary which uncovered proposals considered by the Catholic Church in the US (in the 1960s) to buy a Caribbean island to which they could exile priests with "abnormal sexual tendencies".

"So we saw that documentary and that was partly the inspiration for the island. But of course this is comedy, this is satirical, it's not meant to be taken literally."

O'Connell admits that a lot of the humour may be considered offensive to some and certainly close to the bone. But part of the brief was to be provocative.

"We took the view that a lot of Irish comedies haven't worked in the past because they didn't go far enough. Then you look at the likes of The Savage Eye, a show that is prepared to take risks. And people respond to that.''

Newsbag has been produced by a small, Dublin-based team, working on what the producers admit is a tight budget, with financial support from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the Irish Film Board.

"Doing animation for an adult audience tends to be more about the writing and less about the spectacle you'll see in more mainstream cartoons. So Newsbag tends to wear its, shall we say, limited budget on its sleeve. But we think that's part of its charm and it's really more about the writing," says O'Connell.

TV3's director of content Jeff Ford admits his new animation is "bound to upset some people".

"It's not going to be for everyone. It probably will offend some, including President Obama. But it is aimed very firmly at a late-night, younger demographic," says Ford.

The station's commissioning executive Owen McArdle says this is a first for Irish TV.

"The humour is certainly on the edge. But this hasn't been done in Ireland before so, in that respect, it's a bit of a landmark event."

Animation in Ireland is booming, with companies such as Brown Bag winning major commissions from the likes of Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

The adult-orientated cartoon genre is now a hugely lucrative sector. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane earns €35m per year from that show alone.

And for the industry in Ireland, which has found success with the likes of The Happy Hugglemonsters and The Amazing World Of Gumball, producing successful animated sitcoms for grown-ups may take a major attitude adjustment.

Newsbag makes its debut on 3e next Saturday night at 10pm.

Irish Independent

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