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Outside the box

The Walshes

BBC4, March

A promising new Irish sitcom co-written by Graham Linehan and set in the 1980s.

Graham Linehan's sitcom credentials are second to none, and the writer of 'Father Ted' and 'The IT Crowd' has joined forces with Irish comedy troupe 'Diet of Worms' to create a new show.

'The Walshes', which will air in three episodes next month on BBC4, is set in the late 1980s and follows the fortunes of the loud but essentially lovable Walsh family, who live in the fictional west Dublin suburb of Strollinstown.

Taxi driver Tony (Niall Gaffney) and his wife Carmel (Philippa Dunne) live in a small, boxy home with their two teenage children Ciara (Amy Stephenson) and Rory (Rory Connolly).

The show begins in 1987, and then, as now, times are hard and the children are in no hurry to leave the parental nest, especially when Ciara marries her charisma-free boyfriend Craig (Shane Langan) and quickly has a baby with him.

It all sounds promising, and if 'The Walshes' is anything like as funny as the web series that it's based on, it should be worth checking out.

In 2010, the Diet of Worms team made a hilarious series of skits called 'The Taste of Home', in which the changing fortunes of the Walsh family were examined through chaotic home videos filmed by an invisible Uncle Eamon.

The episodes started in 1987 and ran through till 1990, and were full of clever cultural references and moments of pure absurdity, all acted out with fearless gusto by Niall Gaffney and Co.

The fulcrum of it all was Tony, the know-it-all dad with a bad moustache and a weakness for practical jokes. His mild obnoxiousness is compensated for by Carmel, a self-effacing Irish mammie.

Their daughter Ciara seems a bit slow on the uptake, and their son Rory is constantly saying he's starving and producing a sausage on a fork from nowhere.

In the best episode of 'Taste of Home', they magnificently satirised Italia 90, when people who didn't have a clue about football became experts overnight.

"You can't be the manager of Ireland if you weren't born in Ireland," Tony insists to Craig, and they end up settling the argument by conducting their own penalty shoot-out in the back garden.

You should check it out on YouTube.

The Real Housewives of New York City

Netflix, ITV2, March

Hilarious reality show investigating the lives of rich, self-absorbed socialites.

It is with bowed head and appropriate shame that I admit to enjoying this daft and tinny reality series that's the funniest of the 'Real Housewives' franchise.

The show, which began in 2008, follows the privileged and vacuous lives of a group of would-be Manhattan socialites who spend most of their time falling out with each other.

It's always hard with these shows to figure out what's scripted and what's real, and many of the New York housewives' social encounters seem excruciatingly fake. But some of the arguments are so nasty, they must be real – and that's what makes this crazy show such fun.

Though there have been plenty of personnel changes over the show's six seasons, the original housewives were Ramona Singer, Bethenny Frankel, Alex McCord, Jill Zarin and LuAnn de Lesseps.

They were, at the best of times, a hysterical bunch, obsessed with money and status and getting one over on each other. Queen bee was LuAnn, a rather superior former model who had married a French Count, wrote books about etiquette and insisted on being addressed as "countess".

When she got divorced, and one of the housewives' husbands jokingly called her "countless", LuAnn was not amused.

The housewives' talent for bickering is extraordinary, and at times it's hard to keep track of who's not talking to whom.

Things really heated up in season two when leggy model Kelly Killoren Bensimon joined the cast and began fighting with absolutely everyone.

Ramona Singer, the only original housewife still involved in the show, has an endearing habit of dancing on tables when the mood takes her, and Bethenny Frankel cleverly used the show to launch a series of businesses, and her engagement to Jason Hoppy spawned a spin-off reality show.

She recently divorced, but the cameras weren't there for that event.

If you think that western civilisation is doomed, 'The Real Housewives of New York City' is unlikely to convince you otherwise, but it is oddly compelling. The first four seasons are currently available to Netflix subscribers, and season six is due to pop up on ITV2 later this month.


BBC3, Tuesday

A reality show about hairdressing? Strange, but true.

A few months back when I heard it was in the works, I highlighted 'Hair' as having possibly the most banal premise in the history of TV talent shows. Now that it's actually here, I don't think I'll be able to resist watching it.

Starting this Tuesday on BBC3, 'Hair' will put a group of young hairdressers through their paces under the watchful eyes of experts Alain Pichon and Denise McAdam. Mr Pichon, a celebrity stylist, cuts the hair of David Beckham, but Ms McAdam, a royal hairdresser, has that beat. They will set the challenges for the eight contestants, who, intriguingly, are all amateurs.

To make things even less interesting, the participants will often work with mannequin heads, though we're assured that the hair they'll cut is human.

They'll be asked to perform such feats as incorporating a quiff at least seven centimetres high into a hairstyle, perfecting a one-length haircut, and let their imaginations flow during the weekly freestyle round. In this first show, they're asked to create a haircut with a fairytale theme, which results in all sorts of extraordinary and vertiginous dos.

Maybe 'Hair' will be great, but I can't quite get my head around how they're going to fill an hour with hairdressing. And the show will have six episodes, so God only knows how they're going to keep things interesting.

The Tonight Show

CNBC, weeknights

America's oldest chat show freshens up its act.

A rather sombre changing of the guard took place earlier this month on America's longest-running chat show. 'The Tonight Show' has been chugging along in various forms for 60 years, and since 1992 has been hosted by Jay Leno, an affable New Yorker once considered one of the greatest stand-up comedians on the US circuit.

After he took over 'Tonight', he quickly made the show's trademark opening monologue his own, mixing topical and mildly controversial references with perfectly delivered one-liners.

As a chat show host, Leno purred as smoothly as the engine of one of his beloved vintage cars, but for some years now he's been accused of being old-fashioned.

In 2009, NBC replaced Jay Leno with Conan O'Brien, a move that quickly backfired when 'The Tonight Show's' ratings began tumbling. Leno returned in triumph in 2010, and quickly moved back ahead of his deadly rival David Letterman in the ratings war.

But last year, NBC announced that Leno would be leaving 'Tonight' in early 2014, and on February 6, a visibly emotional Jay hosted his last show. His guests included his – and Ireland's – favourite singer, Garth Brooks, and his first 'Tonight Show' guest, Billy Crystal, who performed a satirical song in his honour.

Leno kept up a brave face throughout, and only at the end of the show did his emotions get the better of him. "I didn't know anybody over there," he said when explaining why he'd never moved from NBC to another network.

Then he choked up as he added: "These are the only people I've ever known."

His replacement, Jimmy Fallon, is a talented and confident ex-'Saturday Night Live' regular with cheesy good looks and a gift for mimicry.

He looks like a good fit, but it's hard not to feel sorry for the superannuated Leno, who on one of his final shows joked: "I read today that NBC said they would like me to be just like Bob Hope – dead."

Weekend Magazine