Tuesday 20 March 2018

RTÉ Two's doomed attempts at comedy are no laughing matter

Just not funny: Eric Lalor and Eva-Jane Gaffney as Johnny and Jenny in 'The Commute'
Just not funny: Eric Lalor and Eva-Jane Gaffney as Johnny and Jenny in 'The Commute'

John Boland

Introducing The Commute, the continuity announcer solemnly declared that "we're all about keeping it real here on RTÉ Two" before assuring us that "it doesn't get more real than this". So I readied myself for a fly-on-the-wall exposé of the daily hell experienced by people on their way to and from work.

Instead, I found myself watching the latest of the channel's doomed attempts at comedy. Throughout the previous few weeks, RTÉ Two had tormented us on Monday nights with Father Figure, Damo and Ivor and The Mario Rosenstock Show, and now the same nights are being filled with the equally mirthless trio of Republic of Telly, The Fear and The Commute.

Written and directed by David Coffey, The Commute featured three fictional couples as they drove into and out of work and/or college. It was Valentine's Day and they were bickering about what their other halves had or hadn't done to celebrate the occasion.

That was the set-up, somewhat let down by the fact that, apart from having nothing even faintly amusing to say to each other, the couples made no sense as pairings – two of the guys dressed in schoolboy garb and behaved like schoolboys too, so that you had to keep telling yourself they were with their lovers rather than their mammies.

The dialogue made no logical sense, either, so that when in the first few minutes Johnny, out of nowhere, said to Jenny, "Listen, hon, nobody knows the back of your head like I do" and she retorted "You're disgusting", you had no idea what occasioned his remark other than a scriptwriter's desire to be gratuitously provocative.

That suspicion was confirmed when another of the guys suggested a Valentine's Day blowjob, and partner Suzanne scoffed "Craig, you got me a Moleskine notebook, not a f**king Ferrari" and when Niamh told Fergal that when they got home "I could do things that you've only ever imagined doing".

Does anyone in a long-term relationship talk to their partners like that? Well, clearly they do in RTÉ comedy land. "Oh, Lord," said Niamh at one point, and that was my overall reaction too.

Meanwhile, my reaction to Jennifer Maguire continues to be one of complete mystification, which made me doubly mystified when her appearance in the new season of Republic of Telly was immediately followed by her dominance of The Fear, which has also been allowed another outing.

In the first scene of the latter, a candid camera show that's startlingly aggressive and unfunny, Maguire tried to persuade a very angry woman that a noisy boiler had to be installed in her kitchen, only to be met with the furious response: "I'm going to punch your f**king head in!"

In another scene, Maguire repeatedly retorted "F**k off!" to a young guy in a bus station, while in yet another an unwitting male participant in a supposed focus group meeting was asked to enact a variety of sexual positions with another guy. We were a long way from Mike Murphy land, Toto.

Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh made an ill-advised appearance on this witless show, just as she did on the same night's Republic of Telly, where new presenter Kevin McGahern's opening gag involved vomiting on her dress when she greeted him. Such are the requirements of RTÉ celebrity these days.

McGahern, who has replaced Dermot Whelan, was no more engaging than his predecessor, while the supposedly smart putdowns of RTÉ shows and of media people managed to be even more inbred and unamusing than in earlier seasons, though RTÉ has clearly declared open season on Pat Kenny, who was jeered at recently in The Mario Rosenstock Show and was derided here again. Not with any point or wit, though. Bláthnaid Ní

Ní Chofaigh popped up yet again as the presenter of Ireland's Search and Rescue (RTÉ One). Didn't Grainne Seoige host this show last time around? To be honest, I can't be certain as it was all so earnest and tedious, and it's just as laboured under ni Chofaigh.

Yes, our rescue services do crucial and courageous work and have saved many people's lives, but this series comes across both as manufactured melodrama and over-hyped PR, not helped by a script bogged down in clichés.

In the 10-part Dracula (Sky Living), Jonathan Rhys Meyers boldly goes where Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and scores of other fanged Transylvanians have gone before.

Here, though, he's reincarnated as enigmatic American tycoon Alexander Grayson who descends on Victorian London to avenge the killing of his beloved wife two centuries earlier by a sinister cabal called The Order of the Dragon.

The villains are a group of shady businessmen, all members of the order and all presumably doomed to meet the same grisly retribution that was meted out to one of them in the opening episode.

There's also Victoria Smurfit as the rapacious Lady Jane, who seethes and smoulders and has a nice way with innuendoes – told by the Count that he has his own box at the opera, she replies: "I feel you'd enjoy the performance much more in mine."

A pity, then, that there's no visible chemistry between herself and Rhys Meyers, who delivers his lines woodenly, as if he's reluctantly taking part in a school play. It all looks sumptuous, though.

Irish Independent

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