Thursday 18 October 2018

RTE comedy? You're having a laugh...

In my New Year hopes for the year ahead, I implored RTE2 not to burden the viewer with any more self-styled comedy shows, but did anyone in Montrose heed my pleas? Of course not.

Indeed, even before that column was published, RTE2 had sneaked in two end-of-the-year comedy programmes -- a collection of sketches called Your Bad Self, which I sat through in stony silence, and an hour-long show in which Katherine Lynch's ego was allowed to run rampant in front of an audience of minor celebrities.

And no sooner has the new year begun than RTE2 is once again trying to persuade the Irish nation that comedic silk purses can be made out of cows' ears. First up was This is Nightlive, a spoof of a news programme, with TV3's news service as its obvious intended target.

Some 14 years ago on Channel 4's The Day Today, Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci viciously parodied the conventions and techniques of news broadcasting, taking particular glee in sending up ludicrous graphics, showy editing and the bloated egos of presenters, notably Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge, who started life here as a gruesomely awful sports broadcaster.

John Ryan and Cilian Fennell, the creators of This is Nightlive, are obviously aiming for the same kind of impact, but they miss it by a mile, partly because they seem uncertain about what tone to adopt and partly because the delivery -- in direction, editing and script -- is so lame.

Ryan plays the smarmy and hollow anchorman Johnny Hansom and he looks and sounds the part. Indeed, he has everything going for him except a good script, for which he has no one to blame but himself, since he co-wrote it with Fennell.

I chuckled a few times, mainly at the rolling news strip along the bottom of the screen which contained such breaking items as "Middle-aged man still won't shut up about Leonard Cohen concert, say friends" and "Katie Melua admits she may have been wrong about number of bicycles in Beijing". Elsewhere, though, I resigned myself to willing the woman impersonating TV3's Lorraine Keane and the guy taking off the same channel's Martin King to be funnier than the script allowed them.

Maybe it will improve and certainly it seemed a masterpiece when set beside the same channel's Project Ha Ha, which reduced me to stupefaction. This, apparently, is the first in a series of "experimental" comedy shows in which various would-be jokesters are given their head, but on the evidence of this opening show there's an irrefutable case for conducting such experiments in private.

There were nine sketches here, all of them taking place in an office corporation called Hardcastle, where for some reason most of the staff spoke with either American or Australian accents. It began with a prostitute lying dead in a boardroom, presumably murdered by one or more of the executives, who tried to dispose of the body. A little later her carcass was still being carried around while employees at the water cooler obsessed about women's bottoms. Indeed, the tone throughout was misogynistic and unpleasant.

A lot of time and effort obviously went into the making of these sketches, but as there was neither rhyme nor reason to any of them and as there wasn't even the hint of a laugh discernible anywhere on the horizon, all the viewer could ponder was that someone in RTE looked at this stuff and deemed it worthy of transmission.

For the record, Dead Cat Bounce is the name of the outfit who dreamt it up and it took 51 people to bring it to the screen.

Only 41 people were involved in The Lucy Kennedy Show (also RTE2). Newscaster Bryan Dobson was among them, conducting a cod-interview with the presenter, who was pretending to be Amy Winehouse, though life's too short to explain why. Indeed, all I could think of was that here's a man who has spent his professional life earning our respect with his authority and gravitas and is then willing to risk forfeiting it all on such unfunny codology.

But then the entire show was codology, and meaningless codology at that. There was an interview with Ryan Tubridy (who, need I say, has also interviewed Lucy Kennedy), but nothing got said, and there was an interview with three comics and then with another comic, but nothing got said there either.

Ms Kennedy's father was on hand to play the piano and provide a few links, but we weren't told why -- we weren't even told that he'd once written the Irish entry for Eurovision.

The makers of Seinfeld famously described their creation as "a show about nothing" and here was another show about nothing -- though, alas, minus the laughs you got from Seinfeld.

On the first All-Ireland Talent Show (RTE1), judge Shane Lynch was the arbiter for the Dublin region and he loved almost everything he saw and heard, despite the viewer's suspicion that the producers had simply gone out into the street and rounded up the first 30 people they came across. Yes, they were that bad.

In the end, Shane plumped for five to remain in the contest. Most of these were either black or East European. I'm all for multiculturalism, but are there no authentic jackeens left in Dublin?

I'll hurriedly bypass the charmless couple who emigrated to Marbella in The Great Escape (RTE1) and the laboured efforts of Diarmuid Gavin in Blood of the Irish (RTE1) to explain where we all came from and instead I'll raise a new year glass to the BBC for insisting that programmes of substance and interest are still worth making.

BBC2's The Antiques Rogue Show was a terrific hour-long drama based on the story of a family of suburban art forgers. Funny and poignant, it had brilliant performances from Peter Vaughan and Liz Smith as the unlikely masterminds.

At the time of writing, The Diary of Anne Frank (BBC1) is still running nightly at 7 o'clock, but I've already seen enough of it to be enthralled. Beautifully adapted by Deborah Moggach, it features a wonderful central performance from Ellie Kendrick as the doomed but sparky, impatient and mischievous Anne.

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