Tuesday 16 January 2018

The Grapes of Mirth? don't make me laugh

Mattie (RTE1)

Do The Right Thing (RTE2)

The consumer show (RTE1)

Freefall (RTE1)

Comedians like to tell you that there are no taboo areas for humour -- that if the gag is funny enough and is delivered with sufficient panache, it somehow transcends its source material, no matter how troubling the subject might be.

That's largely true because, while I can't recall ever finding jokes about rape or child abuse anything but inherently offensive, I've laughed at 9/11 and concentration camp gags that should be just as out of bounds and that others would deem so.

Nothing, of course, is as divisive as comedy -- one man's Billy Connolly is another's Bernard Manning -- but the bottom line for me is that the joke must be so good in itself and so true to recognisable human behaviour that its sexual, racial, social or religious underpinnings become either secondary or irrelevant.

When that's not the case, the gag becomes either outrageous or embarrassing. Take, for instance, Pat Shortt's new sitcom, Mattie (RTE1), which concerns an idiotic country garda stationed in Limerick.

Towards the end of this week's first episode, the local mayor was officiating at the opening of a new business venture and in his speech he thanked all those who'd been "working like blacks to get this factory here". Beside him on the platform was a black executive, who gave him a glowering look.

That was the beginning and end of the joke, which was so pathetically lame that you were torn between finding it gratuitously offensive and thinking it simply too sad for words. Certainly the rest of the 25 minutes were the latter as Shortt (in his role as creator, producer, co-writer and lead actor) contrived situations and encounters that made no logical, psychological, dramatic or comedic sense. But if you couldn't believe what you were looking at, neither could you credit what you were hearing.

"Haemorrhoids," Mattie intoned, "they're a curse -- they're like a bunch of grapes hangin' off your arse." This was immediately followed by a reaction shot of his female colleague retching as she ate a grape. But why go on? This latest Shortt opus is as dire a comedy as RTE has ever screened, and that's saying something given that it's shown some real bummers down through the years. Has anyone in its light entertainment department got a clue?

Mattie features in Montrose's much-trumpeted new autumn schedule, which this week also offered the first instalment of Do the Right Thing (RTE2), yet another yawn-inducing reality contest, even if this one is masquerading as something more aspirational than the nonsense perpetrated a couple of years back in Failte Towers or that other drivel (the name of which I'm pleased to say I can't recall) involving a ship that sank off the west coast.

Co-hosted by Lucy Kennedy and Baz Ashmawy (now there's a duo), this eight-part series aims to discover, among 50 initial contestants, two with the necessary skills and personal attributes to land a year-long job as an overseas voluntary aid worker.

Or, as Lucy solemnly assured us: "Everything they do this weekend is a test -- a test of character. They may want to save the world but a bad volunteer can make the world worse instead of better."

Self-styled street poet Colm didn't get the chance to explore either of those possibilities because, although he saw himself both as a "peacemaker" and as someone who "can make people smile", one of the stern judges thought him "a bit of a chancer" and so didn't give him a chance.

And although middle-aged Kay was nominated to progress further, her revelation that she was missing her spleen got her a thumbs-down from the show's insurance people. However, ex-property guy Ignatius ("I won't be a victim of this recession") and sales rep Bronagh ("I'm a very driven person") made it to the next round.

The sainted (if not by me) Adi Roche was on hand to lend extra earnestness, but nothing could disguise the fact that here was yet another manufactured contest in which colliding egos will probably feature prominently.

The Consumer Show (RTE1), on the basis of its first outing, doesn't promise to be even that intriguing. Presented by Eddie Hobbs and the estimable Keelin Shanley, the opening instalment squandered the talents of both and was very dreary indeed.

It didn't help that near the start Eddie was allowed to indulge his supposedly comic persona; his stand-up riff on Ryanair's attitude to passengers was tiredly unoriginal.

Nor did it help that Keelin's fretting over the sugar content in children's soft drinks so lacked fangs that she felt obliged to keep reminding viewers that "there's nothing wrong with these products" and that "none of these products is unhealthy in moderation". So what was the point of the item?

Eddie followed with a segment on the insurance demanded of those who buy affordable housing, but as that seemed only relevant to a small minority I wondered at its inclusion.

And a concluding test of the fragility or otherwise of three different mobile phones (dropping them down a toilet, knocking them off a table) was so unprofessionally done as to be just plain silly.

This six-part series can only get better. Or at least I hope it can.

The intricacies of Ireland's financial crisis have always been too much for my feeble brain to comprehend. I know the country's banjaxed and I'm reminded on a daily basis that it's in an even worse state than any of us imagined 24 hours earlier, but if you asked me to say exactly why this is so I'd be left mouthing gibberish.

That, at any rate, was the case until last Monday night when Freefall (RTE1) provided the clearest exposition I've yet encountered of the circumstances that have led to the economic debacle that's now our lot, both globally and nationally.

This excellent film, written and produced by Mike Milotte and directed by Janet Traynor, focused with bracing, if gloomy, clarity on the two weeks in September 2008 that shook both the world and the country, paying particular attention to the free- market mindset that gradually and inevitably caused the slump and the Irish Government's bank guarantee pledge that resulted from it.

Now at least I can hold my own in pub discussions. I might even add my tuppence worth on the Joe Duffy show.


Irish Independent

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