Sunday 26 January 2020

Three cheers for Pat, Brendan and Daniel

The usual suspects aren't all bad, writes Darragh McManus yyyyy: y Pat Shortt

There is surely some sort of irony here: critics who constantly bemoan the lack of originality in TV programming, churning out the same unoriginal article year after year in which to bemoan it.

RTÉ this week announced their Christmas schedule, and unsurprisingly, the commentariat were up in arms. "What rubbish", they shrieked. "Is this why I'm paying my licence?" they thundered. "I'll be switching off," they ominously threatened.

There were three main sources of their ire: Brendan O'Carroll, Pat Shortt and Daniel O'Donnell. (Not coincidentally, these are three of the main sources of their ire for the rest of the year too.)

O'Carroll's barmy Dubbalin matriarch Mrs Brown returns with both a Christmas special and the start of a new series. Shortt brings back his dopey garda Mattie for what are described as "comic misadventures". And Daniel marks his 50th birthday with an interview and contributions from friends and family.

None of it is really my cup of tea to be honest, but it all sounds quite harmless -- a bit of light entertainment. Two comedies and a popular singer: hardly something to get your knickers in a twist, right? Well, unless you're someone with very serious views on these things.

Here are some of the cattier comments made this week: "A birthday celebration of the genius of Daniel O'Donnell, who'll be sharing his thoughts, such as they are."

"Will either of them (Shortt and O'Carroll) be any funnier than before?"

"You can now tell your boss you are happy to work this Christmas."

"Sitting like a smug, foul-mouthed angel at the top of the grotty RTÉ tree is Brendan O'Carroll, who'll be inflicting a seasonal special of the wretched Mrs Brown's Boys upon us. A couple of branches below comes Pat Shortt, with another bag of 'hilarity' slung over his shoulder in the lumpy shape of Mattie, his cringe-inducingly awful comedy."

Miaow. Saucer of milk for table nine, et cetera et cetera.

The groaning and moaning of the chattering classes would almost be funny if it wasn't so grindingly predictable. Slagging off RTÉ's output is something of a national sport, which is fine -- RTÉ can stand up for itself -- but must we go through this tedious dance, yet again, every year?

Criticising O'Carroll, Shortt and O'Donnell is pointless, because it has all been said a million times before. You hear these whinges so often, you fear you're going to start dreaming about them.

Yes, okay, we get the message: you don't like their work. You don't rate them. You prefer other things. Got it. Say no more. Please, for the love of God, say no more.

We see the same repetition every year during the Eurovision or the Rose of Tralee, when unimaginative writers take easy critical pot-shots. Really, what is the point of doing this? It's the quintessential waste of paper and ink.

Also, people need to relax a bit about the whole thing. It's just TV. This isn't the fall of western civilisation we're talking about here -- it's mainstream entertainment, candy for the brain, going out on a free-to-air channel.

There's no need to have a big cry about it. If you don't like what's on RTÉ, watch another channel. Or better yet, turn off the "methadone metronome" altogether and do something better with your time, like reading a book or having a conversation with someone.

But most important of all is the fact that it doesn't matter a lick what any critic says: the viewers like these programmes and entertainers. The three named have been hugely successful for decades and it's hard to argue with that.

Brendan O'Carroll, for one, has released several bestselling books and DVDs, done sell-out stage tours and even directed a film: something most of us will never even dream of doing, let alone achieve.

And Mrs Brown's Boys is produced, not only by the much-maligned RTÉ, but by the revered BBC, always held up as the paragon of broadcasting excellence. The show airs, furthermore, on BBC One, their flagship channel, not one of the digital offshoots. It even got a good review in the Guardian newspaper.

Pat Shortt broke new ground in comedy with D'Unbelie-vables during the 1990s, starred in the Cannes-winning drama Garage, and made Killinaskully into one of Irish TV's top-selling brands, with several series aired and DVD collections released.

And as for poor old Daniel, well, the numbers don't lie -- over 10 million albums sold worldwide; at one stage he had seven of the top 10 bestselling music DVDs in the UK. This year he set a record by becoming the first artist with an album in the UK charts every year for 24 consecutive years. And by every account he's a lovely fella too.

It's not just a case of stats, though. While many of us don't particularly love these performers, they're not without all merit. O'Carroll's early Late Late Show appearances, many now available on YouTube, are still fairly funny: like a more likeable, though equally foul-mouthed, Roy Chubby Brown.

Most of the D'Unbelievables stuff, especially D'Video, is hilarious, although the humour mightn't translate so well if you didn't grow up in rural Ireland. Even Killinaskully and Mrs Brown's Boys, while often pretty lame, have some good jokes: they're certainly funnier than the award-winning likes of Gavin and Stacey, which is literally laugh-free.

Besides, there's a long tradition of daft, blunt, mainstream comedy being whole-heartedly embraced by the people, even as the critics are holding their noses in disdain.

Benny Hill was loved by millions solely because he had a funny little fat face and ran around after girls in bikinis at high-speed. Even the French, those Sartre-reading, philosophising sophisticates, had an "amour fou" for Jerry Lewis, whose entire shtick consisted of crossing his eyes and using a silly voice.

And you know what? That was kind of funny. So maybe we could tone down the snootiness, delete the "why Brendan O'Carroll must never appear on TV again" article from the hard drive, settle down on the couch and relax. You never know -- you might even enjoy yourself.

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