Thursday 14 November 2019

TV Review: This new RTÉ comedy is no laughing matter

Lacking in laughs: Characters from ‘The Centre’
Lacking in laughs: Characters from ‘The Centre’

John Boland

Down through the years, RTÉ's unrelenting attempts to make us laugh have been no laughing matter. Indeed, Glen Killane, the managing director of RTÉ television, acknowledged as much this week when he conceded that "not so long ago RTÉ was considered a bit of a joke when it came to comedy" – though he then brightly added: "I think that has changed."

Plainly, he hadn't got round to watching The Centre (RTÉ2), which began a six-week run on Monday night and whose opening instalment was so abysmal that it made the chuckle-free concoctions of the channel's usual in-house favourites seems like models of comic finesse.

For comedy to have any chance of working, you have to believe in the characters, no matter how lunatic they are (as in Father Ted), but the people inhabiting this rundown community centre on the outskirts of Dublin weren't even remotely credible, and I'm not just talking about the pre-op transexual played by Gary Cooke, a grotesque caricature that's already been generating online outrage.

There was also prissily repressed manager Teresa, who confided to camera (yes, that jaded old mockumentary device): "I've always had one gaping hole I haven't been able to fill, but I'm delighted to announce I've recently found a man to fill that gaping hole." Needless to say, she wasn't talking about sex, but the leering innuendo was indicative of the general level of invention.

The inventors in question were Marion Cullen and Warren Meyler, the latter a long-time collaborator with Kathleen Lynch, whose Traveller character Bernie Walsh was reprised here to entirely mirthless effect. But that was true of all the stereotypes on display, though I found it a mercy that the aggressively in-your-face Jennifer Maguire, who was playing a convert to Islam (don't ask), was shrouded throughout in a burkha.

The whole thing, though, deserves a shroud of its own.

RTÉ2 isn't much better at choosing comedy imports. I wrote last week about the lame Brooklyn Nine-Nine and the tacky Mixology, and now comes Super Fun Night, which takes up the singles theme of the latter with a trio of supposedly undateable women in search of fulfilment. Fat may be a feminist issue, but here it's just used as the source of jokes that aren't amusing and that demean the characters.

The show was poorly received both by critics and by audiences when it screened in the US last year and it's obvious why, though clearly RTÉ has opted to think otherwise.

Mind you, I'm unable to share the cross-channel enthusiasm for Rev, which has begun a new season on BBC. Tom Hollander is endearing as the vicar of a dwindling London parish and the always excellent Olivia Colman is fine as his wife, yet for all its wry awareness of multicultural issues and its occasionally profane dialogue, there's something quaint and a bit smug about it, as if you're watching an episode of Oh, Brother with Derek Nimmo using some rude words.

And WIA (BBC2), which uses some of the main characters and players from the very funny Twenty-Twelve, is a bit too inbred and timid for its own good. That's probably because the setting has changed from the London Olympics to the BBC and you have the distinct sense of punches being pulled. But Hugh Bonneville, who plays the corporation's new head of values without quite knowing what the job is supposed to be about, is always good value and the series may well get more pointed and funny as it proceeds.

Ann-Marie Brennan's hour-long TV3 documentary, A Silent Killer: Savita's Story, was a forensically sober account of what exactly happened to Savita Halappanavar from the moment she was admitted to University Hospital Galway in October 2012 until she died there seven days later.

There was mention of the ensuing outcry and of the furious debates that followed from opposing interest groups, but the film commendably kept to its brief of chronicling both her worsening condition and the communication and other lapses that led to her death and it was all the more powerful and affecting for its narrative clarity and restraint. Impressive, too, was the speed with which TV3 aired The Search for Malaysia Flight 370, written and produced by Brian Foley and narrated by Mark Cagney. Nothing new, of course, was learned about this mysterious and terrible event, but the known facts were expertly marshalled and the story was engrossingly told.

TV3 is definitely upping its game

Also engrossing was The Missing (Channel 4), one of whose three stories involved the disappearance of young English mother Esra Ozgur, who drove to the shops from her Clondalkin home one morning in 2011 and vanished, her car subsequently found on the prom at the foot of Bray Head.

Since then, her sister Berna has made 15 trips to Ireland, all of them fruitless. The film showed her being advised by the garda in charge of the case that Esra may well have committed suicide off Bray Head, a suggestion that angered Berna, who remains convinced that she was abducted. Her plight and helplessness were affecting.

The same channel's The Park, set in Killarney National Park, is filmed and directed by Tomás Seoighe and scripted and narrated by Dick Warner and is beautifully shot and informative.

Den of equity

The Masters of the Universe are back or, to put it another way, Dragon's Den (RTÉ1) has returned for a new series.

And if you doubt the awesome status of the judges, presenter Richard Curran is on hand to set you right.

Gavin Duffy's a "shrewd and successful investor", Barry O'Sullivan created "a billion-dollar technology business", Ramona Nicholas "runs a multi-million-euro group of companies", while Peter Casey's entrepreneurial accomplishments have a "global" reach. With financial titans like this at our beck and call, how did we ever get ourselves into such an economic mess?

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