Sunday 18 August 2019

TV: Toy soldiers... lining up for the Late Late Toy Show

As the broadcasting event of the year bears down on us and sundry celebrities talk nostalgia, our reporter needs a sherry to steady his nerves

Ryan Tubridy enjoying the Late Late Toy Show
Ryan Tubridy enjoying the Late Late Toy Show
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Like the rest of the festive hoo-ha, The Late Late Toy Show seems to get earlier each year. And little wonder. While beating up on RTE chat show hosts is a type of national sport for the rest of the year, come the Toy Show, critics generally put the kid (ahem) gloves on and top up the wine.

While Pat Kenny's Toy Show MO was once described as "Robocop officiating at a child's communion", Tubs must count the days until he can don a silly jumper. Under his stewardship, the toy show has the antic madness of the Saturday-morning children's TV of yore - wildly non sequitur links (from Darth Vader to girl on violin, for instance), guests 'corpsing' live on air, unscripted tears and a general air of 'anything might happen'.

Over the last couple of years, he has gone on a passive-aggressive make-believe massacre of the audience (paging Dr Freud!), appeared as a Jack In The Box, made several clever gags that went over the tops of the little cherubs' heads - negative equity, water charges etc - and scored the coup of getting everyone's favourite, Ed Sheeran, to surprise a young fan. And amid the pageant of consumerism, he has even made the odd token reference to the competitive pricing of some of the toys (subtext, "save some of your hard-earned cash for our phone lines").

It's been a continuing triumph for him and RTE. The six most-watched programmes since 2000 have been the Toy Shows of the last six years (ads for the show run at around €32,000) and the Toy Show last year obliterated TV3 in the ratings, although the Ballymount broadcaster will hope to have gained ground this year, with the new line-up of former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh and Brian Ormond.

The hosts come and go but anyone who reviews the Toy Show has to concede that the kids are the real stars. And this can be part of the problem. Some of them appear billie-barried to within an inch of their lives, as savvy and coached as politicians running for office. Some of them have been named after stars like Rihanna (which really makes us feel old).

We wanted the non-starry children, we think to ourselves, the ones who get so dazzled by the shiny things that they forget they are on TV and start wandering around the studio, the ones who weren't lisping lines that they rehearsed earlier.

The youngsters who really light up the show are those who show moments of wonderment, such as little chubby cheeked Domhnall, whose gasping, wide-eyed awestruck reaction to being presented with real-life Robbie Keane made the whole thing worthwhile a couple of years ago.

Half of the point of the whole thing is the nostalgia-fest for adults who remember the great Gaybo days and RTE has capitalised on this in Toy Shows past, with items focussing on the toys we played with as children (Bosco, whose voice sounded like it has gone through a reluctant puberty, presented one such item).

This year the nostalgia begins even before the show itself, with a three-part miniseries, The Late Late Toy Show Unwrapped, which will air on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and feature reminiscences from the likes of Imelda May and Brendan O'Carroll. There have been a few details released about The Toy Show itself as well. We know it will feature Leah and Noel Kirwan, a brother and sister from Carlingford, who became internet sensations this summer when a video of them singing together went viral. It promises to be magical.

And for those of us still not feeling it, let's just pray to Baby Jesus we're nice and tipsy on the sherry by the time they bring out the Frozen dolls.

The Late Late Toy Show Unwrapped, Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7pm on RTE1. The Late Late Toy Show, Friday at 9.35pm.

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