The new rules of watching TV
It used to be a simple source of family entertainment, but, nowadays, watching the goggle box has become a serious business, says Pat Fitzpatrick. These days, you’re no one unless you can boast of having the biggest, smartest telly and the ability to tweet while keeping up with the subtitles on the latest Scandi crime thriller. You’d nearly miss the wireless
There is a new anxiety sweeping the land. Telly Envy. This can often come to light at a class reunion.
You go there, happy with your 40in HD flat screen. You come home furious that the class idiot, Dessie Mulligan, has a 70in curved screen with something called SuperFlappyVision.
Nobody is sure what SuperFlappyVision does, least of all the manufacturers. But Dessie has it — and you want it.
Telly Envy hurts Irish people in a number of ways. The main one is down to the cause of, and the solutions to, all our problems — property.
Research shows that the average Irish house is no longer big enough to hold the average Irish telly.
Even if you break through a wall from the living room to the kitchen, there still won't be enough room for your family and the brand new 1,100in curved-screen TV with SuperFlappyVision 2.0. (Take that, Dessie Mulligan, you dopey hoor.)
There is only one solution. Experts predict that, in two years' time, most Irish families will be watching TV from their car. It couldn't be simpler — you just drive your car up to the living-room window and feed the sound in through the radio. It will be like a |drive-in movie, but with less in-car sex. Unless you are watching Game of Thrones and lose the run of yourselves.
A particularly virulent form of Telly Envy is felt by those without smart TVs. Not being able to use the internet on your telly |is so 2011.
In fact, life is hardly worth living if you can't use Skype on your TV to talk to the youngest fella over in Perth. Mammy insists she feels a little bit closer to him because she can see right up his nose.
There was a time when subtitles were for intellectuals. The only time the average Irish person saw them was if their cousin was in a documentary on TG4 and they needed to know what was going on. Now they are as common as a six-figure salary in the Irish charity sector.
The reason is Scandinavian crime thrillers. You are nobody these days unless you are |au fait with the latest in the genre on BBC4.
The plot typically involves an ugly-sexy lady cop and her male partner, who couldn't be bothered trying to get off with her because he's too depressed.
A lot of people are called Lars, and there is always a missing child. RTE tried an English-language version of this with Amber. It copied all the good bits. There was only one thing missing. The ending.
Nobody is sure if these shows are any good. That's because they air at 9pm on a Saturday night — by which time 93 per cent of the viewers can barely see their hands after all the red wine.
We would warn viewers not to watch these shows with anything less than a skinful on board. We know someone who watched an episode of The Bridge, above right, on a Monday morning after nothing stronger than a coffee. He was depressed for days.
These shows work on two levels. At one level, the viewer is exposed to the bleak darkness at the heart of the Scandinavian social democratic model. At the other level, she is exposed to some incredibly trendy kitchens, and the notion that she should go to Ikea tomorrow and get her shit in order.
We give subtitled Scandinavian thrillers a year before they get the chop from some executive, probably called Lars. Why? Because watching a subtitled show means looking at the TV. And why would you want to do that when you could be on Facebook? Which brings us very nicely to our next section . . .
We are part of the Head-Down generation. And, no, that doesn't mean, “Let's Head Down to the local for a couple of swifties before closing time.” We seem to have grown out of that.
Head Down refers to the fact that a lot of people ‘watch’ TV while also looking at their smartphones or tablets. Some people like to view this as progress.
We like to view it as fully grown adults sitting in their living room, listening to noise coming from a box in the corner. Our grandparents did that in the 1950s. They called it the wireless. Rather than watch a show, a lot of Head Downers like to sit in front of the TV and read what total randomers are saying about it on Twitter and Facebook. Some call this live blogging. We call it a sign that the Dark Lord is among us and it won't be long now.
That said, some shows are perfect for the Head-Down generation. Take EastEnders, where only three things of note ever happen 1: Someone who left the show in a taxi two years ago has suddenly turned up in the Vic with a great tan. 2: Ian Beale's latest venture just went down the jacks. 3: One of the Mitchells has shouted, “Blood is thicker than water, mate, just you wait and see,” at another one of the Mitchells, and then they all go to the Queen Vic.
That doesn't take a lot of concentration, unless you have trouble walking while chewing gum. And it's like War and Peace next to Coronation Street, where only one thing ever happens. 1: You turn on the show and scream, “Jesus, would someone please crash another tram into Corrie and put Gail Platt out of her misery?”
‘MRS BROWN'S BOYS’
You need to be very careful what you say about Mrs Brown’s Boys. One careless remark and you end up on the receiving end of a particularly cruel and unusual torture — a lecture from a member of the Irish intelligentsia. This careless remark could be that you love or hate the show — these lads can get you either way. Obviously, if you say you like the show, that will make them very angry. You'll end up covered in spittle listening to how the show is a revisionist, sexist throwback to Benny Hill.
This will make you want to giggle, remembering how Benny and the baldy old man used to chase around the topless nurses.
Try not to giggle — it will only make them worse. Just sit there and take your medicine. The sooner they stop, the sooner you can |go home and watch Carry On Up the Khyber on ITV4+1.
A far more dangerous remark is that you hate Mrs Brown's Boys. This will allow the member of the Irish intelligentsia to feel clever, superior and pompous. This is home ground for our lad.
He will explain that Brendan O'Carroll is a comic genius because he breaks the fourth wall. The member of the Irish intelligentsia so wants you to ask what breaking the fourth wall means. Don't give him the satisfaction.
Under no circumstances should you say the following: “I like Mrs Brown's Boys because the jokes make me laugh.” That's too simple for an Irish sophisticate. It also touches a very raw nerve with our intellectual friend.
He sat down one night to have a look down his nose at that show. Unfortunately, he ended up laughing spontaneously when the gay son ate a whole fry-up and someone called him a dirty sausage-gobbler.
The guilt is killing him. And he's hoping to take it out on you.
WE WATCH TV
You know the score. You meet an old friend for coffee and she announces, “We are
watching The Wire at the moment.” The “we” comes as a surprise because you had no idea she had become the Queen. OK, you two had lost touch, but you'd imagine you'd have seen something on the news.
Of course, the “we” here is telly “we”. It means, “Myself and my partner are watching a box set together. It is the only time we do anything together, particularly since he went on Twitter. Please let us know of other shows we can watch when this ends, because I'm not sure we know how to have a conversation any more.”
Luckily, the telly knows what we are thinking. That is why most shows come in two kinds. The first kind is Pornographic Fairy Tale. This is, basically, a romcom with loads of bangy-bangy to make sure that himself stays interested. If you're thinking about Game of Thrones, then so are we.
It is a mark of the quality nudity in this show that grown men have continued to watch it, even after they introduced dragons. If you are livid that we gave away the dragon thing then maybe you should stop reading an article about modern TV shows.
The other type of We Watch TV show is Violent-Eye-Candy Thriller. This is where you spend a fortune on an atmospheric, shoot 'em up cop drama that could only appeal to men. And then you cast Matthew McConaughey, in True Detective, below, in the lead role.
Most Irish women would gladly sit and watch three hours of McConaughey eating his breakfast. Irish men don't mind sitting there while the missus imagines herself getting up to all sorts with Matthew McConaughey. Sure, isn't it getting her warmed up, says he. To himself. She doesn't like him saying that stuff out loud.
Here's an idea for a food show. A chef shows you how to cook food. Thank you. And here are the three reasons why it would never work. Nobody gets voted off; there are no tears because your croque-monsieur turned out to be rubbish, and it doesn't offer much scope for middle-class people to sneer down the camera at people who don't grow their own vegetables.
But, more than anything, are you crazy? A chef cooking competently, week after week? Where's the journey? No journey, no show, baby.
In fact, there is a strong chance that you will never again see food cooked properly on TV. The best you can hope for is that Jamie Oliver will make another show called |Bung It In There, Mate, It’ll Probably Do. At least it would give us a break from his recent ventures, which seems to be part of a TV project codenamed Could Someone Please Give My Mate, Jimmy, a Job?
In the end, there will probably just be two types of food show left on TV. The first is |Man v Food Nation-type shows, where guys travel around America reporting on people trying to kill themselves with gigantic BLTs.
These shows allow us to enjoy a triple batter burger on a Tuesday night, safe in the knowledge that we've nothing on those savages across the Atlantic.
The second food show to survive will be Come Dine with Me. The only limit to its longevity is that it could run out of guests. Not to worry — they can have a spin-off called Come Whine with Me. It's just a blank screen with the sarcastic voice-over guy saying things such as, “Bet you would, Margaret.” Bet you'd watch it, too.
There has never been a better time to get into property porn. And, no, we don't mean videoing gangbangs in ghost estates. Although that does sound like something that might appeal to Channel 5. We must give them a call.
No, by property porn we mean it is high time Ireland got a new property show. |I'm An Adult, Get Me Out of Here! was enjoyable during the boom. Until it became I'm an Adult, You'll Never See the Back of Me.
Luckily, nothing stands still in the Irish property game — except the long queues of hopefuls outside the four houses for sale in Dublin. In other words, we're back in the game, baby.
We need a new format to satisfy our cravings. And, no, we don't mean Room to Improve. We've figured out how that one plays out. Dermot and the couple are friendly at first. Dermot falls out with the wife. Dermot falls out with the builder. The quietly attractive blonde quantity surveyor patches things up. Dermot gives the couple a glass box in the back garden. Their friends and neighbours come over and get locked.
What we need is our own version of Location, Location, Location, below. Or, if it's on TG4, Ait, Ait, Ait. Who better as presenters than Kirstie and Phil? Or, as they are better known, Kirstie and the Baldy Fella.
This new show will divide the country. In fact, it will end up with two different titles.
Young professionals and retired public servants watching a couple viewing |terraced red-bricks in Ranelagh will call it, |I Want One Myself. Those in negative equity will have a different name for it — Where Did Those Bastards Get Their Money?
Outside of chat shows, sport is the only thing that can get the whole country watching the same show at the same time. The odd person records big matches and watches them later on. They think that puts them in control. We think they need to adjust their medication.
There is, of course, only one sporting event that matters to every Irish man and woman. And that's the look on Roy Keane's face. Yes, there are still some die-hards who want to watch the Republic of Ireland soccer team playing soccer. The masochists we will always have with us. But the rest of us just want to watch what it means to Roy.
So, here's what we want, RTE. One camera on the pitch for the masochists. And 10 cameras focused constantly on Roy. You could call it Roy Reaction Cam.
We recommend they make it pay-per-view up on the website. That could bring in a fortune and give RTE a handy nest egg in case someone screws up mightily and we end up winning the Eurovision. Actually, let's take this to the next level. Why not dedicate a camera to follow Roy around all the time?
You could use the one that is currently dedicated to following Hector around, recording his every thought. You won't hear many complaints on that one. Even Hector would probably be glad of the break.
We'll eventually get tired of Roy's facial expressions. In fairness, he only has three. The first is the blank expression he uses when the camera lingers on him. This has the slightest hint of a smile, or it could just be Roy baring his teeth at the cameraman. We can never tell.
The second expression is the actual smile he wears while telling a reporter he hasn't a clue about anything. Roy's final expression is his cross face. By the time you've seen that lad, it's too late.
YOU FAT BASTARD
Our nearest neighbours have no problem with nasty diet shows. Or, as they might call it on Channel 4, Let's All Judge the Fat Bastard. But, then, the Brits don't mind cruelty on television. Otherwise, they would have let Bruce Forsyth retire years ago.
Over here, we have to make do with Operation Transformation. That's basically Tidy Towns for people who went a bit crazy on the Elite Teacakes. It's all very nice, but doesn't really appeal to our nasty side.
And, if you think Irish people don't have a nasty side, then you've never overheard a conversation in the ladies jacks at a wedding.
You'd think we would have a nastier diet show by now. Irish people will go to incredible lengths to get on television. Just look at Winning Streak (through your fingers, and only for two minutes at a time — you can't be too careful.)
But, still, no Irish station is willing to make a show called Jesus, Would You Look at the Size of Declan! (And, yes, by station, we mean you, TV3. Or else, TG4 going for broke with Taimid Go Leir ag Gaire ag an Fear Ramhair.) As with most things in Irish life, this is down to our old friend, the pints. Big Declan doesn't mind strangers knowing that he puts curry sauce on his pizza. He does mind Mammy finding out that he can drink 15 pints in an hour.
The questions would never stop after that. We could be back to, “Who said mass, Declan?” Nobody wants that.
This looks like another case where we will rely on the Brits to do our dirty work. It's the latest in a long line of Irish solutions to Irish problems.
We will continue to feed our nasty side with diet shows from across the Irish Sea. So, if you don't mind, we're off to watch Ay Oop, I Just Ate 'alf of Rochdale on Channel 4.
There was a time when the most ignorant thing you could say in public was, “Would you mind taking a look at my piles?” Not any more. Now it's, “Did you see what happened on The Good Wife, above, last night?”
It could be any show — the point is that you tried to discuss a TV show. You clearly just popped in from the Noughties.
The problem is that most people record shows to view them later. Nobody is going to tell them when they should watch a show. They're socking it to The Man.
Others will run screaming from the room if you mention a show because they are “watching it on a box set”. That's 2014 speak for streaming it from an illegal website. They're stealing it from The Man.
It has got to the point where you can't even discuss the weather forecast at work. Dave from Internal Audit is bound to reply, |“I recorded that, you bastard, and was really looking forward to watching it when I got home tonight. Now I'm going to have to talk to my wife, or something.”
As for wearing that “I Shot JR” T-shirt you found in the back of the wardrobe, don't even think about it. You'll just bump into someone who hasn't seen that episode of Dallas yet and they will scream at you in public for wrecking everything.
One solution is to seek out people on internet chat rooms who are in sync with your progress through Dexter on Netflix. It's the perfect way to get in touch with a gang of people who share an unhealthy interest in a show about a psychopathic serial killer.
Just make sure you don't get one episode ahead of them by mistake. That could get very messy.