Thursday 15 November 2018

Fergus's Wedding - a ground-breaking sex comedy from RTE? Don't make me laugh!

OH DEAR. When Ian Fitzgibbon and Michael McElhatton's spoof documentary series 'Paths to Freedom' was screened towards the end of 2000, RTE obviously saw it as the way forward for Irish television comedy and commissioned another series from the same duo.

The result, though, is so dire as to make you almost wish for reruns of 'The Cassidys'.

'Paths to Freedom', in fact, hadn't been all that amazing, or at least not to anyone who'd seen similar cod documentaries on British channels. Yes, it used the docu format quite wittily, but after a couple of episodes it ran out of ideas and you sensed a desperation in the way it pushed its characters into increasingly farcical and ludicrous situations.

The problem with 'Fergus's Wedding', which began on Network 2 last night, is that it's ludicrous from the start. The basic rule about TV comedy is that you begin by establishing characters who are recognisable and situations that are credible (Basil Fawlty in his hotel, Larry Sanders on his chat show, Frasier and father in their apartment) and then go from there. But here nothing is remotely believable from the outset.

Firstly, you don't for a second buy the notion of café-owner Fergus (Michael McElhatton) and travel agent Penny (Julia Ford) as a couple, let alone a couple madly in love.

She comes on like a clone of the prissy Helen Baxendale character in 'Cold Feet', while he's like a demented Ken Dodd with a daft wig, buck teeth, the demeanour of a simpleton and the vocal delivery of someone who's just strayed in from an amateur production of 'The Plough and the Stars'.

Secondly, you're asked to accept that this doting couple, slavishly planning their conventional nuptials (with mammy and priest on hand to tell them what's what), also run a suburban club for swingers and casually have sex with whoever passes on the stairs.

And the sex talk, presumably meant to be daring, just comes across as grotty, as in Fergus's response to one of Penny's come-ons: "Oh alright, but doggy style if you don't mind, because me hip is givin' me ferocious gyp."

The problem with attempting sexual humour is that when it's not funny it just curdles and becomes rancid before your eyes, and that's what happens here - a far cry from the humour of 'Seinfeld' and 'Sex and the City', but then 'Seinfeld' and 'Sex and the City' are object lessons in how to be both bracingly bawdy and very funny. The grubby attempts at humour here are about as funny as a venereal rash.

And the bad news is that it doesn't get any better. I've just had a look at next week's episode and it manages to be even more witless, though if you were unfortunate enough to catch last night's episode that will hardly seem credible. But then nor is RTE's enthusiastic promotion of this tacky nonsense.

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