When you encounter an RTE comedy series with no less than 13 names on the writing credits, your heart probably has a right to sink a little. After all, aside from the uncompromising and frequently hilarious The Savage Eye, 2009 was as dismal a year for Irish TV comedy any I can remember.
Happily, halfway through the first episode of new sketch show Your Bad Self my heart had been jolted back to where it belongs by a series of genuine belly laughs. A follow-on from a pilot screened at Christmas 2008, Your Bad Self features a large and talented ensemble of writers/performers.
Some of them -- Michael McElhatton, Amy Huberman, Hugh O'Conor and Jason O'Mara, star of the short-lived US remake of Life on Mars -- will be more immediately recognisable than others, but all of them work equally hard for some well-aimed, thoroughly well-earned laughs.
Sketch shows are, by their nature, erratic beasts. Your Bad Self's strike rate is roughly two-to-one -- a good average by any show's standard -- and even the sketches that don't quite come off never quite end up face-down on the floor, either. A seam of wicked, warped, coal-black humour runs through the best of them.
A hapless garda turns up on a man's doorstep to break the news that his wife has died in a parachute jump, only to find his efforts frustrated when an adorable little boy descends the stairs, followed by an adorable little girl cradling an equally adorable little puppy in her arms.
A man in bed with nothing more serious than a heavy cold finds his wife shoving a leaflet for a euthanasia clinic under his nose ("We're going to Switzerland! Eeee!").
My own favourite -- chiefly because of its sheer daftness -- featured Domhnall Gleeson (son of Brendan), a highly gifted young actor/writer who'll be seen as the eldest Weasley brother in the two-part Harry Potter finale, as a clothes shop assistant who drives his boss mad by doing one-man impressions of the X-Men movies, complete with explosive sound effects.
RTE has a terrible tendency to rush any half-baked comedy idea that shows the slightest flicker of promise onto the screen without sufficient polishing. Your Bad Self feels, for a change, like the finished article.
Full marks for originality, if absolutely nothing else, to whoever dreamt up Stone Cold Sober. Who would have imagined you could squeeze a six-part observational documentary series out of six hard-drinking twentysomethings in Tullow giving up the booze? Then again, who would have imagined anyone would want to?
The lads' downbeat description of the crushing boredom of living in dreary, small-town Ireland -- you binge drink yourself to oblivion, wake up with a blazing hangover and a face as pink as boiled ham, and then do it all over again -- is sharply at odds with the larky voiceover by comedian Colin Murphy, whose default setting is facetiousness. A tasteless and unpalatable cocktail.
TOMORROW: Pat reviews Survivors (BBC1) and tries to survive Katherine Lynch's Single Ladies (RTE2)
Your Bad Self ***
Stone Cold Sober *