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Find old tricks funny? No fear!

How do you breathe new life into something as hoary and moth-eaten as the hidden camera TV show? We're talking about a phenomenon that's approaching pensionable age -- with (radio-based) Candid Microphone giving way to the seminal Candid Camera as far back as 1948. It's ancient, folks, is what I'm saying.

That didn't stop The Fear -- RTE's latest attempt at hidden camera mischief-making -- from trying to pass itself off as hip and cutting-edge.

The graphics were slick and graffiti-like. In-your-face words such as "Guerrilla camera crew" flashed across the screen. Were we in for something thrillingly fresh, subversive and daring?


It opened promisingly enough. Jennifer Maguire dashed about the streets of Dublin, microphone in hand, trailed by an absurdly large crew (multiple boom operators and a gaggle of photographers). Bewildered passers-by were bombarded with a stream of quick-fire non sequiturs.

"Is that an apple? Is that apple nice? Are you on your lunch? Where are you going? You smell lovely. That's a lovely bag." And off she'd sprint (shouting "Go! Go! Go!") to harass another victim.

But the laughs (modest as they were) quickly dried up. Chris Tordoff disguised himself as a clueless American tourist seeking out Stonehenge, in Killarney.

Ross Browne played 'Jimmy', an intrusive oddball obsessed with outer space.

It was all rather tame and lame until Hilary Rose showed up, in Sligo, as the Russian 'Irinka' -- introduced to viewers with the caption, "I not prostitute".

After asking a delivery man if his truck contained her consignment of mail-order "girls", she wandered into a newsagent's, seeking a card for her 13-year-old niece.

"Is it for a birthday, or Communion?", asked the unflappable shop assistant. "No, she break her virgin... So I need to get card for her," Rose replied.

You could forgive The Fear for offering nothing new, for its lack of ambition and imagination. It's less easy to overlook its dismal attempt to use grotesque caricatures of 'zany' foreigners, with their broken English and vulgar ways, to elicit cheap laughs. Lazy and depressing stuff.

Interstellar sitcom Red Dwarf made an improbable return to our TV universe this week, 13 years after its last full season ended. The fact that it's airing on the retro-focused and decidedly masculine digital channel Dave (and not BBC2, its original home) hints at who this revival is aimed at. Namely, misty-eyed males who worshipped it as teens and who are easily seduced by '90s nostalgia. I'm one of them.

Red Dwarf was always a curious beast. One that gamely struggled to balance its genuinely intriguing science fiction content (time paradoxes, etc) with its puerile toilet humour (enjoyable as that was when you were 14). This latest incarnation is no Doctor Who-style reimagining for a new generation, but an unapologetic attempt to return to its roots. The results are mixed.

Its central core of characters -- Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten -- are present and correct, but the humour is more timid and twee than I remember (or, possibly, misremember).

Where once it was, essentially, The Young Ones in space, it now feels more like The Vicar of Dibley (plotting a course for cosy middle-age).


Speaking of all things cosy, Alan Hughes' Irish Family Fortunes kicked off on TV3 last night. "Name something you can smell but you can't see?" Alan asked the Meehan clan from Limerick.

"Urine!", blurted Theresa, prompting the studio audience to dissolve into convulsions of manic laughter, as Family Fortunes audiences are wont to do.

I prefer those moments when a response provokes an anxious pause. Jimmy Meehan's answer to the above question was a quietly spoken, "carbon monoxide". Nervous tittering followed, as people tried to convince themselves that carbon monoxide was the most hilarious thing ever, and not, you know, something that kills us in our sleep.

The Fear HHIII

Red Dwarf X HHHII

Alan Hughes' Irish

Family Fortunes HHIII