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Pat Stacey: New comedy lacks VIP status

I WAS going to say impressionists used to be 10 a penny on television in the 70s and 80s, except that wouldn't be quite true. Fifty a penny would be more like it. Any third-rate comedian could throw on a beret, gurn "Mmm, Betty, the cat's done a whoopsie on the carpet!" and be instantly transformed into Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

For two decades, Mike Yarwood, whose shtick was gently mocking Harold Wilson, Ted Heath and Denis Healy, reigned as the king of the impressionists until the unlikely twin forces of alternative comedy (which made his act look hopelessly old-fashioned) and Margaret Thatcher (who he couldn't "do" to save his life but, humiliatingly, tried anyway), snuffed out his TV career. Mind you, his alcoholism didn't help.

There have been ongoing attempts to resuscitate the genre -- Big Impression, Dead Ringers and The Impressions Show, the latter two starring Jon Culshaw -- but none of them has matched the glory years. Now comes Very Important People, which probably won't do it either, possibly because the glory years, when you look back on them, weren't all that glorious to begin with.

Any failure certainly won't be due to a lack of talent. Morgana Robinson and Terry Mynott are superb mimics, and there were some genuinely funny moments in the first show, including a whispering David Attenborough creeping around to study the wild behaviour of comedian Frankie Boyle -- "Frankie checks the news online and, bingo, a child has been murdered. He'll get 10 minutes out of that" -- and a spot-on spoof trailer for an Owen Wilson-Jennifer Aniston romcom called Some Kind of Disagreement.

But as Rory Bremner discovered years ago, impressions are only a means to an end; it's all about the quality of the scripts. Most of the sketches here were thin and obvious (Gordon Ramsay fronting an anti-bullying campaign, Adele singing her order to an uncomprehending barman) and depended on how recognisable you find C-list reality show fodder like Natalie Cassidy and Amy Childs.

It doesn't exactly inspire confidence, either, when the performers feel it necessary to announce who they're doing, as in: "I'm Danny Dyer and this is Extreme Commute" -- although in that case I was grateful for the tip-off.

So Ireland has its first Voice, Pat Byrne from Carlow. I backed Byrne from day one (anyone who goes into a blind audition with Springsteen's brilliant The River, which he sang again last night, has definitely got my vote) and he's a worthy winner. Whatever you may feel about TV talent shows, the kid has been doing it the old-fashioned way -- gigging around pubs -- since he was 16.

But what happens next is what matters most. At least two of the finalists had "Christmas covers album for Mammy" written all over them. If Byrne can write his own songs as well as he sings other people's, he'll be worth keeping an eye on.

The second series of cracking French cop show Braquo came with a warning that it featured violence and scenes of a sexual nature. Personally, I'd be more worried about the number of cows slaughtered in its making.

Everyone in Braquo, whether cop or crim, and sometimes its hard to tell them apart, seems to wear a leather jacket. I counted 15 riddled with bullets in the first half-hour, seven of them in a massive, Heat-style shootout alone.

Season two kicked off with raddled, corrupt cop Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade) banged up on remand and his associates either demoted or sacked, only to see him recruited by his former bosses to infiltrate the gang that nicked 400 kilos of gold.

In the face of all the chilly, controlled Scandi imports doing the rounds, it's good to have Eddy and Co back.



Very Important People 2/5 The Voice of Ireland 3/5 Braquo 3/5


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