Over the Moone with O'Dowd

the audience (Channel 4, Thursday) Moone Boy (Sky 1, Friday) Horizon: Defeating the Superbug (BBC2, Monday)

John Byrne

Indecision. It's a terrible thing. Or maybe it isn't? Unless it is. I can't decide, one way or the other. Life is like the most bafflingly complex 'choose your own adventure' book ever written. Decide to get married? Turn to page 54. Opt not to have kids? Go to page 106.

Choose wisely and you find a chest of enchanted treasure. Choose badly and you end up falling down a haunted well. Or getting eaten by a dragon, or something.

Choices. Endless (maddening) choices. I know what you're thinking. "If only a group of 50 complete strangers would follow me around for a week before making crucial life-changing decisions on my behalf". Well, dream no more, dithering one! The Audience -- Channel 4's latest slice of high-concept reality TV -- is the answer to your indecisive prayers.


We're introduced to Ian Wainwright, a 48-year-old dairy farmer, whose life has reached an impasse.

He lives with two elderly uncles who rely on him to run the family farm. He's torn between his loyalty to them and a desire to move on and start a new life with his girlfriend, Sandy.

Cut to a brilliantly white room where 50 strangers ("The Audience") are huddled around a plasma TV watching Ian milk cows.

They smile benignly (like angels) and float off, presumably in the direction of planet earth.

They're soon trudging along (en masse) a few yards behind Ian, dogging his every step and haunting his every waking moment. Quizzing his uncles, chatting to Sandy, watching in nauseated horror as cows eject steaming torrents of pee and poo in the direction of their shoes. They gather information, have heated debates, and then deliver their verdict, like a Greek chorus. He needs to move on.

But forget about the psychological and emotional drama, The Audience is really all about the hilarious (Marx Brothers-esque) physical comedy of 50 people attempting to squeeze into small domestic spaces.

My favourite moment was when Ian and Sandy were eating lunch in her kitchen and all you could see, in the background, were rows of faces peering through the French doors, like spirits of the dead.

"Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the West of Ireland?", asked Chris O'Dowd on Friday night's opening episode of Moone Boy (co-written by O'Dowd and Nick Murphy). The time is 1989, the place is Boyle, Co Roscommon (O'Dowd's home town), and the "idiot boy" in question is Martin Paul Kenny Dalglish Moone, brilliantly played by newcomer David Rawle.

O'Dowd himself plays Martin's prosaic imaginary friend Sean Murphy (the "imaginary friend of a kid with no imagination", as O'Dowd has described him).

Moone Boy opens with Martin ("a simple child") trying to breathe life back into a dead chaffinch... thinking it an injured magpie. "Ugh! Shifting a dead bird! You're such a gay!", sneers one of the Bonner boys, the school's resident pair of bullies.

"It's medical shifting!", protests Martin, as he's dragged off for a pummelling. Introducing non-Irish audiences to the ever-amusing verb "to shift" is a notable achievement in itself, but there's much to savour here.


The sight of a semi-naked Steve Coogan (playing local fish-factory owner, Francie 'Touchy' Feeley) being hosed down by a beaming Martin, as a victorious Mary Robinson pronounces, "Come Dance with me in Ireland" is one that stays with you.

The humour may be more gently absurd than uproariously laugh-out-loud overall, but that's no bad thing when there's this much warmth and easy charm on show.

There were plenty of 'bad things' under the microscope on Monday's Horizon: Defeating the Superbug. Countless billions of them. Antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria that were shown sweeping across a CGI globe in a terrifying red wave. I spent the next 24 hours soaking the house in Dettol and crying.

The Audience: HHIII

Moone Boy: HHHHI

Horizon: Defeating

the Superbug HHHII