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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Cheers to the true spirit of Christmas

Wine buff Oz Clarke and comedian Hugh Dennis divined the true spirit of Christmas on BBC2 last night: getting hammered.

They were set with the bleary eyed challenge -- if you could call it that -- of sampling every traditional Christmas tipple, past and present.

They gulped down sloe gin in Wiltshire, whiskey and winter ales in the Highlands and the rather peculiar wassail of the West Country. And they got drunk, which of course was the central premise.

The programme purported to be a similar vehicle to Clarke's other television outing with James May, Oz And James's Big Wine Adventure; however the thrust of this offering was altogether different. Last night's programme was a celebration of getting gee-eyed and an exploration of what drinks will get you there soonest.

The producers inducted a new wingman in Dennis. The set-up for these programmes is that expert Clarke leads a young philistine towards enlightenment, which is what made the previous episodes so watchable -- we could all identify.

Only Dennis, a self-proclaimed "half a bottle" drinker, took to the task with all the enthusiasm of a designated driver. While I was willing him to get stuck in, Clarke contrarily thrived on the personality clash. It allowed him to posture as "the wild one" in this odd couple.

It was difficult not to smile as he jumped into the hot tub with a cup of tea, still cut from the previous night's excesses. Funnier was Dennis' reaction. He expressed concern over the "homoerotic" undertones of the show.

The problem is that there were too many of these sub-plot vignettes, and none were as funny. Still, as a programme it served its purpose, which I think was to make me want to get as drunk as my entire drinks cabinet would allow ...

TV3 was an odd choice of broadcaster for That's Entertainment, The Story of Irish TV, given that it was essentially a retrospective of the national broadcaster since its opening night in 1961. Archive footage and the ubiquitous casting couch of talking heads charted the trajectory of Irish TV over the past four decades.

There were flashbacks that were fondly remembered (Mike Murphy's candid camera show) and some that are probably best forgotten (Gerry Ryan's "catastrophically dysfunctional" Secrets).

It was as frustration-inciting as it was nostalgia-evoking. The programme was supposed to chronicle the journey of RTE, but it inadvertently showed why the national broadcaster continues to stall: a risk-averse mindset and the constant recycling of presenting talent.

Hearing Pat Kenny espousing the virtues of the variety show summed it all up, really. "I love old fashioned variety," he enthused, "where you don't know what happens next." Indeed.

Katie's Stars

Oz and Hugh Drink to Christmas ***

That's Entertainment, The Story of Irish TV ***

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