Friday 21 October 2016

TV Review: Why Apres Match still scores

Members of Apres Match Barry Murphy, Risteard Cooper & Gary Cooke during an announcement of a new season of programmes on RTE 2 at RTE studios Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Members of Apres Match Barry Murphy, Risteard Cooper & Gary Cooke during an announcement of a new season of programmes on RTE 2 at RTE studios Donnybrook, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

THE gush of relief that Ireland’s 1-0 win over Georgia in the Euro 2016 qualifier unleashed on Monday night was swiftly followed by an outpouring of laughter as the Aprés Match trio of Risteard Cooper, Barry Murphy and Gary Cooke returned to television for the first time since last year’s World Cup Finals.

The new weekly series Aprés Match of the Day takes a defining occasion — this week it was the Ireland v Romania match that sent us to the quarter-finals of Italia 90; next week it’s the historic win over Russia at Dalymount Park in 1974 — and retro-fits it with dubbed dialogue and commentary over archive match footage (including Jack Charlton’s famous glare into the touchline camera), newly-written “vintage” scenes of the younger Bill, Eamo and John in the studio, Des Cahill hopelessly trying to interview celebrating fans in pubs, and much, much more.

It’s ingenious and hilarious. It’s also the first time Aprés Match has been given a proper half-hour weekly format to play with and hasn’t been anchored to a specific football tournament.

Sadly, there are only three shows in the series, but we should be grateful for small gifts. After all, it’s not like Irish television is exactly groaning under the weight of great comedy sketch shows.

The ones we’ve had down the years usually fall into one of three rigid categories: political satire (Hall’s Pictorial Weekly, The State of Us, Irish Pictorial Weekly and the abysmal Bull Island); hidden camera shows (Naked Camera and Anonymous, as well as elements of The Live Mike and the putrid Republic of Telly), and impression shows (Mario Rosenstock and Oliver Callan), which, with dreary predictability, rely heavily on taking harmless potshots at politicians.


I’ve never grasped Irish broadcasters’ obsession with topical humour, which usually turns out to be more topical than humorous. Satire has its place, even if in Bull Island’s case it’s inside a lead-lined box buried deep in concrete, but it’s not the be all and end all of everything. It’s not the whole of comedy.

Landmark 80s show Nighthawks provided a regular outlet for sketches by fresh talent (including a certain Graham Norton). On the whole, though, RTE’s commitment to sketch comedy has been, well, sketchy.

The Savage Eye was a brilliant sketch show, a one-of-a-kind product of David McSavage’s fertile brain, yet what has followed it? Where are the sketch shows that don’t rely on boring impressions of boring politicians as a comedic crutch and don’t have the yawn-inducing “topical comedy” tag attached?

Where are the sketch shows whose only prerogative is to make an audience laugh? There aren’t any. And even when there were some, they were pitifully few.

The sketch show category of Wikipedia’s entry on Irish TV comedy makes for a depressingly short read. It lists just five series other than the ones I’ve mentioned above.

Two of them, If the Cap Fits and Time Now Mr T, starred Niall Toibin and date from 1970s. You have to reach back to 1967 for It’s Too Late – We’re On!, a sketch show with Des Keogh and Frank Kelly.

The remaining two are PJ Gallagher’s lamentable 2011 solo vanity project Meet the Neighbours — the dentistry torture scene in Marathon Man made me laugh more — and the often very funny Your Bad Self (2010), which starred Amy Huberman and Domhnaill Gleeson, who in one sketch played, of all things, a Star Wars-obsessed shop assistant.

For a country supposedly drowning in comedy talent, it’s no laughing matter.

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