Thursday 21 March 2019

Do-gooder comedy needed light touch

Project Ha Ha (RTE2)
Horizon (BBC2)
Coronation Street (TV3/UTV)

PROJECT HA HA: Bernard O'Shea shows some promise but needs to know when to stop
PROJECT HA HA: Bernard O'Shea shows some promise but needs to know when to stop

The myth that Ireland is a deep pool of comedy talent, brimming over at the edges and just waiting to drench us all in laughter, has been drained practically dry by Project Ha Ha, RTE's series of doggedly unfunny pilots.

However, a late spurt came with the final one: Touching People, featuring in the main stand-up comedian Bernard O'Shea and boasting as many hits as misses.

O'Shea played agreeably weird host Declan McGinty, as well as a few other characters, in a compendium of mockumentary sketches lampooning various community do-gooding types.

Among the best was dumb blonde Susan, a witless internet counsellor who doesn't realise her website, www.letmegiveyouahand.com, has been mistaken for a porn chat room. (Susan's 'patients' keep asking her questions like "Are you wearing a blouse?")

"People keep telling me I should get a webcam," she says, "and do you know, I think I might."

O'Shea was good value, too, as Daniel Fontinelle, an unctuous twerp not a million miles away in manner or appearance from a certain well-known Donegal crooner, who provides care in the community for elderly ladies (and the occasional gent).

There was also a pleasing whiff of League of Gentlemen creepiness about the sketch featuring O'Shea as a Jehovah's Witness and the cherubically menacing Colum McDonnell as his sidekick, who likes to swap clothes with old ladies before binding and gagging them.

But for every sketch that worked there was one that dragged on pointlessly before petering out. It's the same old story: no one in the background ruthlessly wielding the scissors. Still, this was a promising prototype.

Horizon posed the question "Why aren't skinny people fat?" It recruited 10 slim volunteers in their 20s, and made them eat double what they'd usually eat for four weeks, in an effort to increase their body weight by 25pc.

It was based on a 1970s experiment carried out in a Vermont prison in which 10 inmates were encouraged to eat their way to a promised early release.

Only two of the people here gained significant weight, no one reached the desired target and one young man actually gained in muscle tissue. All of them felt like puking, and some actually did.

So what else did it tell us? Well, one scientist said the human body has a kind of onboard computer which determines how fat/skinny we should be. Another said obesity could be genetic and beyond our control. Another said fatness is a kind of virus.

In other words, it didn't prove a lot -- other than that there are better ways to kill an hour.

In Coronation Street, blow-dried, bus pass-holding sex bomb Ken Barlow temporarily lost his dog, Eccles, in a canal but, by way of compensation, found sexy widow Martha (Stephanie Beacham), who lives on a canal boat.

She seduced him with her homemade leek and potato soup, against which dreary Deirdre's straight-from-the-tin variety doesn't stand a chance. All aboard the Barlow Love Boat -- again.


Project Ha Ha * *

Horizon * *

Coronation Street * * *

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