Lords could have been a contender
Charity Lords of the Ring: Saturday 9.30pm RTE1
Can an Irish television programme make you want to laugh, cry and emigrate all at once?
The answer is a resounding yes, as I discovered while watching RTE's latest reality TV instalment, Charity Lords of the Ring.
Presented by Lucy Kennedy and boxing legend Barry McGuigan, the series follows 11 Irish 'celebrities' through an intensive bootcamp and training regime as they prepare to step into the ring. The last man standing will donate the most money to his chosen charity.
If the proposition of bowing out with a bloodied nose and a meagre donation isn't humiliating enough, the contenders also have to fight under the premise that they are bona fide celebrities.
Can someone please tell me what the term 'celebrity' means to the powers-that-be in RTE? Apparently, you tick the box if you own a business (entrepreneur, Sean Gallagher), have previously appeared on a reality TV show (Ben Clarke, The Apprentice) or have written about actual celebrities (showbiz journalist Paul Martin).
While the RTE honchos are deluded in terms of what constitutes a celebrity, they are surprisingly plugged in to what viewers want from the celebrity reality TV format: public mauling.
Kudos to them for stripping away the edifice and bringing it down to its most basic, primitive level. Pity they couldn't drum up any actual celebrities for the proceedings.
Even more annoying contenders would do -- at the very least it would make the possibility of a fractured cheekbone infinitely more inviting.
Alas, Marcus Sweeney (famous for owning a restaurant) pulled out, and Fran Cosgrave (famous for owning a nightclub) and Gavin Lambe Murphy (famous for going to lots of restaurants and nightclubs) were nowhere to be seen.
There was, however, a surprise appearance from Ray Shah. They also managed to secure reality TV star Lee Sharpe. Sharpe has fought tooth and nail to stay in the limelight since his football career ended -- but "Muhammad R Lee" didn't have enough in the tank to take on Jack "Hammer" Sheedy.
The first programme also said goodbye to Fair City actor Maclean Burke and children's TV presenter, Rob Ross. The latter's victor was Paul Martin, whose maniacal competitiveness is already putting him in position to be the talking point of the programme.
He's taken to wearing a woollen beanie hat during indoor training and he's adopted Rocky Balboa-esque affirmations like, "I'm here to win". But the best were his pre-fight theatrics.
Watching slow-motion footage of the contestants shadow boxing down a corridor in the Citywest Hotel was hysterical, but Martin took it to a new level by landing a jab against the wall.
Then there's coach Tim Witherspoon, who was delivering an Oscar-winning ringside performance: "All you gots to do is get inside. This go-na be our fight -- this our dream."
And, for the love of God, whose idea was the pre-fight verbal sparring? My personal favourite: "(raised fist) This is my friend, Mr Pain: You're going to get well acquainted."
What's sad is that Lords of the Ring has come so close to genius. If the producers had just brought it up one, maybe two, notches, it could serve as a slick satire of the celebrity reality TV show circuit. Sadly, there is no irony here.
This is Irish TV, folks, and once again the people behind it are punching below their weight.
Charity Lords of the Ring *