Tuesday 12 December 2017

No change on Doyle's comic panel

Business is as chaotic as usual on new run of topical discussion show

"Hello, how are you?" said Craig Doyle, welcoming scientist Dr Brooke Magnanti, aka call-girl blogger and bestselling author Belle de Jour, the first guest on the new series of The Panel. "I'm fine," said Dr Magnanti, "I feel like I'm interrupting a get-together."

"Ha-ha, no, no," said Craig. Actually, Craig, "Ha-ha, yes, yes."

This is exactly what The Panel is: a chummy get-together dominated by a select few comedians -- Colin Murphy, Neil Delamere, Andrew Maxwell and a token woman, in this case Eleanor Tiernan, who barely managed to get a word in over the course of 45 minutes.

But then that's nothing new on The Panel, where everyone shouts over everyone else in an attempt to force as much of their own material as possible into the final edit.

It would be unfair and untrue to say some of it isn't funny, yet that's hardly the point.

It's not a stand-up showcase -- or at least it shouldn't be. It's supposed to be a topical comedy reflection on the week's news.

The topicality, however, is as token as the female presences on the show.

Bereft of news clips, photographs or newspaper headlines (standard tools for this type of programme), items are picked up and then just as quickly dropped, being little more than pegs on which the individual comedians can hang a solo run.

I'd hoped the appointment of Craig Doyle as regular host in the previous series would impose some structure to what's essentially a glorified pub chat between mates, minus the pub and the booze, but The Panel is as baggy, shapeless and aimless as ever.

Still, as long as it keeps pulling in a decent audience for RTE, which it does, it will always be a case of never mind the wit, feel the width.

Like BBC2's excellent Secret Iraq, which ended this week, the feature-length Dispatches film Bravo's Deadly Mission took us, in as far as television ever can, into the heart of warfare, this time in Afghanistan.

Journalist Ben Anderson spent two months earlier this year living with Bravo Company 1/6 US Marines as they dropped behind enemy lines to take control of the town of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold.

As documentary journalism, this was as hair-raisingly close-up a view of battle as you can get. Several times during it, Anderson found himself hitting the ground as bullets whizzed past his head.

"I'm part of a machine that always wins," said company commander Captain Sparks at the beginning. "There's no worse enemy than the US Marines. We're masters of controlled chaos."

As the film unfolded, however, it became starkly clear that Sparks' bold words were more hopeful than truthful.

Hemmed in on all sides by Taliban snipers, who had known well in advance the Marines were on their way and seemed to be able pick off their targets at will (one sniper fired just four shots in a single day, three of which wounded soldiers), Bravo Company had to painstakingly fight their way across the parched landscape, building by building.

Having finally reached their destination, a densely populated suburban area codenamed The Pork Chop, from which the Taliban had now fled, they set about restoring order and rebuilding the shattered community.

"The key to winning a battle like this is to get the people on your side and let them know you're here for them," said Sparks later, proudly showing off the refurbished bazaar and the repaired buildings.

The locals, their lives rent apart by both the Taliban and the coalition forces, didn't share his optimism.

"They think they're helping, but they're making it worse," said one man, his hostility palpable. A compelling film about a sad and hopelessly destructive situation.

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