Thursday 21 March 2019

RTE finally gives us something to smile about...

We Irish have a world reputation for a quick wit, so why can't we be consistent with our comedy?

On paper, RTE's satirical comedy show Irish Pictorial Weekly, which made its debut on RTE1 on Thursday, seemed to have everything going for it.

There's that title for a start: a conscious reference-cum-tribute to Hall's Pictorial Weekly, which is generally regarded as a high watermark for Irish television satire. Written and fronted by Frank Hall, and featuring the dynamic comedy duo of Frank Kelly and Eamon Morrissey, it ran from 1971 to 1979 when, for reasons never specifically stated but generally believed to be political interference, RTE axed it.


Its presumed successor also boasts an impressive roster of talent on the writing and performing front: Barry Murphy and Gary Cooke, from Apres Match; Paul Howard, author of the bestselling Ross O'Carroll-Kelly books; John Colleary from The Savage Eye; the talented and versatile Alan Shortt (who's done far better things in his career than the wretched Bull Island); stand-up comic Eleanor Brennan, and The Nualas' Tara Flynn, who's appeared on British television in Stewart Lee's Comedy Vehicle and The Omid Djalili Show.

On screen, Irish Pictorial Weekly, while it suffers from the hit-and-miss tendency of any sketch show, doesn't disappoint. The humour is topical, the production values are decent and there's a pleasing variety in the writing. Frankly, this is a relief.

For a people supposedly naturally blessed with quick wit and a vibrant sense of humour -- which looks ever more like a groundless myth that should have been buried with Oscar Wilde -- we've found it incredibly difficult to make consistently good television comedy.

There are occasional pleasant surprises, such as The Savage Eye and The Mario Rosenstock Show; while the latter hasn't quite hit the heights of Rosenstock's Gift Grub sketches on Today FM, at least it's funny and inventive in parts.

But the decades between the end of one Pictorial Weekly and the beginning of another represent a long, mostly barren road with little to laugh about. The aforementioned Bull Island was atrocious. Newsroom sitcom Extra, Extra, Read All About It was totally unwatchable. Leave It To Mrs O'Brien was a national embarrassment that should be sealed in a lead-lined crate and dropped to the bottom of the sea.


The list goes on. The Lads (a mirthless seventies sitcom remembered by few, and with good reason); Upwardly Mobile; The Cassidys; Fergus's Wedding; Nightlive. And let's not forget The Republic Of Telly, The Fear and Katherine Lynch's various barrel scrapings.

The baffling thing is that many of the above examples feature genuinely talented people who have done outstanding work elsewhere. Barry Murphy, for example, is a wonderful stand-up and hilarious in the bite-sized chunks of Apres Match. Morgan C Jones, who appeared in This is Nightlive and wrote as well as starred in Extra, Extra, also featured on 1980s cult favourite Nighthawks and is a much-in-demand voice actor.

Yet when it comes to producing a coherent series for RTE, even the sharpest performers seem to be immediately gripped by a kind of comedy paralysis that turns their funnybones to dust.

>LOHAN'S NO LEGEND Liz & Dick, the cable TV movie about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's tempestuous relationship, was supposed to be Lindsay Lohan's comeback. Instead, it's turned into her going-away.

The reviews for the 90-minute flick, which went out on America's Lifetime channel last weekend, have been savage. The Hollywood Reporter reviewer Tim Goodman called it "half train wreck, half Saturday Night Live skit", adding: "Lohan is woeful as Taylor from start to finish." Poor Lindsay. Not good, is it? Actually, stuff poor Lindsay -- it sounds like an absolute treat for lovers of turkeys so bad they're good. Likening the script and performances to "a school play," Goodman wrote, "It's an instant classic of unintentional hilarity. Drinking games were made for movies like this."

Right, TV3: you get on the blower to Lifetime and I'll get the beer in.

>the new james bond? In what must rank as the strangest shot at a career change ever, former EastEnder Dean Gaffney (he's the bloke with the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard voice who used to play street sweeper Robbie Jackson) has applied for a job as a security observer with MI5.

The job spec requires people who are "curious and discreet", and Dean reckons he fits the bill perfectly. "No one is going to think that Dean Gaffney off the telly is working for MI5," he says. "It's the perfect cover."

Curious, definitely, but discreet? Well, let's just point out that Dean told all of the above to The Sun. Cover blown, I think.

>there was only one JR It's often been said Dallas would have been nothing without the late Larry Hagman as JR Ewing. I agree. Though I never cared much for the series, Hagman, a better actor than he was usually given credit for (see him as the ruthless record company boss in 1974's Stardust, starring David Essex), was always terrific in it.

The producers of the revived version say it will go on despite his death. That's no surprise; television is a business like any other. But while there might be plenty of oil left in Dallas, Hagman was pure gold.

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