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Monday 10 December 2018

RTE's Storyland digs up a gleaming gem of a comedy

Seamus (Mark Doherty, left) and Martin (Colum McDonnell) do the right thing for their dead pal
Seamus (Mark Doherty, left) and Martin (Colum McDonnell) do the right thing for their dead pal

REMEMBER when grey was the new black, comedy was the new rock and roll, and the internet was the future of television? We now know that grey is just grey, black is still black and so far Michael McIntyre shows no sign of morphing into Mick Jagger.

And following  ITV’s Dapper Laughs fiasco, it will likely be a long time before television again dips its fishing rod into the murky waters of Vine or YouTube for The Next Big TV Thing. Nevertheless, online is currently where it’s at in RTE’s attempts to unearth new drama and comedy talent.

The fifth season of Storyland, the national broadcaster and the Irish Film Board’s project aimed at giving fresh writing, directing and acting talent a shot at a breakthrough, is currently up and running exclusively on the RTE Player, with an original new series comprising four six-minute episodes being posted every Monday for five weeks.

I’ll be disappointed if the first of this year’s selections (there were some 200 submissions in all), the comedy Burning Wishes, doesn’t lead to greater things for its co-writers Cian McGarrigle and Vincent Gallagher, who also directs. There’s a natural gift for comedy on display here.

Burning Wishes, a broad, confident, extremely funny romp pitched somewhere between Hitchcock’s black comedy The Trouble With Harry and Dumb & Dumber is basically the finished article already. RTE could show it tomorrow night without the need for any further polishing or tweaking.

Mark Doherty and Colum McDonnell are Seamus and Martin Geraghty, dimwit brothers who, after 30 years away, return to their small village to visit their old pal Paudie (Dermot Morgan), who’s dying.

As young, inept tearaways, Seamus and Martin left Paudie to take the rap after accidentally locking him in a house during a bungled burglary.

After the brothers went on the lam, Paudie was banged up in prison but emerged to build a successful breakfast cereal empire that’s earned him the soubriquet “the Michael Jordan of porridge”.

Now Paudie wants the brothers to grant him his last wish to have his ashes scattered across the lake where the three of them used to hang out.

There’s a hitch, however: Paudie’s only living relatives, a smarmy, grasping niece and nephew, have already decided to bury him. But guilt-ridden Seamus is not about to let that small obstacle defeat them.

McGarrigle and Gallagher are as deft with the funny lines as they are with the slapstickier stuff. “If you have any respect for Paudie you’ll help me dig up his body and set him on fire with me,” Seamus barks at his dithering sibling.

Burning Wishes benefits from an excellent cast of seasoned talents, including Donncha Crowley as the brothers’ old nemesis, the local Garda sergeant, and especially Barry Murphy, hilarious as the food-obsessed parish priest who thinks nothing of sneaking a bite out of Paudie’s deathbed sandwich.

If Burning Wishes gets it right first time out, this week’s Storyland offering, the Belfast-set thriller Farr, up since Monday, is a muddle.

A preening Aidan Largey, who also co-wrote it, plays a young detective whose surveillance operation on a crime boss is complicated by the fact that the man is his own father, something unknown to his female partner.

Violent, derivative and over-stylised, its main problem is that it tries to pour a gallon of plot into a shot glass.

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