Tag Archives: television

Friday Night Shite

This season of The Late Late Show has continued its recent trend of receiving poor viewing figures, with last Friday’s programme coming sixth in the weekly ratings. RTÉ’s flagship show usually tops the ratings, but this season has seen a dramatic fall in viewers. An RTÉ spokeswoman cited last Friday’s clash with the international football match between Ireland and Andorra as a reason for the decreased figures. Although the fact that people would rather watch such a tedious game is probably more of an indictment of The Late Late than anything.

The lack of interest in last Friday’s show is particularly puzzling given the calibre of the guests involved on the night. Glamour model Jodie Marsh treated the audience to a display of her newly toned physique, and was so scantily clad and oiled up that people seemed surprised that a video camera and a Premiership footballer were nowhere to be seen. Apparently bodybuilding is her latest attempt at fame after years of failing to emulate the success of fellow Z-list famous tart, Jordan, in being a famous tart. To aim so stupendously low with your life’s ambition and still fall short is fairly pathetic. The woman is a waste of decent matter that could instead have been used to make a tree or a rock, or one of those lizards that can lick its own eyes. Those things are awesome.

After putting up with the aforementioned bronzed wretch, everyone in the studio seemed in need of a good laugh. Which is why it was so unfortunate that Des Bishop was invited onto the show. Des thought of one joke about a water heating system about eleven years ago and has failed to come up with a better one since. And the original joke wasn’t even that great. Instead he has since embarked on a crusade to save the Irish language, seemingly convinced he can do so primarily through shouting banal observational comedy about the Irish. Did you hear the one about Irish people loving the craic? It was shit and unfunny because Des Bishop told it.

Having somehow not surpassed its quota of excitement for the evening, The Late Late next unveiled not one, not two, but three completely irrelevant people. Paul Carberry is famous for not being allowed to do his job as a jockey because he’s always banned for being pissed. He was accompanied by his sister and a third individual who may have been a horse trainer, or possibly the owner and handler of Paul himself. His habit of getting out of his chair every thirty seconds to feed Paul a sugar lump was disconcerting to say the least. Perhaps this is the point at which the programme lost most of its viewers. Horseracing is something of a niche sport, seeing as it only arouses the interest of fat alcoholics from Meath and Kildare who run out of greyhounds and English football clubs to bet on during the week and need an even more boring way of gambling away their children’s inheritance while they stand around talking about the Fianna Fáil glory days and the inventive ways in which they like to beat their wives.

All in all then, an incredibly unimpressive collection of people to have to endure on a Friday night. However, no matter how entertaining the guests may be in a given week, there is one shrewlike, table-slapping, mincing common denominator that makes watching The Late Late only slightly preferable to peeling off your own skin with a butter knife, simply because the latter would take a bit longer. The fact that Tubs has managed to carve out a successful career in broadcasting is an unfathomable mystery akin to that of the disappearing planes in the Bermuda Triangle, or how Colin Farrell got that accent growing up in Castleknock.

His obsession with the 60’s and anachronistic mannerisms give him the air of a particularly snooty twelve year old who’s acting out an episode of Mad Men in his head while everyone else looks on and sees not a suave, debonair sophisticate but an officious, self-important little shit. Tubs’ stilted manner, forced geniality and awkward demeanor whenever anyone deviates slightly from the script is painful to watch. The longest running chat show in the world, and a veritable institution under the steady hand of the twinkly-eyed Gaybo, has become tired and turgid under Tubridy.

As an aside, given the current economic climate it’s hard to believe that the show is also sponsored by The Quinn Group, a bunch of mercenaries who made their Celtic Tiger billions through hawking cement, insurance and misery to the Irish people. It’s nice to see that despite being in debt to the tune of about €5 billion, Seanie still has a few quid to pour into this quagmire of trite, pointless conversation that we’re subjected to on a weekly basis.

It’s safe to assume that The Late Late won’t be cancelled any time soon, so maybe the best thing to do is look around for a more suitable host. Although the way this country’s going at the moment, in a year or two we might see The Late Late presented by Jedward. Brought to you by Anglo Irish Bank and filmed in front of a live studio audience of the four people who haven’t emigrated to Australia yet. “Like, OMG, please stand for our first guest, Uachtarán na hÉireann, Martin McGuinness!” That butter knife is beginning to sound pretty good after all.


Hmm, Needs More Seasons

It’s not often that a regular fixture on the RTÉ schedule is worth watching, given that the national broadcaster’s channels are usually overflowing with mediocrity. Having to sit through the likes of Nationwide, Fair City and Oireachtas Report makes you wish you had spent more of your life watching paint dry so that you’d have something more exciting to think about while trying to ignore the grey, lifeless droning coming from whatever Montrose octogenarian has been taken out of the cupboard and dusted off this week. RTÉ is like the opposite of Logan’s Run, where you seem to have to reach a certain age before you’re allowed in front of the camera, as well as a certain level of tedious monotony.

One welcome exception to this rule over the past few weeks has been the Irish edition of MasterChef, which has made for compelling viewing. Not because the show is an impressively polished, stylish showcase of cooking like its British equivalent, which it isn’t. It’s more to do with the fact that there’s nothing more hilarious than watching people attempt to do something difficult, particularly when those people are of the hapless and desperate variety. With one or two notable exceptions, the amateur chefs battling for the prize are woefully inadequate, and the mistakes they make each week are endlessly entertaining to watch.

There is also the added hilarity of the Irishness of the whole endeavour. We really are woeful at producing these kinds of reality shows. When the likes of The Apprentice and Come Dine With Me come across the water we manage to turn successful formats into litanies of cringeworthy moments. Of course it doesn’t help that the kind of people that apply to be contestants aren’t exactly of a high calibre. The shows quickly descend into a farcical and pathetic race to see who manages to be the least awful at being a person. Added to this is the fact that they are usually shoddily edited, and with an amateur feel that gives the impression that the production team gleaned most of their film knowledge from watching YouTube videos of animals getting stuck in things.

Unfortunately the Irish version of the programme is also missing the most important ingredient (see what I did there?) of the British show, the inimitable judges, Gregg Wallace and John Torode. Whether it was waiting for Gregg to come across a dessert that didn’t make him moan orgasmically, or listening to John’s ridiculously elongated vowels as he told someone their soufflé was a piece of shit, the judges were by far the most entertaining element of the competition.

Compared to their counterparts, the Irish judges are a bit of a disappointment. Nick Munier is a pleasant enough fellow, but doesn’t have much in the way of cooking credentials. He became known as the maitre d’ in Marco Pierre White’s Hell’s Kitchen, in which he was renowned for tripping over himself and dropping food on the ground. Apparently he continued to do so regularly because he couldn’t decipher from Marco Pierre’s one facial expression whether he was angry, confused, or trying to sell him Knorr Stock Cubes. Nick would be perfect if this was a competition to find the clumsiest arsehole, but despite much evidence to the contrary, it’s supposedly about being able to cook.

The other judge is the perennially sour-faced Dylan McGrath. Like most people from the North, he seems vaguely annoyed that he’s alive most of the time. Dylan is famous for running his overpriced restaurant, Mint in Ranelagh, into the ground. McGrath has had a number of complaints made against him by staff for his abusive attitude in the kitchen, a sadly ubiquitous feature of the celebrity chef culture for which we have Gordon “This fucking pasta’s overcooked you prick” Ramsay to thank. McGrath’s restaurant was highly regarded by critics however, with The Sunday Business Post’s food critic declaring,

“It is a long, long time since a meal actually haunted me in the way a beautiful painting or a thoughtful book might.”

The writer has sadly since passed away due to an irreversible case of being an unbelievably pretentious twat.

Pretentiousness is not exactly thin on the ground in culinary circles. When chefs, critics and connoisseurs are judging dishes the food seems to take on remarkably unfoodlike qualities. Quotes like “This salad is a bit haughty”, or “Your risotto doesn’t quite have enough pathos for me” wouldn’t seem out of place. These traditionalists also sometimes seem to forget that taste is subjective. Expert criticism of technique is one thing but certain elements just come down to personal preference. One cliché often rolled out is “Hmm, needs more seasoning.” Oh, does it really? Well maybe I just thought you could do with a little less sodium in your diet you bloated cretin. I’m convinced that food, wine and art critics get together every month to get pissed and have money fights, all the while laughing maniacally at how they’ve duped people into thinking that they actually serve a purpose.

As for MasterChef Ireland, hopefully future seasons will provide a little more in the way of talent and excitement. At the moment it’s a bit like watching one of those episodes of Ready Steady Cook where some bloke thought it would be hilarious to just bring a massive potato, or a ten kilo bag of peas. Which it always was, in fairness. I know I’ll keep tuning in anyway, if only to wait with bated breath for the day that Nick tries to carry something heavy across the kitchen. Now that’s the kind of excitement you just don’t get with Oireachtas Report these days.

The One Where They Stop Showing Repeats

E4 has this week finally brought to an end its constant airing of the beloved sitcom Friends, which has been a mainstay of the channel since the series ended seven years ago. Despite being shown on a daily basis, the repeats often drew audiences of hundreds of thousands, outperforming many of the channel’s newer programmes. The show will now be put out to pasture in the sitcom retirement village that is Comedy Central, where it can live out its last years attending arts and crafts classes with the Cheers gang, listening to the Sex and the City girls moan about their osteoporosis and trying to avoid bumping into anyone from Everybody Loves Raymond at Friday night bingo.

Although the quality dipped slightly towards the end of its ten season run, Friends remains one of the best of its kind to date. The characters were well rounded and believable, the scripts incredibly witty and well-written, and the show had as much heart and pathos as it did slapstick humour and sharp one-liners. Its influence on an entire generation’s views on everything from life, love and friendship to poultry ownership, being on a break and divorce (again) is immeasurable.

One of the reasons for its enduring popularity was the variety of characters that people could relate to. Cynical, sarcastic types could appreciate Chandler’s acerbic wit, Jewish palaeontologists could aspire to be like Ross, and extremely irritating people could enjoy Phoebe’s quirkiness. The early seasons, especially, had some classic moments (which anyone who recognises the name ‘Ms. Chanandler Bong’ can attest to), but the quality of the last few series fluctuated from episode to episode. Ross seemed to have cracked completely to the point where he should have been committed, Joey had gone from being a bit dim to displaying cartoonish levels of stupidity, and Rachel stopped wearing short, tight skirts. The finale, however, was a suitably funny, heartwarming and satisfactory ending for the gang, a rarity among long-running TV shows.

In recent years the bewilderingly popular How I Met Your Mother seems to have become the successor to Friends. It deals with a group of friends living in New York, is hugely commercially successful and is endlessly quotable. It is also, however, a far inferior product. The acting is fairly hammy, the writing lacks subtlety and Bob Saget’s narration is overly sentimental. The characters, aside from not being very interesting, are very one-dimensional and therefore more difficult to relate to. They exist simply to say their lines, as opposed to their dialogue existing to tell us more about them. It is a show that has adopted all the elements of the sitcom but has failed to become more than the sum of its parts. It is also quite clear that the writers have let the original conceit for the show become more of a hindrance than anything, resulting in a lot of unnecessary exposition, as well as some unexplained loose ends.

This sitcom-by-numbers approach is not rare these days. The most popular sitcom of recent years is Two and a Half Men, a programme consisting entirely of silicone-enhanced morons sitting in bed with Charlie, feeding him poorly written lines that he can spin into unfunny and woodenly delivered innuendo, with the odd bumbling interjection from the fat kid, the joke apparently being that he has severe learning difficulties. Maybe the only reason for the show’s popularity was the likeability of its star, Charlie Sheen, a veritable hero among much of the college generation in the US. And what could be more heroic than a crack-smoking, anti-Semitic wife-beater who has lost custody of his children and seems to permanently reside in the full grip of a psychotic break? What a card.

The good news is that there are still plenty of brilliant sitcoms being made. The likes of 30 Rock, Modern Family and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are very successful examples. The less mainstream comedies still suffer though, as evidenced by the fact that Arrested Development, probably the funniest and cleverest television show of all time, was cancelled due to lack of viewers. It is no coincidence that more intelligently written shows, or the ones that exhibit a bit of dry humour as opposed to people being slapped with fish or shouting tired catchphrases at each other, are less popular with viewers.

Unfortunately there are only a handful of people willing to put in the effort to make a Frasier or a Curb Your Enthusiasm when they know that the high-brow humour will alienate much of their prospective audience. Hopefully the sitcom will continue to thrive so that for every sub-par, derivative new series that becomes the next big thing, there are a dozen other small, intelligently funny shows that don’t just appeal to the lowest common denominator. As for E4 taking a break from Friends, we’ll just have to learn to cope without it. Look on the bright side, at least they’re not showing Joey.

The X Factory

The UK version of The X Factor returned to our screens this week, without Simon Cowell or Cheryl Cole, but replete with new, even more annoying judges such as ‘that girl from N-Dubz’ and ‘your one from thingy who isn’t Beyonce or the other one’. Cowell is busy overseeing the expansion of his brand across the water, where the show is replacing American Idol as the most important element of Midwestern American culture after Billy Ray Cyrus and calling Obama a socialist.

The phenomenon that is The X Factor has come a long way, and has really settled into a rhythm over the last few series. Each episode follows pretty much exactly the same script. First we have a hyper-edited intro set to an upbeat pop song by one of Simon Cowell’s bands, consisting mostly of fat contestants crying, flamboyant contestants flicking their hair, and close-ups of Louis Walsh’s tiny, dead shark eyes as he splutters his way through whatever icy put-downs the producers have assigned him this week.

This is followed by a slightly more substantial montage, usually backed by one of those six or seven classical music pieces that even poor people know from watching movie trailers, in which the most dramatic parts of the episode are shown to us before they happen. The pattern is identical each time: clip of a judge saying that a performance was amazing/average/a pile of steaming shite; close-up of a singer looking suitably proud/confused/incandescent with rage; stock footage of crowd reacting by cheering/booing/braying like a herd of wild donkeys.

The rest of the show unfolds mainly through additional montages, interspersed with about three minutes of actual auditions that showcase the different types of contestant. There are the token lunatics who try to stab the judges when they’re told they sound like a bag of cats, and don’t look much better. Then you have the bereaved middle-aged men with average voices whose sob stories are told to the camera over the dulcet tones of ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay, and who will receive pity votes and eventually finish in the top ten or so in an attempt to convince viewers that the producers actually have souls. Eventually, after toying with your emotions for three quarters of an hour, the show will finish with an unassuming young girl who has the voice of an angel, and an appearance and cultural background that will appeal to the biggest demographic. The crowd goes wild, Louis’s eyes actually become visible, and about seventeen more montages are needed just to close out the show in a suitably dramatic fashion.

Despite all the obvious manipulation I really have to confess a grudging respect for the show’s creators. It is quite possibly the finest example of exploitative theatre for the masses in existence. The beauty of it is that no effort is required. Thousands of people offer themselves up as contestants, to be judged, mocked, celebrated or whatever the producers decide they want to do with them. No amount of actors or scriptwriters could ever come close to emulating the depths of pathetic delusion displayed by the deluge of untalented people who genuinely believe that they have a shot at stardom. Or at least a shot at a Christmas number 2 and an appearance on next year’s Celebrity Big Brother, where Sylvester Stallone’s postman and Amanda Holden’s plastic surgeon will smile emptily at them and pretend to know who they are when they enter the house.

At this stage the entire programme is basically just a manufactured algorithm, in which just the right amount of variables has to be entered each week: crazy people, likeable people, poignant music, uplifting music, good judge, bad judge, pliable crowd, and the most important element of all, people at home wilfully being drawn in by the whole thing. The show is such a car crash of human experience that they even pull in the more discerning viewer who can claim to be watching in an ironic way, but is secretly hooked just like everyone else.

Shared experience is one of the most important facets of the human condition, and it is no surprise that something as all-consuming as this light entertainment show continues to grow in popularity. Everyone has an opinion on it, and it is something that everyone can experience together, whether it is in the form of criticism or adulation. There is also a perverse pleasure to be taken in watching people humiliate themselves, which is one thing that the show is never lacking.

The X Factor is about as artificial and contrived as an entertainment show can be, and every part of it is made specifically to exploit and to manipulate. The feelings it elicits in people, however, when witnessing the full range of desperation, sadness, delight, despair, viciousness, generosity and cruelty of humanity, all pre-packaged in a neat little bundle, are as real and tangible as can be. If you think you could never do as the Romans did, and watch the bloody and barbaric sports of the Colosseum, stick on the telly this Saturday, have a look at the judges seated in front of an audience baying not for blood but for humiliation, and think again. I’d rather be thrown to the lions than that lot.

Fitch of a Situation

It has emerged this week that the US fashion chain Abercrombie & Fitch has offered a ‘substantial’ amount of money to perma-tanned fist-pumper Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino, of reality show Jersey Shore fame, on the condition that he immediately stop wearing their clothes. The show’s producers and other cast members have also reportedly been offered payment to ensure that the brand no longer features on the hit MTV show.

Anyone even vaguely familiar with this menagerie of obscenely tasteless individuals that passes for an entertainment programme will know that the self-styled guidos and guidettes that feature are rarely fully clothed anyway. You would have to be pretty quick to catch a logo on one of Situation’s T-shirts given that he spends most of his time pulling them up to reveal his day-glo abs, hence blinding the surrounding young ladies for long enough to confuse them into sleeping with him. When their sight returns hours later, they just assume that they somehow travelled back in time and had sex with a young, less articulate Sylvester Stallone.

The bigwigs at A&F, however, are concerned that even the most fleeting association of their wholesome brand with the show’s cast is bad for their image. Which in turn is bad for business. It’s funny, because I would have thought that a better example of bad business would be adopting discriminatory hiring practises and aiming advertisements at an extremely narrow demographic so that every single one of your staff and clientele looks like an extra from an American high school football movie. That is, a high school football movie set in the deep South before the schools integrated. Denzel can shop in Gap down the street, he doesn’t really suit our image.

The reality is that the company, having emblazoned all of their very ordinary and over-priced clothing with massive slogans, are now unhappy with any free advertisement that comes their way from the wrong kind of people. They don’t want little Lorenzo saving up his pennies so he can come in and buy that T-shirt that The Situation had on during that situation on last week’s show. That’s not a good situation. They’d prefer little Tyler to drag in his Botoxed mother from her Range Rover long enough to blow the best part of a grand in the place so that Tyler doesn’t look out of place at the beach party, where everyone meets up to whisper about surfing and unrequited love, like on The O.C.

Lorenzo and Tyler, apart from being wholly fictional, are also disgracefully simplistic stereotypes that I’ve created to make my point, but the fact is that A&F, like many other companies, have built an exclusivity into their branding. This strategy not only exploits existing societal and racial differences, but exacerbates them. Prohibitively expensive clothes aimed at rich idiots who pay extra for a brand name are not rare, but the difference here is the singular approach taken in the marketing of the products, which is deliberately and unapologetically aimed at young, affluent white people.

The fact that these brazen Abercrombie & Fitches are bold enough to publicly offer money to some cheap riff-raff that dared to sample some of its wares in front of an audience of millions of potential customers, shows just how comfortable they are with their own exclusionist policies. The Situation is a lucky man. To get paid to appear on a TV show documenting your alcohol-fuelled sexual exploits is fortuitous enough. But it is an exceptional piece of luck to then get offered a cash bonus to not look like a dickhead who has to pay a hundred quid for a shirt because he wants to look like a cast member from American Pie: The Mom’s Credit Card Years.

I do hope, however, that the show refuses to take the cash and censor the fashion choices of its stars. The best thing to do in response to such an arrogant request would be to deck out the entire cast from head to toe in their products from this point on. Mike could even get the logo tattooed on his six-pack so that it’s always visible.

Maybe after a while the company would come to realise that exposure outside of their niche is a good thing, and they might even get the secretary to take down that calendar from the 1950’s that they have hung up in the office. Either that or their image would become so tainted with their preferred customers that they would be forced out of business. And I have to admit, these are both very acceptable situations. Fist pump, brah.