From Ted to TD


Val Falvey TDRTÉ 1, Sunday The Savage EyeRTÉ2, Monday School of SaatchiBBC2, Monday Nick’s BistroTV3, Monday

MAYBE IT’S because our politicians have been dishing up the ingredients for comedy gold on a great big platter that my expectations for Val Falvey TD(RTÉ 1, Sunday) were so high. This year alone the comedy gift horse that is Leinster House has produced all kinds of material from the slapstick of limos shuttling between airport terminals to the real meat of satire such as Nama, ministerial expenses and state-funded bankers.

A good satirical comedy would twist the knife and it’s safe to speculate that we’re all in the mood to witness a bit of expert filleting. Then there’s the pedigree of Val Falvey’s writer Arthur Matthews (who co-writes with Paul Woodfull) who was one of the co-creators of Father Ted. The cast, too, which includes Owen Roe, Pat O’Donnell, Enda Oates and Amelia Crowley, is top notch.

So with all that going for it, it seems nearly wilful that they created such an unfunny, irrelevant show. The premise is that Falvey is a reluctant politician from the midlands who inherits the seat from his deceased father. Pat Daly (Roe) is his adviser and fixer. The constituency office is a manky caravan which we’re clearly supposed to find instantly hilarious (and of course the caravan episode wasone of the funniest in the Father Tedseries), but lightning doesn’t strike twice. Then there are the other characters – mostly slightly mad-looking people, straight out of the dog-eared directory of shouty culchie stereotypes, and without a funny line between them.

In the first episode, a swimming cap factory is discharging rash-causing effluent into the lake and Falvey, who is in the pocket of the owner (a terrific performance by Oates), has to stop a constituent from suing. But that’s nearly by the way, as much of the action concerns Falvey ineptly learning to ride a bicycle; there’s a lake nearby, so go on, guess what happens in the end.

In his stand-up show O’Hanlon has, by all accounts, left his Father Tedcharacter far behind but here it’s as if he came straight from Craggy Island, just stopping to whip off his dog collar and put on a tie. “I want to go to the Eurovision more than I want to go to heaven,” says Falvey on meeting Linda Martin. It’s as if Matthews can’t forget O’Hanlon was Dougal and on TV O’Hanlon can’t stop being him.

There are a couple of funny lines such as Falvey’s “it’s always something small that gets you in the end, Nixon a tape, Kennedy a bullet”. But by the time they were shoe-horned into the plot, it was a case of come back Killinaskully, all is forgiven.

FROM MY LIMITEDexposure to stand-up comedian Dave McSavage – on The Late Late Showwhere Pat Kenny used to laugh like a drain at everything he said while the audience looked on in mute horror – I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of the other new homegrown comedy offering of the week, The Savage Eye(RTÉ2, Monday). But it’s hilarious – not every single minute of it by any means, but there must have been over 50 sketches jammed into the half-hour and more hit the mark than didn’t.

In the first episode, an earnest voiceover (McSavage plays most of the parts including a bizarrely funny Mary Robinson take-off) tells us that this is a cultural documentary exploring “why the Irish are so influential in the world of the arts”. That’s pretty much code for “why do we love ourselves so much” and McSavage, brilliantly helped by comedian Pat McDonnell (who also gets a writing credit and who was wasted in Val Falvey) has a good go at poking our sacred cows firmly in the eye.

In one sketch he’s Seamus Heaney wandering through the bog extolling the virtue of turf, in another a hyperactive Des Bishop resuscitating a dying Irish language played as a patient in a hospital bed. Other favourites included a revolting, foul-mouthed publican explaining how Irish dancing is a martial art invented by the IRA and a seanchaí retelling the plot of Taxi Driver. It’s absurd and satirical and directed by a couple of our best filmmakers, Kieron J Walsh and Damian O’Donnell.

NOW THAT JEDWARDare gone and The X Factorisn’t worth watching anymore – five singers remain and not a glimmer of fun between them – its time to hunt out another series that pitches young, fame-hungry wannabes against each other in the cruellest of spotlights.

Though on the strength of the first episode of School of Saatchi(BBC2, Monday) the young artists aren’t going be anything like the wide-eyed pushovers that belt it out each week before Simon, Cheryl, Dannii and Louis.

Charles Saatchi is a kingmaker in the world of contemporary art. When he bought art student Jenny Saville’s entire graduate show, he made her one of the most sought-after young artists in Britain and her portraits would now set you back a cool half a million quid. And she’s just one of the many artists he’s made. That sort of power makes a number one single and instant pop obscurity seem a bit shabby, so it’s not hard to see just why someone on the first steps of the greasy career ladder would want his patronage, and that’s really the prize in this new reality series. That and a studio in London for three years and a chance to show at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

At the open “audition” where the young artists showed their work, the judges Tracey Emin, curator Kate Bush, critic Matthew Collings and collector Frank Cohen weren’t shy. “I like your work but you’re just too weird,” said Collings to one chap (and in fairness, he was), followed by Emin’s “that’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve seen in my life” response to another young bloke’s work. (Though as his art piece was a circle of folding chairs lying on the ground, she was, in fact, being kind). “You’re very good at squiggly brushstrokes but there’s nothing underneath,” was the verdict that crushed another hopeful – and Simon Cowell is supposed to be cruel?

The judges picked their top dozen candidates and then Saatchi got to whittle it down to the six that would go through to next week’s stage. Weirdly, though, the great art god didn’t appear on screen, instead a rather stressed woman who works for him arrived, mobile phone in hand, like a dowdy Charlie’s Angel, to communicate his opinions to the judges in a series of joyless sentences beginning with “Charles thinks . . .” or “Charles feels . . .” Most peculiar.

The more bolshie of the artists took great exception to being asked by the judges to explain why their pieces should be considered art. “It was like explaining to your grandmother,” moaned one after his grilling, while another queried Emin’s bona fides in even asking the question since she famously made a name for herself by exhibiting her unmade bed. His sniping got back to the judges. “I don’t go around vomiting and saying this is art, it’s considered, it’s directed,” says Emin. Nice to know.

 Getting bums on seats Bistro duo grapple with Lilliputian chairs in a fantasy world of product placement

The best bit about Nick’s Bistro(TV3, Monday) this week was the row over the Lilliputian chairs. TV3’s fly on the wall series made during last summer follows front-of-house man Nick Muniere (pictured right) and chef Stephen Gibson as they work towards the opening of their new Dublin restaurant.

Muniere, a cool TV veteran having appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s F Word, is entirely natural in front of the camera while Gibson, a giant of a man, lurks around after him being mostly silent and agreeable – not exactly what we’ve come to expect from our TV chefs.

In Monday’s programme they hit on the money-saving tactic of having their chairs custom-made in China. Eight grand later they realised that the measurements had been lost in translation and the teeny chairs had been made up to fit neat Asian bottoms and not comfortably upholstered Irish ones.

What is distinctly off about the series is the either cack-handed direction or in-your-face product placement. There were great interludes that seemed like corporate videos complete with giant logos and smiley marketing types — did we really need to visit Bewley’s factory when they were looking for coffee, Diageo when they were stocking the bar and so on and on as the two chose the cheese, fruit and bread for their menu. It left a bad taste.