Would you believe it? Sky hits us with another act of God


TV REVIEW:WHO CAN FORGET those classic editions of the Late Late Show? The one where that bishop wore a nightie, the one where Oliver J Flanagan invented sex, the one where Annie Lennox spoke about her affair with the pope, and that drunken no-holds-barred brawl featuring Peter Ustinov, George Best, Oliver Reed and Mary Kenny (actually, I was quite young and may be remembering these wrong).

Of course, the force behind those nation-changing programmes never retired entirely. Gay Byrne is still responsible for Gaybo Laughs Back, The Meaning of Life and, newly back on RTÉ, For One Night Only (RTÉ One, Friday) in which he does a Gay Byrne impersonation for beloved music stars and in return they perform music for him. Sadly, in recent years he has succumbed to Jimmy Saville Syndrome. This is what happens when a television personality becomes imprisoned by their trademark tics, techniques and mannerisms: in Gay’s case a sing-song delivery, magnanimous admiring looks and a theatrical, soundless laugh.

This week he ritualistically conversed with the always watchable Sinéad O’Connor, who gamely answered the personal questions with a raised eyebrow, an amused half-smile and a typical lack of deference. Gay, on the other hand, sounded a bit like he was running through points on a checklist: inspirational Montessori teacher. Music-loving aunt. Relationship with deceased mother. Moving to London. Song. Success of Nothing Compares 2U. Ripping up a picture of the pope. Song.

To be fair, the musical format isn’t well suited to free-flowing conversation, but there’s also a sense that Gay’s not always entirely engaged. “Look at her,” he was probably thinking. “Shaved head. High heels. Dressed like a priest. On national television. I’m Gay Byrne. I carved modern Ireland from one of my ribs. Is this somehow my fault?”

STRANGE THINGS happen to television phenomena when they’ve been around for a long time. The aptly, if unimaginatively, titled supernatural drama Supernatural (Sky Living, Wednesday) began life as a tale of two hunky brothers investigating urban legends in small-town America. Seven years on and things have stepped up a bit. Now the square-jawed duo are trying to convince the human manifestation of Death to kill God.

This is pretty heady stuff – more Milton meets Nietzsche than The Hardy Boys meets Scooby Doo – and I’m not sure there’s a future in it. I mean, where can you go after deicide, either dramatically or theologically? Luckily it’s made clear that the God in question isn’t the Judeo Christian Yahweh after all, but is an all-powerful version of the duo’s angel chum Castiel (a trench-coat wearing hunk). So the fraternal hunks, Dean and Sam, incant some Latin-sounding mumbo-jumbo, daub arcane symbols on the walls in blood, and flirt with some man-shaped manifestations of good and evil (there wasn’t a female speaking part in the whole episode).

Soon Castiel isn’t God any longer: he becomes a different all-powerful demonic creature called Leviathan . . . which feels like a disappointing demotion after being God. Soon, no doubt, Leviathan will be revealed to be a minor supervillain called Duck Man. And eventually they’ll be ripping off Duck Man’s rubber mask to reveal that it was the caretaker from the old disused funfair all along. “And I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you hunks!” he’ll say, and we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief, happy to be back in a more manageable narrative.

THIS WEEK, SKY’S enjoyably creaky home-produced mythic adventure series Shirtless Sinbad and his Attractive Seafaring Colleagues (the real title is actually just Sinbad: Sky 1, Sunday) sees Sinbad and his fresh-faced chums adrift on a listless ocean without food and water, when they come upon a mysteriously empty boat with just one passenger. It’s Timothy Spall.

Spall (I think he’s playing himself) boards Sinbad’s boat and utters cryptic statements about imminent death, the characters’ secret pasts and Greek learning, all with an arched eyebrow and a plummy slur. The gist of his warning to these youngsters is, I think: “Get out of acting before you find yourself hamming it up in a daft Sky drama!”

On cue we cut to dry land where the great Irish actor Orla Brady is a baddie witch who writhes around, glowers and plucks a magic beetle from her mouth for some reason, while Sayid from Lost broods shirtlessly nearby (the anti-shirt agenda is rather blatant).

Eventually the young actors/sailors discover that Spall is in fact Death himself (him again!). They confront him and he dissolves into a thousand moths (surprise, surprise: none of the moths are wearing shirts).

I SUSPECT SOMETHING similar may one day happen to Paddy O’Gorman. There’s an old Irish saying that roughly translates as: “if you see Paddy O’Gorman and a dog on the edge of your town, you will soon be recounting a charming anecdote while he nods at you”. Each episode of O’Gorman (RTÉ One, Tuesday) begins with the behatted road warrior roaming the country accompanied by a canine chum. This isn’t an original opening. Mad Max II begins in a similar fashion but, unlike Mel Gibson, O’Gorman doesn’t get involved in violent road battles with the disfigured barbarian Lord Humongous (not yet anyway) and nobody calls him an “outlander” (science-fiction for “blow-in”). Instead he engages the locals in the towns he visits in a bit of spontaneous chat, and when it works (it hasn’t always worked in the past) it allows O’Gorman to conversationally tap into the real-life social history of Ireland.

This week’s Titanic-themed episode, in which O’Gorman visits the Titanic exhibits in Belfast and Cobh, does work. He meets, amongst others, a gregariously self-doubting priest who regrets spending his life celibate. “I’m sure you’d have made someone happy,” says O’Gorman. “I’m sure I would,” says the priest before saying, with a chuckle “I’d have made them unhappy too”.

Later he encounters a former resident of a brutal industrial school who attributes his inability to stay in work or relationships to his experiences there. A Belfast girl who married a British soldier at the height of the Troubles talks about leaving the city for the UK, and she gets emotional at the prospect of returning for good. And a man who formerly ran a pub in that city tells Paddy why he gave it up: “Somebody put a bomb in it.”

It’s all very matter-of-fact, honest and human. Much better than Mad Max II.


Bernice Harrison is on leave

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