Baz and Nancy’s Holy Show chances its way towards a miraculous encounter

Can Baz Ashmawy blag his way into the pope’s inner circle?

Baz Ashmawy sits down with his mother Nancy to write a letter to Pope Francis in a preview of their RTÉ programme "Baz and Nancy's Holy Show". Video: RTÉ

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If there is a heaven, it seems entirely possible that Baz Ashmawy, a charismatic man blessed with schoolboy cheek, will try to blag his way into it, either sweet-talking St Peter, leaning on some cherub connection, or bribing God. That, near enough, is also his strategy for Baz and Nancy’s Holy Show (RTÉ, 9.30pm, Wednesday), a one-off Christmas special in which the presenter promises his 75-year-old mother an audience with the pope, then chances his arm and every other appendage.

Nancy, the woman who brought him into the world, is also Baz’s co-star on the Emmy-winning show in which he threatens to push her out of it, 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy.

Bringing her face to face with Il Papa may be intended as a form of atonement, yet Baz immediately sets about the task in the most dishonest ways available. “You can’t lie in a letter to the pope,” argues his mother, reasonably. The comedic tension in the adventure – his mother’s genuine faith versus his genuine irreverence – is also a tension in the programme. More serious about the mission than the missionaries, it overdoes an ironic voice, huskily issued by Jerry Fish, lest it seem in the least bit pious.

That suits the tackiness of apparitions and souvenir stores in Knock (“From a merchandise point of view, is he popular?” Baz asks of Pope Francis) but less Nancy’s encounter with Br Kevin Crowley, of the Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People, whose charity and humility overwhelms her. It also begs the question, for a believer, whether an audience with the pope is something you must earn or something you can hustle.

Elsewhere, Nancy’s discomfort is used for entertainment; amusingly, when she unwittingly stalks Daniel O’Donnell, a minor deity in his own right, but considerably less so when she is forced – with undisguised distress – to endure her son’s driving through Roman traffic.

It is hard to stay mad at Baz, a natural in front of the camera, in possession of an endearing quick wit. And though his plans – “hitting up every Irish priest in Rome” – come to nothing, bringing Nancy to see a popemobile circuit of the Vatican doesn’t seem difficult to achieve.

“He looked at me,” Baz says of the pope’s drive-by blessing, “and we had a moment.” That’s not entirely clear from the recording. Then again, this might count as a Christmas miracle, his first religious vision.

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