Claire Byrne, a live audience and no bijou shed in sight. Is this the new normal?

TV: The returning Claire Byrne Live doubles down on its magazine-show formula

Claire Byrne Live: the new series has an alarming lack of novelty and meme-ready moments

Claire Byrne Live: the new series has an alarming lack of novelty and meme-ready moments

 

When we reflect on our early shared memories of the pandemic, it is slightly unsettling to consider just how often Claire Byrne pops up in them. She was there with her mocked-up isolation ward as Covid became something we were all finally taking seriously. And then, a few weeks later, having tested positive for coronavirus, Byrne was broadcasting from her bijou shed. This is what scientists refer to as a Reeling in the Years moment.

Twenty months or so later, Covid is still with us but no longer a looming unknown. In fact, it scarcely receives a mention as Byrne returns for a new season of Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Monday). Which isn’t to say Byrne and the zeitgeist have parted company. Far from it. She apparently receives a surprise shout-out in the new Sally Rooney novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You.

Byrne’s name is by all accounts invoked during a scene in which two of Rooney’s characters become amorous while watching the presenter grill a politician. Rooney had originally intended for her protagonists to fall into a passionate clinch listening to Liveline. This was rejected by the publisher on the basis that it would be more than unsuspecting readers could handle. It also nixed plans for the book to finish with a giant marshmallow Marty Morrissey rampaging through Trinity College.

In a sort of gameshow challenge, Byrne is tasked by a recycling expert to correctly sort out some sample rubbish. ‘Is that right? I’m very confused now,’ says Byrne, speaking for all of us when it comes to bins and recycling

Irish television bubbles over with current-affairs shows. Claire Byrne Live distinguishes itself by leaning hard into a magazine format. As it returns with the first studio audience since you know what, it doubles down on that formula.

The broadcast opens with an item on the Katherine Zappone scandal. (It is, we learn, still scandalous.) Then there is a moving conversation with several survivors of severe childhood deprivation and drug addiction.

These include the champion triathlete Ger Redmond, from Coolock in Dublin, and James Leonard and Timmy Long, from Cork City’s northside, who now host the popular Two Norries podcast. All three stories have happy endings insofar as the trio have put their difficult pasts behind them. Yet how many children in the same position are doomed to repeat the destructive cycle of their parents?

Next: the “fun bit”. The rules around recycling have changed – which is to say the rules around recycling have become even more complicated than they already were. In a sort of gameshow challenge, Byrne is tasked by a recycling expert, Geraldine Carton, to correctly sort out some sample rubbish.

“Is that right? I’m very confused now,” says Byrne, speaking for all of us when it comes to bins and recycling. Carton puts it succinctly in saying humanity isn’t going to recycle its way out of the climate crisis. The goal should be to reduce packaging so we’re not standing over our bins wondering what goes where and whether this is as exciting as life gets nowadays.

And then there is an interview with the retired boxer Barry McGuigan about his late daughter, Nika, and her film Wildfire. The movie is a rumination on post-Troubles trauma, something McGuigan feels was passed down to those born after the Belfast Agreement. “We suffer every day because of that,” he says of the loss of his daughter, who died from cancer in 2019, when she was 33. “Grief is dreadful.”

And that’s that: four widely divergent topics covered briskly yet succinctly. There is, however, an alarming lack of novelty and meme-ready moments. Perhaps this is the new normal we’ve been hearing about: Claire Byrne speaking before a live audience, and without a bijou shed in sight.

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