Good singers? Show me talent-show entrants with full HGV licences. Then I’ll be impressed

Patrick Freyne: In The Big Deal, cash-strapped entertainers vie for a few months’ rent money

When I was first asked to write about The Big Deal, I wrote, of course, about the importance of countercyclical stimulus packages in periods of economic decline before segueing into a riff on Schumpeterian creative destruction and a defence of Roosevelt’s consolidation of state power in the 1930s. I thought it was excellent.

My editor said: "You're thinking of the New Deal. We meant you to write about The Big Deal, the Sunday-night talent show starring Boy George, one of the lads out of JLS and both Jedwards. It's on Virgin Media and I think someone roller-skates."

On reflection, this made much more sense. I'm not Fintan O'Toole. And no one really roller-skates out of the economics books, except possibly John Maynard Keynes. The Big Deal isn't much like the New Deal at all. There's a stimulus package, but it's in the form of a €50,000 grand prize. The people vying for victory are cash-strapped entertainers, and this will just pay a few months' rent in Dublin.

We don't yet have a show called Best Talent Show Judge, in which different talent-show judges demonstrate their judging skills for the approval of some sort of talent-show supreme court, but it's only a matter of time

The only job for life in the entertainment industry these days is talent-show judge. We haven’t yet reached a situation where we have a show called Best Talent Show Judge, in which different talent-show judges demonstrate their judging skills for the approval of some sort of talent-show supreme court, but it’s only a matter of time.


The only judge in this crowd worthy of being on a talent show supreme court is probably the comedian Deirdre O’Kane. She peers curiously out at the assorted circus acrobats and buskers and, seeing no heart surgeons or farmers, realises that the jig is up for our civilisation. (I know I’m reading a lot into this.)

Aston from JLS, meanwhile, has the 1,000-yard stare of the reality talent-show veteran. The judging-panel desk is a lifeboat and he is clinging to it. “Don’t send me back out into the dark!” he cries from time to time.

The bubbly Cork popstress Lyra bounces around happily in her chair. She is new to the entertainment industry and still has hope in her heart, much like the birds of the air before they were used as part of her feathery dress.

The Jedwards, both Jed and Ward, are a surprisingly calm and reflective presence. They seem resigned to the fact they both get one vote, one fifth of the desk, one birth cert, one passport and one social-security number. Twins are legally one person now. It's one of the things the Greens have achieved in government.

Last but not least is the veteran poptician Boy George, who is always interesting to me. That Boy George is still called Boy George while clearly being Fully-grown-middle-aged-man George has strengthened my resolve that my new nephew should have been named Baby. Baby would be a little on the nose as a name for an actual baby (the counterargument from his parents), but it would be an amazing name for an adult.

Vogue Williams hosts in her famously relaxed manner. Some viewers might have liked the producers to have gone with her perkier sisters, Woman's Way or Whizzer and Chips. But I like her laid-back style

Boy George’s parents certainly knew what they were at when they named him Boy. And look at him now: he heads a talent-show panel while wearing an apparently drawn-on beard and a really big hat.

Yes, another interesting thing about Boy George is that he wears incredibly large hats. This is either because he has a distorted impression of his own noggin (“Curse my unfeasibly large head!”) or because he has purloined the headgear of a larger action figure (“In your face Mumm-ra!”) or possibly because his cranium expands during moments of great stress. (If the latter, this is a potential show piece for a future episode.)

As well as the judging panel there is Vogue Williams, who introduces the acts dressed, this week, a little like an extra in Dune while performing her functions in her famously relaxed manner. Some viewers would like a little more pizzazz from Vogue, suggesting that the producers should perhaps have gone with her perkier sisters, Woman’s Way or Whizzer and Chips. But I like her laid-back style. She will no doubt eventually deliver her lines in a gentle drawl from wherever she’s lying on the stage and it will be excellent.

The twist in the formula is that, before they are judged, each contestant has the opportunity to take a money deal and then leave, rather than risk the panel’s judgment, potential eviction and eventual penury. In the course of this episode some roller-skating daredevils compete against an acrobatic pole-dancer. None of the judges says, “I have no idea how to judge this as I am qualified in neither discipline!” for that would be to admit the emptiness at the heart of the whole enterprise. Instead, the skating daredevils skate home forlornly.

Then a very good singer competes with another very good singer. No offence to either of them, but it's clear now that "having a good voice" is the most over-represented talent in Europe. If both of them had just stood there holding out full HGV licences, then I'd be impressed.

The third contest here is between a drag queen who both lip-syncs and leg-syncs (dances) and two boys in leather pants who do Irish dancing but in a sexy and exuberant fashion. The latter makes me think, for some reason, of folk masses and the words “foreign sports”. The plucky drag queen takes the money and sashays away.

In The 2 Johnnies Take On… (Monday, RTÉ2) two podcasters take on TikToking. Twenty years ago that sentence would have indicated someone was having an episode. But meaningless gibberish is now a business model, and the eponymous Johnnies spend the episode trying to get their heads around TikTok, a social-media microvideo platform beloved by the doomed denizens of Generation Z.

The main problem with fish-out-of-water escapades is that in real life fish die gasping within minutes of arriving on land, so it’s generally much more exciting watching animals that are used to being out of water. But in fairness to the 2 Johnnies they have turned the ancient art of television eejitry into a finely honed ballet, and I often find myself laughing as they grapple with TikTok tropes.

On the other hand, there’s just too much randomness here for even me. As they go around interviewing people who stick garlic up their noses until it’s unpleasant, chop logs with their shirts off until it’s arousing, and review hedges until it’s amusing, I start wondering when the other 2 Johnnies of the Apocalypse are going to turn up. In conclusion: I am old.