It's not that 'Mrs Brown' is too mainstream. It's just not funny


TV REVIEW:There isn’t a grand panoramic feeling to ‘The Story of Ireland’, or in episode one anyway. It’s bitty, crammed and rushed

IT’S TAKEN ME a while to pick up the gauntlet thrown by Joe Duffy on Livelinesome weeks back. In a discussion on RTÉ’s new comedy offering, Duffy, clearly a huge fan of Mrs Brown’s Boys (RTÉ1, Saturday)said, “ The Irish Times. . . don’t like Brendan O’Carroll because he’s too mainstream.” (Which I think roughly translates as: “That lot are too up themselves to appreciate the humour.”)

The series ended on RTÉ on Sunday (though it’s starting on BBC1 on the 21st), so it was time to put on my happy face and, if for nothing other than pure contrariness, prove Duffy wrong.

Thirty stony-faced minutes later it turns out this Irish Timesreviewer doesn’t like O’Carroll’s TV series because it’s wall to wall with gags that should have been retired years ago and stereotypes that went out with black-and-white telly.

The whole thing is entirely predicated on viewers finding a man dressed as a foul-mouthed elderly woman intrinsically funny. If you do, you’re away in a hack (and the viewing figures are astronomical), but if you don’t, and you think that died out with Les Dawson and Dick Emery, then it’s a long half-hour.

Every time Mrs Brown said f**k, which she did with wearing regularity, the audience went into paroxysms. Nothing against the F-word – eavesdrop on any number of random conversations or go around knocking on doors with a canvasser and you’ll quickly hear it’s a part of who we are – but when used, as it seems to be here, in an attempt to update a clutch of creaky old gags it’s plain boring.

Mrs Brown and her elderly friend are in the pub talking about the priest and how he needs a miracle to restore his faith. “Why don’t you do a miracle?” says Mrs Brown. “What?” asks her friend. “Get up and pay for the f**king round.” Cue hysterics from the studio audience.

Mrs Brown’s son walks across the room dressed in a chicken suit. “That’s my son,” she says. “He’s a big cock.”

Take out the F-word, the random rude stuff and the strange business of Mrs Brown talking directly into the camera and Mrs Brown’s Boyscould be a mediocre sitcom from the early 1980s. So it’s not a question of being too mainstream. It’s just not funny.

NOT MANY LAUGHS to be had, either, in Outcasts(BBC1, Monday and Tuesday), the BBC’s new big-production sci-fi drama set in the far – though unspecified – future. Some calamity or other has befallen Earth, sending a group of refugees hurtling through space for five years before they landed on the dusty planet of Carpathia, named after the ship that came to Titanic’s rescue. There they set up a new colony called Forthaven, where, as New Age frontier folk they are plagued by disease and threatened by internal mutiny and the great unknown that’s beyond the walls of their fortress village.

While they’ve boldly gone where no man has gone before (or have they?: Being sci-fi you’re never sure) the gizmos are kept to a minimum. No shiny futuristic one-pieces or even a bit of primary-coloured cotton: everyone wears shades of grey in this grim future world. One of the few fancy gadgets is in the hands of Stella (Hermione Norris), the chief of police. It can read people’s memories.

The mobile phones are the size of bricks and the doors swish open and closed – no hinges in the future, just as Capt Kirk and co predicted. President Tate (Liam Cuningham) gets to hold the whole thing together – and deliver much of the complicated backstory that weighed down the first episode, and, presumably, accounted for the leaden, exposition-filled dialogue. Things picked up considerably by episode two (also shown this week to get viewers hooked) with the arrival of a new refugee, Julius Berger (Eric Mabius), though it’s going to take a lot to see him as a villain when he’s best known as being Ugly Betty’s boss.

Despite it’s obvious big budget and pedigree (created by the same team as Spooks) it arrived on the screen with little pre-publicity – usually a sign of nerves from those higher up – though on the strength of the first couple of episodes it’s good escapist stuff and Cunningham is fantastic.

CALLING A SERIES The Story of Ireland(RTÉ1, Tuesday) shows confidence and ambition. After all, there are as many stories as there are Irelands. The central thesis of Fergal Keane’s new five-parter is that Ireland was not a claustrophobic inward-looking island in splendid isolation on the far edge of Europe and that to define Ireland by its relationship with Britain (the opening scenes includes shots of an Orange march) is wrong and self-limiting. Rather, Ireland’s history and development have been defined by a robust integration with the world beyond.

Episode one brought us from Newgrange to Brian Boru – a vast span of action-packed centuries to cram into an hour. He talked to all manner of experts, from an Italian who explained how St Columbanus was a radical missionary who left Ireland and took on the Vatican, to a curator at the National Museum of Ireland who showed that the jewels that ended up in Celtic jewellery, and were found in bogs, but originally came from the Baltic.

As an experienced news reporter, Keane is expert at communicating facts and figures that are new, and maybe it’s because of his reporting style that it was difficult to escape the feeling that he thinks this approach to Irish history is in some way revelatory – when it’s obviously not. If he’d stopped by his old primary school he would have been reminded that he was taught about St Brendan and the Vikings, that St Patrick came to Ireland from Wales, that Irish monks were tremendous travellers and all the rest of it. It’s this sense of history that arguably informs our senses of ourselves: good luck finding someone who believes Ireland was an isolated rocky outpost until it became John Bull’s other island and needs convincing otherwise.

A great deal of ground is covered (literally: Keane walks in and out of just about every shot – the direction, like the script, is workmanlike), but there isn’t a grand panoramic feeling to the series – not in episode one, anyway. It’s bitty, crammed and rushed, more like a Junior Cert textbook brought to the screen than the landmark series promised in the publicity. Disappointing.

DURING PUBLIC SPEAKING (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday), the mesmerising documentary (really an intimate public interview with archive footage) directed by Martin Scorsese about the New York wit and social commentator Fran Lebowitz, she talks of this generation being “soaked in nostalgia” and complained about “the endless recycling of the culture”.

I somehow doubt she was taking about Mrs Brown’s Boys,but she could have been referring to Hawaii Five-0 (Sky 1, Sunday), the cops-and-robbers series that was a TV phenomenon in the 1970s, and has now been remade – or re-imagined, using the makey-uppy TV-executive term. The plots are of the macho, shoot-’em-up sort, featuring international terrorists with dodgy accents and foolish plans that are quickly rumbled by the maverick crime-fighting team of Steven McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) – and for an island of a million people there sure is a high murder rate. The cast are way better-looking than the original, but they’ve kept the best things: the theme tune and, of course, the famous end line, which will warm the heart of nostalgia junkies: “Book ’em, Danno.”

My choice One for crime fans 

Corp + Anam (TG4, Wednesday), a promising new four-part drama about a TV reporter who gets too close to the action, starring Diarmuid de Faoite and Maria Doyle Kennedy.