Ryan Tubridy’s 10th ‘Late Late’ season starts with an awfully judged interview

Review: The ‘Late Late Show’ machine miscalculated on Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey

Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey and her mother Angela, a recovering  heroin addict

Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey and her mother Angela, a recovering heroin addict

 

“It’s an out of body experience, really. You become this machine. You’re aware of all the dangers, but you’re constantly calculating.” Jim Warny, one of the later guests in The Late Late Show (RTÉ One, Friday, 9.35pm), is describing something otherwise unfathomable: his reflexes as one of the expert cave divers who this summer helped rescue twelve boys and their football coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

Still, as Ryan Tubridy begins his tenth series as host of RTÉ’s flagship chat show, he looks as though he recognises the sensation.

There are no lives at stake, that I know of, during the Friday night broadcast, and, give or take a Toy Show mishap, the conditions are much dryer. But a marathon live programme brings its own perils and squeezes.

Some conversations are as difficult to extract as wisdom teeth. An excitable audience – “Lively, funny, happy,” Ryan approves, presumably euphemistically, at the top of the show – must be whipped into a frenzy for the mildest celebrity badinage then simmered right down for an interview of sombre gravity. All this and an endless procession of national raffles; for cash and cars and, at regular intervals, freebies for everyone in the audience.

Either the challenge of that endeavour brings out your personality, year after year, or you become this machine. Constantly calculating.

The new series begins with something like a victory lap, a review of summer sporting achievements that recaps the successes and prolongs the afterglow. The first guests are the Irish Women’s Senior Hockey Team (almost all of them), silver medallists at this year’s World Cup and the most triumphant of all known underdogs. They arrive to a prolonged standing ovation, lining up in three rows on the steps of the stage, a useful configuration for a group photo but a daunting prospect for any interview.

This, however, is an opportunity for adulation, not elucidation. “If they could keep that up for the next 15 minutes that would be perfect,” one player quips of the audience cheers.

Actually, she’s anticipated the problem better than the producers have: if happiness writes white, victory is a conversational cul de sac. Though Tubridy restricts the interview to the front row, he doesn’t elicit much further reflection than a breathless interview on the side of a pitch.

With three European Championships athletics winners still to come, then representatives of the Limerick Senior Hurling All-Ireland victors, sustained cheering seems to be the programme’s plan.

“This doesn’t happen very often,” Ryan says of the hurlers’ standing ovation, although it happens so frequently tonight that even shallow media troll and presidential meat puppet Piers Morgan can demand one, basking in the glow of his self-regard, and be rewarded. Jim Warny, on the other hand, who risked his life to help save 13 others, receives polite seated applause.

What does it take to get a rise out of Ryan? Morgan appeals to one of his hobbyhorses: that this hysterical media-addled age provides no arena for reasoned debate. Coming from Morgan, of course, this is like a skunk complaining about the stink (“You’re responsible for the hyperbolic craziness,” interjects Ryan, but no toes are held to the fire here) and it reminds you that the Late Late once provided a forum for more complex arguments; as the nation’s town hall meeting.

Where Tubridy gives in to his more reactionary instincts, I think, is in one awfully judged interview with the Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey and her mother Angela, whose story of heroin addiction through Shauna’s childhood was stunningly disclosed at the Rose of Tralee.

For almost ten full minutes, Tubridy conducts the interview as though Angela was invisible. “I’ll come to you in a minute,” he tells her at one stage, when the side-lining has become unignorable, then returns to the childhood traumas of Shauna.

“Did you resent her?” Tubridy persists. “Did you dislike her?” (Of Shauna’s father, an addict who died of related illness, there is little discussion.) There’s every reason to sympathise first with a neglected child, but much of this felt like a moralising need to shame her mother, a recovering addict.

It’s a pity, because the Laceys brought the appalling realities of addiction to an audience unfamiliar with it, and this might have been a moment to let them see addiction as an illness, an obliterating and irrational one, to be treated with something other than purse-lipped admonishment.

In its tenth year, this machine works just fine, but such nuances are not among its calculations.

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