The Late Late Show rediscovers its original purpose
Season finale review: There was steel in the Late Late’s sinews in this final show of the season
Ryan Tubridy interviews President Michael D. Higgins on the last Late Late Show of the season. Photograph: Maxwell’s
Life has been topsy turvy for us all lately – and the Late Late Show (RTÉ One) has undergone its share of upheavals. Six months ago, Ryan Tubridy was presenting the Toy Show dressed as a wonky version of the snowman from Frozen.
Now, with the Late Late taking its bows, he is introducing Co Meath singer Sibéal, who performs Mise Éire as the names of people lost to Covid 19 appear on screen. If it wasn’t so indescribably sad, it would be surreal.
Who’d have imagined RTÉ’s sleepy natter-fest would become our window on dystopia?
Is it too much to hope, then, that the final Late Late of the season will also be the last Late Late of the pandemic? Even wishing that it be so feels like tempting fate in the worst possible way.
Tubridy, as we know, contracted Covid-19 and had to spend several weeks away, with Miriam O’Callaghan stepping in. So he is certainly speaking from the heart in an opening address in which he pays tribute to viewers for doing their part in keeping the country together.
The problem is that gravitas doesn’t rank among his core skills as a presenter. And so the monologue fails to punch through as emphatically as he might have liked.
The speech is a little cornball, with splashes of condescension. And some of the lines could have done with a second pass (“In some ways we’ve grown closer … We’ve embraced each other like never before…”).
That said, Tubridy’s intentions are clearly honourable, and he is to be praised for putting himself out there and wearing his feelings on his sleeve.
There’s no road map for broadcasting through times like these. Week by week, the Late Late has gone above and beyond in becoming part of the national coping mechanism. As the shutters descend, it once again gets the balance largely right. The show wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t acknowledge the grim era through which we are living.
But it has the courage to be throwaway as well. And, via interviews with Saoirse Ronan, Colin Farrell and Robbie Keane, it serves up some of the light relief audiences will understandably crave.
After the thumping introduction, it’s off to meet President Higgins in his back garden at the Áras. The Head of State is taking the sun in a pre-recorded segment. Around him are some nice shrubs, a well-tended lawn – and an enormous sculpture of a plough.
Asked for his thoughts on the pandemic and where we go next, the President expresses the view that we should put people before economics. He also outlines his objection to the term “cocooning” and the infantilising of the aged.
As we reflect on the carnage in our care homes, this is a taster of the difficult conversation we will all soon be having. And then it’s back to the studio, where Tubridy talks to frontline workers. There was a time when guests standing two metres apart in a largely empty room would have been hugely distracting. Now it’s just so New Normal we don’t notice, though a chill creeps in as Suzanne Hale, a cleaner at St James’s Hospital, recalls the death from Covid-19 of a colleague.
Even during a once-in-a-life-time pandemic, the Late Late is of course going to do what the Late Late does. And so there are back-and-forths with a thoroughly un-starry Saoirse Ronan, locked down in Scotland, and Colin Farrell from Los Angeles.
Farrell is matey and yet crashingly unenthusiastic about his forthcoming Artemis Fowl movie on Disney Plus. “I did three or four days on it and it’s streaming in June,” he says.
The curtains come down with Sinead O’Connor in the studio. “It’s begun to dawn on me now that there won’t be work in the music business for some time,” she tells Tubridy.
O’Connor adds that she is pro-drive-in gigs and feels concert tickets should be cheaper (“it’s costly, too costly, to come to even one of my shows – in the States it’s 250 quid). She proceeds to conjure goosebumps with a performance of her 1994 hit Thank You For Hearing Me.
It’s an appropriately intense ending to a Late Late season that taken its audience on the weirdest rollercoaster ride. Once again Tubridy is careful not to dwell on his own experiences with coronavirus, as is his prerogative as a reflexively private host.
But he and his team can take pride in the fact that, after years of spiralling into irrelevance, the Late Late has once more become the closest Montrose gets to appointment TV.
It has rediscovered its original purpose: to serve as a sounding board and a mirror for the nation. RTÉ’s flagship programme is still creaky and leaky, and Tubridy’s skills as a banterer are often superfluous in the middle of so much pain and fear.
But there was steel in the Late Late’s sinews in this final broadcast of the season, and it makes for satisfyingly cathartic viewing. Amid recent upheavals, who’d have thought that one of the biggest changes to our lives would be that we will miss the Late Late Show when it’s gone?