Claire Byrne was the gonzo current-affairs icon we didn’t know we needed. Whether broadcasting from her shed in the early weeks of the pandemic — a stone-cold Reeling in the Years moment — or receiving a flu jab in her car, she elevated Claire Byrne Live into something feverish and bonkers. Alas, now she’s moved on — she’s focusing on her radio show — and RTÉ must fill the gap. But how do you replace something as perfectly surreal as Claire Byrne Live at full flight?
The answer, it would seem, is that the national broadcaster has reverted to first principles and, with Monday Night Live (RTÉ One, Monday, 10.35pm), is drizzling on the angst like your dad going crazy with the gravy boat. As it has a rotating cast of presenters, it’s too early to be definitive. But as David McCullagh makes his debut in the hot seat the message is that the misery express has left the station and is chugging straight for your living room.
Judged as entertainment rather than on its factual merits, Monday Night Live bypasses bleak and downbeat and goes straight for apocalyptically dismal. It’s sure to send you to bed feeling that much worse about life, the universe and everything
This is not to downplay the huge challenges facing Irish society as the cost-of-living crisis spirals. Still, judged as entertainment rather than on its factual merits, Monday Night Live bypasses bleak and downbeat and goes straight for apocalyptically dismal. It’s sure to send you to bed feeling that much worse about life, the universe and everything.
The guests are from across the political and social spectrum. All are united in their pessimism about the state of Ireland and the economy. That outlook is no doubt justified, and your heart breaks when a representative of Cork Penny Dinners recounts the struggles people from all walks of life face trying to put food on the table.
The despondency lies like a blanket of snow, muffling the debate — so much so that the two politicians in the studio, Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris and the Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, don’t even have it in them to have a proper ding-dong exchange of views.,
The closest the evening comes to political theatre is when Harris takes to task Sinn Féin over its proposal to introduce a carte-blanche cap on energy prices, similar to that announced by the Conservative government in the UK. “The one person I can find who thinks Sinn Féin’s plan on price caps is a good idea is Liz Truss,” he says.
By the final credits I am no better informed about the difficulties confronting the economy. I do, however, feel a lot more downcast
Otherwise, it’s a parade of despondency. “The squeezed middle are bearing the silent pain,” says Ian Kehoe of the Currency. The journalist Ciara Phelan adds that home ownership is “a dream that is out of reach for many people my age”.
Monday Night Live doesn’t have a studio audience, which brings both positives and negatives. Without punters pitching in from the sidelines, the proceedings remain civil. At no point does a shouting match threaten.
Yet what glum viewing it ultimately makes for. By the final credits I am no better informed about the difficulties confronting the economy. I do, however, feel a lot more downcast. Oh for Claire Byrne Live, the plague shed and a sprinkling of lunacy to help the misery go down a little easier.