Hello, yellow-brick road. And hello to this year’s Wizard of Oz-themed Late Late Toy Show (RTÉ One, Friday, 9.35pm). With RTÉ’s pre-Christmas juggernaut welcoming a studio audience for the first time in three years, the Toy Show is off to a rambunctious start as children dressed as munchkins – or, possibly, munchkins dressed as children – dance and prance and Ryan Tubridy descends from a balloon.
“If I only had a brain,” the host exclaims, sounding like all those parents who have agreed to allow their kids to stay up past midnight on a randomish Friday night in November. Tubridy is playing – have you twigged it? – the scarecrow from the 1939 Judy Garland movie.
Having touched down, he’s next off to participate in a big stomping showpiece with actual production values, a reminder of just how bright a jewel the Toy Show has become in the RTÉ ratings crown. (Last year 81 per cent of the viewing public was tuned to the broadcast.)
The curtain-raiser follows a recorded introduction in which punters in the freezing rain board a coach with a sign reading Over the Rainbow tours. (This must be a fantasy, as the bus has turned up on time.) It’s followed by a rather impressive re-creation of the swirling tornado from The Wizard of Oz (again: production values!), and then Dorothy steps into the Toy Show studio, declaring, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.”
Or maybe she says, “We’re not in Cavan any more.” I can’t tell, because the TV is drowned out by my children, who’ve just spotted a Squishmallow in the corner of the set and cannot contain themselves. Toys are big on the Toy Show this year: Tubridy has promised a back-to-basics evening focusing on gizmos, gadgets and playthings – a perennial grumble being that there’s too much singing and dancing and not enough Star Wars figurines and the like.
He lives up to that pledge – a bit. What they’ve in fact done is tweaked the running order. The toy “content” – the stuff the kids want to see – has been shunted forward to the first half. That leaves the rest of the night for the musical routines – including Defying Gravity, from Wicked, and a closing cover of Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars.
Tubridy is quick out of the starting gate in a broadcast that, when the whole 2½ hours is over, has whizzed by. Speaking of whizzes, the night opens with Tubs tootling about on what looks like a high-speed potty. The audience can already sense we’re hurtling towards peak Toy Show. And indeed we are, as six-year-old Lucy Hoban, from Galway, comes on and is soon dressing as a vet while belting out Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.
How to follow that? Why, it’s five-year-old Billy Brady, from Kilcullen, with a Dukes of Hazzard mullet – “business at the front, party at the back” – and a miniature Garda vehicle with which he terrorises the camera operator. Only half an hour in and already the Late Late has reached a state of Toy Show transcendence.
In 2022 the Toy Show wouldn’t be the Toy Show without a tear-jerker segment or three. And we’re all blubbing when Saoibh is reunited with the friends she made at hospital, Jack and Ellie-Mae. She truly can’t believe it. Disbelief likewise flashes over the face of the Harry Potter fan – and Hermione fanatic – Catriona Kalogeraki as the 10-year-old receives a thoughtful video message from the big-screen Hermione, Emma Watson, who praises Catriona for her advocacy on behalf of neurodivergent children.
It’s a lovely moment. As is the appearance by the Ireland women’s soccer squad, who astonish Emmie O’Neill, a 12-year-old Dubliner. She’s crying – and that’s before Tubridy reveals she’ll be off to Australia to cheer on Ireland in the World Cup.
Special guests are becoming a Toy Show tradition. Last year it was Ed Sheeran. This time it’s Watson, a squad of World Cup-bound soccer internationals and the Ireland men’s goalkeeper, Caoimhín Kelleher, who has a kick-about with eight-year-old fan Cealan Green.
Kelleher is a steady presence on the pitch. Tubridy, fronting his 14th Toy Show, is likewise a safe pair of hands as the biggest event on Irish television starts and finishes with a wizardly wink.