Jamie Lee Curtis tweets her best wishes, Paul McCartney pops up with birthday greetings and U2 chip in the gift of a Vespa. Such are the rituals of which a Late Late Show farewell episode (RTÉ One, Friday, 9.35pm) is made.
Ryan Tubridy’s big goodbye opens with a montage from his 14 years in the hot seat previously occupied by Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny. There are flashbacks to his interview with Tom Cruise, in which he teased the movie star about his Irish accent in the film Far and Away, and to a grumpy Russell Crowe, who told the studio audience, as he sang and played guitar, “If you’re going to clap, clap in time. If you can’t clap in time, just shut up.”
The presenter threatens tears throughout but never quite progresses to full blubbing. He nonetheless brims with emotion in a broadcast that captures the strengths but also some of the weaknesses of his decade and a half in the hot seat. “Tonight we’ll celebrate the last show in style, with a cast of thousands,” he says at the start, adding later that this is the weirdest night of his life.
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He is in his element speaking to familiar faces from The Late Late Toy Show, among them Adam King, the virtual hugger, and Graham Burke, the former soldier who delighted his kids by emerging from gift wrap in one famous moment from 2017.
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This is followed by a moving sequence in which he commends everyone who has spoken out about important social issues. He talks to Lyndsey Kelly, sister of the late Vicky Phelan, and to Charlie Bird, the former newsman, who has lost the power of speech to his advancing motor neuron disease.
There are also some heavyweight cameos. “I love how brilliant and smart and kind and cheeky you are,” the actor Saoirse Ronan says in one video message. “I hear you’re learning to play guitar – not a good idea,” McCartney jokes in another.
But some of the evening is anticlimactic. A performance by a supergroup of trad musicians that features Andrea Corr, John Sheahan of The Dubliners, Steve Wickham of The Waterboys and Sharon Shannon is enjoyable but hardly the mind-blowing spectacular RTÉ had been hyping.
And then, in line with Late Late farewell-episode tradition, along come U2. The Edge, in a video message, points out that “Ryan Tubridy” is almost as popular a search term on Google as “Ryanair”. Next, Bono, in Los Angeles, delivers a spoken-word performance of Born to Be Wild.
This leads to the comedian PJ Gallagher driving in on a shiny red scooter, U2′s goodbye gift. Twenty years ago, when Gay Byrne was leaving the Late Late, Bono personally presented Byrne with a huge, roaring Harley-Davidson. For Tubridy it’s a tiny, parping Vespa. That’s no slight on the host – but it does read like a metaphor for the degree to which the Late Late has diminished in the public consciousness.
Tubridy won’t mind. He is eager to move on. “I’ve made an important decision,’ he tells Andrea Corr and Clannad’s Moya Brennan. “I’m leaving this show with a spring in my step as opposed to a heavy heart.” You wish him well. It’s just a shame that, after 14 years of earnest toil, his final Late Late isn’t a bit more spectacular.