Whenever another RTÉ talent show is announced, I always remember the story of a friend’s cat, who formed a close emotional attachment to, of all things, a piece of black pudding.
apparently mourning the loss of her kittens, the poor creature took the pudding everywhere for months. The drier and more putrid the pudding became, the less likely the cat was to abandon it.
RTÉ is like that cat, except his obsession isn’t with a piece of moldy old pudding, but with moldy old talent shows. He just won’t let go.
Look at how many things the national broadcaster has achieved over the past 20 years.
Pop stars; You are a star (who fouled Sunday nights for six years and did more for Brendan O’Connor’s career than one of the hapless hopefuls who received a ticket back to the dark); Class law; The All Ireland Talent Show; Fame: The musical; The shot; The voice of Ireland.
The latest offer, Last singer standing (RTÉ1, Saturday), produced, like most of the shows above, by Larry Bass’s company Shinawil, is something you don’t see often, if at all: a local talent show that isn’t quite worthy of cringe.
It’s a low bar to jump, sure, but as a hybrid karaoke / game show competition that has three voting elements – the jury, the studio audience, and a bit of Weakest link-tactical styling maneuvers by the singers – this is a marked improvement over Virgin Media’s € 3million The big deal.
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Presenter Nicky Byrne remains a man locked in a losing charisma war with his own costume, but judges Nadine Coyle, Samantha Mumba and former NSYNC member Joey Fatone took it easy on the hyperbole, as contestants emerged. as sympathetic and not overloaded with illusions of imminent celebrity. Winning the winner’s prize of € 25,000, rather than becoming famous, seems to be the main motivation here.
Last singer standing also benefits from being pre-recorded rather than live, meaning there is very little padding and no limp personal stories to endure.
Let’s not go too far. I can think of countless best things to watch on Saturday night. I can also think of a lot of the worse ones, however, and an inordinate number of them have been Irish talent shows.
A not entirely unpleasant weekend surprise from the national broadcaster is rare. Two the same evening, one has the impression of being showered with largesse.
Really, Ask me anything from Angela Scanlon (RTÉ1, Saturday) – which was due to appear in March until Covid hits him in the head – is a little more than not entirely obnoxious. It’s pretty good: crisp, crisp, and with the emphasis on entertainment.
With the exception of Tommy Tiernan, every Saturday night talk show RTÉ has produced over the years has been to some extent a pale imitation of The late show – who herself looks so pale that she needs an urgent blood transfusion. Or preferably a merciful euthanasia to get the show and the public out of their common misery.
Ask me anything doesn’t want to be heavier than a bit of fun, a target he hits with considerable ease.
At this point, Scanlon is arguably most closely associated with the BBC (she replaced Alex Jones on The only show and co-presented Robot wars starring Dara O Briain), a broadcaster who demands a basic level of professionalism not always evident in Montrose, where it often seems that any celebrity who can read an autocue without falling is deemed worthy of their own star vehicle.
The Confidence of Scanlon, married to a screenplay by David Blake Knox, the sure hand behind one of RTÉ’s biggest hits, the beloved Nighthawks, translates into a fluid and tight show that makes for a fluid and quickly enjoyable hour.
Any cat show stands or falls by its guests, and this opening edition has been blessed with three coupons: Martin Compston, Sharon Corr, and Chris O’Dowd, all chuckling. Refreshing stuff.