by John Boland

It’s now late October and, apart from The Frontline, the RTE autumn schedules haven’t provided viewers with any series, or even single programme, of substance and quality. But they have provided lots of the opposite – gimmicky antics masquerading as economic insights in RTE1’s Addicted to Money, twaddle with a solemn face in the same channel’s Does God Hate..? and such supposedly comedic drivel as The Byrne Ultimatum and Baz’s Culture Clash on RTE2.

To these last can now be added Podge and Rodge’s Stickitt Inn (RTE2). Time was when these two dirty-minded puppets offered a bracingly rude mockery of celebrity vanities; now they simply pander to their C-list guests’ laughable egos while opting to think that smut for its own sake is a viable alternative to subversion.

Forced to abandon Ballydung Manor because of  collapsed “Allied Irish Wank” shares, they’re now proprietors of a pub, and in this week’s opening show they were aided by a barmaid whose “airbags” caused them more lecherous amusement than they did the viewer. Then, after exhorting their audience to “give yourselves a big hand, like most of you do when you go home alone on a Saturday night,” they introduced a pub quiz between two couples.

On one of the teams was socialite Amanda Brunker, while on the other was solicitor Gerald Kean, and if anyone can explain to me what exactly these two people do, or what qualities they possess, to warrant being featured on every second RTE show, it will resolve a puzzle that remains entirely mysterious to at least one viewer.

These individuals, along with teammates Daithi O Se and Lisa Murphy, guffawed throughout as their hosts subjected them to a series of questions about toilet-paper rods  (“It’s literally shit on a stick,” Podge informed them) and oral sex snorkels (“Don’t go deep-gee diving without it,” Rodge leered) and asked them to draw the sexual positions they liked best – “Where’s the mickey in that picture, love?” Podge asked Murphy, while O Se was asked to nominate his “favourite riding position.”

One of the quiz rounds was called “Touch it, feel it, lick it, suck it,” while another was entitled “Wank you for the music.” At the end they all sang a song about the Britain’s Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle, which contained lines about her being “as ugly as sin” and about her face being “scary because it’s so hairy.” “Would you?” Podge asked Rodge about her. “You know I would,” he replied. “You’d do feckin’ anything,” Podge jeered.

RTE will obviously do anything, too, even if it causes some of us to wonder about our licence fee.

Still, you can find the odd absorbing programme in the unlikeliest of RTE slots. For whatever reason, I wasn’t expecting much – indeed, anything – from actor Simon Delaney’s presence in this week’s Who Do You Think You Are? But the result was engrossing, largely because Delaney was much less smitten by himself than quite a few others who’ve featured in the series.

It also helped that the film failed to discover any regal antecedents – no King Tubridys or Princess Davisons – about whom their celebrity descendants could crow. As Delaney said at the end, “there were no great scholars, nobody invented anything of particular significance” – there were simply “men who worked hard and provided for their families.”

Still, this “true blue northside Dub” did learn that his great-grandfather fought in World War One and that he had 41 third cousins in St Louis he’d known nothing about. And he met some of them in the coda to a touching film.

The recent BBC1 drama series Criminal Justice was needlessly and portentously drawn out but it featured a remarkable central performance from Maxine Peake. Just as remarkable was Bel Powley’s playing of 13-year-old Carrie in Murderland (UTV), a three-part thriller that began this week.

This first episode told the story through the eyes of Carrie, whose mother has been knifed to death.   Seemingly in emotional denial, she chooses to inhabit the “murderland” of the title by actively assisting the police in their investigations. This brings her into strange partnership with the chief investigating detective who, in Robbie Coltrane’s powerfully eerie performance, is even more dishevelled and brooding than the psychiatrist he played in Cracker, and more seemingly sinister, too. Could he even be the murderer?

Next Monday night’s episode tells the tale from his perspective, while in the final part it’s through the victim herself that we learn what has happened. So far it’s all very puzzling and not a little disturbing and I’ll certainly stay with it, not least for Bel Powley’s precociously affecting playing.

For the second time in three weeks, Bill Cullen sacked the wrong contestant. On The Apprentice: You’re Fired (TV3), novelist Marian Keyes said that the dismissed Maria had been her favourite for outright winner, while broadcaster Neil Prendiville thought Maria’s only problem was that she was “just too nice” – which is not a word you could apply to most of those who’ve so far survived. Certainly it seems time for Jackie to have a quiet word in Bill’s ear.

The American import Hung (3E) shares Podge and Rodge’s obsession with knobs, if not knockers, but it does so in a more teasing and sophisticated way. Down-at-heel high school teacher Ray, who’s lost his wife to a smug dermatologist and alienated his two teenage children, is told by his ditzy lover that women might pay to avail of his disproportionately large member, so he places an ad in the local newspaper.

That’s the basic scenario and this HBO series has a nicely wry take on Ray’s woes and on his Midnight Cowboy aspirations. The performances by Thomas Jane, Anne Heche and Jane Adams are engagingly quirky, too. The only problem is that the result never manages to be quite as surreal as it should be, or quite as amusing, either.

David Attenborough’s new series Life (BBC1) looks even more astonishing than his previous series (I won’t easily forget this week’s footage of komodo dragons getting the lethal better of a water buffalo), but the great man’s voiceover seems quite removed from the action, as if he wasn’t there – which, given his venerable age, would hardly be surprising. You miss, though, the sense of immediacy and involvement he used to bring to his wildlife explorations. Ah well.

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