This week John Byrne takes in the quirky comedy of Noel Fielding, BBC One's new Saturday night show, John Creedon's return to the box, and The Simpsons' Lego special.
Reviewed: Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2 (Thursday, E4); Tumble (Saturday, BBC One); Creedon's Weather: Four Seasons in One Day (Sunday, RTÉ One); The Simpsons (Saturday, Sky 1)
In these days of stifling conformity, it's always refreshing to see someone with their own unique vision. Noel Fielding is definitely not one for conventionality, and he's back with his latest TV show, Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy 2, which goes out on Thursdays on E4.
As the title implies, the series is in its second season, which is about as straightforward as this show gets. Set in a coffee-shop on the edge of a Hawaiian volcano, its staff include Andy Warhol (Tom Meeten), cool, Nico-voiced Dolly (Dolly Wells) and the half-ant-eater Smooth (Michael Fielding).
Now 41, Fielding made a name for himself in stoner and student circles alongside Julian Barratt as the popular cult double act The Mighty Boosh, who produced surreal, psychedelic radio, TV and live shows for over a decade from the late 90s to the mid-Noughties.
Luxury Comedy, Fielding recently admitted, was a reaction to how the Boosh had gone mainstream (we're talking 'relative' here). He called the first season of the former ‘a sort of frantic, psychedelic panic attack, with charm’ and it looks like he's produced more of the same while (only slightly) reigning in the psychedelic.
Last Thursday's second episode almost made sense. It revolved around the notion that Fielding didn't want the episode to have a conventional beginning, middle and ending. That was, until, it was discovered that Terry, the show's solitary viewer, would die if there wasn't an ending. And Noel's under the spell of a fantasy block and can't write an ending!
As ever, this inspired a half-hour of utter nuttery as the gang tried to prevent the loss of the show's only fan. While I wouldn't like to linger too long in Noel Fielding's mind, it's clearly a place where absurdity is a favoured child and gets constant playtime. Even if you don't like his comedy, you've got to admire the guy for being different, and then hit the remote. Can you imagine if he started a boyband? Now that would be fun.
If E4 on a Thursday night is a good fit for the eccentric Noel Fielding, traditional teatime on Saturday evenings is the proper place for populist, catch-all telly that gets grannies and grandchildren goggle-boxing together.
It's a hugely competitive timeslot in the UK, where millions of viewers can be tempted one way or another as the BBC and ITV battle it out. These shows are obviously also very popular here in Ireland.
And while the likes of The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing remain big audience-grabbers, there's been a glut of new shows following in their wake. ITV's Splash! – where C-listers put on bathing suits and learn how to dive - was pretty much the barrel being scraped, until along came a new BBC ONE show called Tumble.
The gimmick here is that a pile of celebrities – some of whom you may have even heard of – undergo eight weeks of intensive training before performing gymnastic and circus-type routines in front of the proverbial up-for-it audience.
The judges all come from a relevant background, and include legendary Romanian Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci, but this was pure showbiz rather than, as the show claimed, bringing gymnastics to a new level. Unless they were talking, like, subterranean.
Sure, the likes of H from Steps, one of the many former members of Sugarbabes and someone from the soul-destroying The Only Way is Essex all put in a tremendous effort to get themselves looking like they had a clue about what they were doing. But it seemed pretty pointless, and only shows how desperate these people are to be seen on TV. And it was on for a bum-numbing 90 minutes. Afterwards I was almost longing for the tragi-comic pantomime of Britain's Got Talent.
Irony is lost these days, and I can only imagine how this sort of TV-viewing will be judged by future generations. They may even make a Saturday evening show out of it.
Much more worthwhile – and a half-hour shorter - was Creedon's Weather: Four Seasons in One Day (Sunday, RTÉ One). John Creedon's no stranger to summertime TV, and this time he was a back with a subject that's always topical in Ireland: the blummin' weather.
In the opening episode the intrepid Corkman sought to find out how Irish weather is the way it is, while wondering if recent extremes – particularly the awful winters of late – are part of a new pattern or whether we're just subject to the vagaries of weather given our setting at the edge of Europe and the Atlantic Ocean.
What made this show work was the combination of Creedon quizzing People Who Know Things while visiting interesting places and/or doing interesting things. So, along the way viewers learned about such matters as the difference between weather and climate, and the major influence of the Gulf Stream, while Johnny visited places such as Florida, Garinish Island off Cork, the Met Office in Dublin, as well as heading into the clouds on an ancient bi-plane. Fascinating and fun. We even learned stuff!
One of the saddest things I've witnessed over many years of telly-watching has been the deterioration of The Simpsons (Saturday, Sky 1). Once the most marvellous, fun, and subversive show on the box, it is now virtually a laughter-free, transglobal buck-making parody of itself. They should've ended it long ago, and most certainly after the so-so movie version raked in the cash.
I watched the show this week, for the first time in ages, given that it was the 550th episode and they were doing a Lego mash-up. Sure, the Lego idea wasn't bad as it offered a half-decent storyline, but it lacked real humour and was a bit like watching a Simpsons' tribute act made of Danish plastic. The spark is long gone.