TV Viewpoint: Clear History and Lupin

Laughs fail to materialise with RTE TWO’s latest comedy panel show.

Is there anything to be said for another panel show in which the assorted guests endeavour to vie for the funniest and/or most outrageous anecdotes? I would confidently say no, down with that sort of thing, it’s something that precisely no one needs, but nevertheless, I tuned into RTE Two’s new home-grown show, Clear History, last Thursday at 21.20.

Now, if ever any panel show has been conceived during a pandemic, it’s this one. All that sitting in front of computer screens, aimlessly opening tabs and bookmarking pages to read later on, only to realise that one of those tabs was definitely opened in error and has no place in your internet history, must have given away to the weird format for this programme.

Basically, the host mediates four (socially distanced) guests, who are invited to share a mortifying moment from their own personal history that they’d like to have erased from all memory. The host then decides whose story is the most humiliating, to thus deem them the winner of the round.

Now, I know the premise is simply the flimsy excuse needed for wits and comedians to tell their hilarious anecdotes to an audience who will lap up their skills as seasoned raconteurs, but there is no audience to bolster the atmosphere and feed the performers here, only now the well-worn titters from the stage crew and forced hooting from the rest of the panel.

Colin Murphy, who fronted the weird and frequently wonderful The Blizzard of Odd back in the 90s is one of the ‘team captains’, in opposition to Joanne McNally. First up to share his tall tale, he spent an inordinate amount of time explaining how much he hates baristas, whom he proclaimed are failed Trinity students who’ve wasted their parents’ money and their humanities degrees on setting up hipster coffee shops.

If his story had actually been funny his curmudgeonly rant could have been forgiven, but it was about a racist misunderstanding that didn’t even make sense. His teammate, radio host Laura O’Mahony did better with her story of starting a hymn in too high a register at a funeral, and in all honesty, I can’t even remember Joanne McNally’s contribution, despite all her drawling efforts to be shocking.

The fourth team-member has risen in the ranks of celebrity during the pandemic, a phenomenon not seen since Britain hosted the Olympics in 2012 and casting agents convinced everyone that sports stars are perfectly acceptable famous faces to join comedy shows and dancing competitions.

Dr. Luke O’Neill is a no-nonsense immunologist whose confidence on screen has given way from telling the public in layman’s terms what they need to know about viruses and how they work, to more light-hearted appearances such as this one, where he amused the gathered crowd with a yachting mishap.

The humour was amped up slightly with the next round, which featured a series of embarrassing moments in our shared Irish history, with the idea of erasing one of them from our collective consciousness for the greater good.

Host Kevin McGahern carried the show, moderating fairly well the longer and less funny stories, bolstering them with his own off-kilter inputs. But the team members are going to have to come up with some better party pieces if even a semblance of humour is to be upheld.

If you’re after something entertaining, intelligent but not too taxing, you’d do far worse than trying Lupin, which arrived on Netflix last Friday. Set in France, it’s the saga of “gentleman thief” Assane Diop, who has been inspired by the adventures of Arsene Lupin, the hero of a book series given to Assane by his late father.

The first episode commences with a daring heist, to steal a necklace formerly belonging to Marie-Antoinette. We soon learn that the heist has a very personal angle for Assane, and the five subsequent episodes fill in his back-story and that of the family who is selling the necklace. Although it’s set in Paris, with high production values and a really engaging lead performance by Omar Sy as Assane, it doesn’t overly lean on French tropes and stereotypes. It’s a clever jaunt that doesn’t over-complicate things and is perfect for a weekend binge.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 13 01 21

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