RTÉ 2's new sitcom, a full-blown series based on a handful of sketches, is in serious danger of spreading its laughs too thin
It’s extremely easy to dismiss RTÉ 2’s new sitcom Bridget & Eamon as another lightweight stab at situational comedy by the national broadcaster that looks likely to wear out its welcome. Indeed, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing in a moment, attempting to craft some zinging put downs and bons mots that go to show that frankly I was likely to never really care for an episode about the hilarity about dealing in rubber johnnies in Midlands Ireland at some unspecified point in the 1980s.
But before I get to that, and I will, it bears taking a moment to reflect on how the national broadcaster is spending the public’s money in its baffling experiments in comedy. No, you’re right, not every comedy needs to be some profound navel-gazing experience that finds brief respites of levity amid shades of black or drama. No, you’re also right, not every sitcom needs to avoid embracing the silliness of slapstick and panto in its search for laughs from an audience in what is the most subjective milieu. And no, RTÉ 2 doesn’t have to try something new or different – or even funny – in sitcoms when looking back at those quare aul’ times offers cheap and easy laughs and they can bank on a sketch that has already proven to be a hit on YouTube.
But Bridget & Eamon does represent a missed opportunity, because RTÉ 2 already broadcasts – or has broadcasted – 2 Broke Girls, The Big Bang Theory, The Centre, Damo & Ivor, Katherine Lynch’s Wonderwomen, and Two and a Half Men, all of which easily fulfil the station’s remit to offer mindless and easy laughs for anyone in Midlands Ireland who doesn’t have a subscription to Comedy Central.
But no, instead we get Jennifer Zamparelli (née Maguire) and Bernard O’Shea reprising the roles they inhabited in a series of – admittedly amusing – vignettes during their run on Republic of Telly. As the second sitcom to launch from the RTÉ 2 show that tries to skewer the tropes inherent in Irish broadcasting with mixed results, Bridget & Eamon’s creators (its stars and the writer Jason Butler) can at least take solace in knowing that their 80s antics make for a significant step up from the prince-and-the-pauper north-and-south stupidity of Damo & Ivor.
The first episode, The Trocaire Box, debuted on Monday night, an evening of viewing dedicated to comedy on the channel since the 1990s. It’s the 80s, though, that serves as the setting, with the show leaning heavily on whatever mirth can be mined from the notion that once upon a time – a time that almost certainly predates most of the viewing audience’s consciousness – Irish people only had two TV channels and The Late Late Show was presented by a man predating even Pat Kenny’s tenure.
The Midlands couple spend a lot of their time in front of the box in their regular sitting room, saving the good one for special occasions [RTÉ/Paul Doherty]
It is unfair to say that the show is boring or tired, it isn’t either; the plot of the first episode (Eamon being kept under the watchful eye of the camp and closeted parish priest for dipping into the Lenten charity campaign’s funds, Bridget’s keeping up with the Joneses but ending up the local kingpin in the supply of illegal rubbers, a ‘Pablo Stretch-so-far’ leading a crony bunch of nark-hos) trips along at a fine pace. Enough of the jokes land, with a cross-border trip to meet a member of the ‘RA making for the episode’s stand-out sequence – a deft joke on dialectal Irishness and the otherness of that lot up North.
The show isn’t boring or tired – yet. The uphill battle it faces in managing to maintain the humour derived from Bridget and Eamon poking fun at obvious Irish jokes for another 115 minutes, with five more 23-minute programmes to come. With only the two leads and a collection of background characters to drive things along, a lot of pressure lays on the leads' shoulders. Already they’ve used up the old chestnuts of birth control, having a good sitting rooms, and what it means to be an Irish Catholic, it remains to see what is left to play with during next week’s game of comic conkers.
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