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Put the Dancing with the Stars judges in charge of RTÉ. They’d give Mattie McGrath a run for his money

Patrick Freyne: ‘Have all the money that you want and spend it on what you like,’ the TD would have told the majesterial Lorraine Barry

Strictly Come Dancing, or Dancing with the Stars as it is known in the United States, or “Dancing” with the “Stars”(?) as we correctly punctuate it here in Ireland, is a show in which professional dancers who have carefully honed their craft are partnered with what, in the dance world, are known as foot fools.

Each week the professionals have the Sisyphean task of getting their respective celebrities to clomp through hoops, much like dog owners at Crufts. In some instances the “stars” are essentially human obstacle courses around which the professional dancers must gymnastically gyrate to project an illusion of ordered momentum. I’m fine with this. The illusion of ordered momentum is all I’ve ever expected from life.

One of the hosts of Dancing with the Stars (RTÉ One, Sundays) is Jennifer Zamparelli. She has the controlled and steely aura of somebody who could just as easily be leading a crack commando unit but has, instead, made her peace with Sunday-night shiny-floor telly. I’m pretty sure she’s a secret agent. She always has an eyebrow raised as though she knows something we don’t, as though between takes she’s off garrotting terrorists in the wings.

The other presenter is Doireann Garrihy, who, because she is a young person, has been trained by the internet to respond to events like a human emoji. Her eyes widen and flash like the lights of an oncoming car, but lest you be in any doubt, that car’s name is Entertainment.


It’s not always clear whether Zamparelli and Garrihy are aware of each other’s existence. After they descend parallel staircases together, Garrihy spends much of the show in a sort of elevated people pen where dancers and celebrities babble excitedly and mime dialling telephones. She smiles on them beatifically.

What of the contestants? There are sportsfolk and drag queens and radio DJs – everything you need to start society afresh

The judges on Dancing with the Stars are the best bit. They’re who RTÉ should have sent to the Oireachtas committees last year. Put the DWTS judges in charge of RTÉ, you cowards. They have far more credibility and gravitas than many television executives.

Lorraine Barry addresses the nation with sincere and dignified poise. There is something very regal about her. If she had been at the Oireachtas committee hearings they would have ended abruptly. “Your majesty, I would like to apologise to you, to RTÉ and to the people of Ireland for questioning your integrity,” Mattie McGrath would have said. “Have all the money that you want and spend it on what you like. Also, the correct way to pronounce Renault, I now realise, is Renault.”

Arthur Gourounlian has the shaggy appearance, wavy hand-on-strings gestures and husky line delivery of a better-dressed Muppet, possibly Sweetums. He has a tendency to loudly emphasise THE END OF PHRASES! He says things like, “It was hot, hot, HOT… You came out with a VENGEANCE..! You actually left me THIRSTY for MOOOORE!” (Which are, coincidentally, all things my editor said to me at my last performance review.) He’s having the time of his life. You could crash through the set on fire and screaming, leaving a person-shaped hole in the wall, and Arthur would still give the smouldering wreckage seven points.

Brian Redmond sits on the other side of the screen, contemplating the many crimes against dance he has seen on this programme. He’s basically a whistleblower taking a stand against Big Ballroom by pointing out that many of the people on this dance competition are getting basic dance stuff wrong. It’s not a popular position. The boos that accompany his low scores follow him down the corridor, out of the studio and into his fevered nightmares. He needs to go into hiding between seasons. I would like to see an independent feature film about Brian Redmond’s life outside the studio directed by Mike Leigh or David Cronenberg.

What of the contestants? There are sportsfolk and drag queens and radio DJs – everything you need to start society afresh. Everyone is dressed in glitter or sequins or leopardprint or feathers – presumably what they were wearing the day the producers (Shinawil) went into the RTÉ canteen with a net. This is, of course, how everyone at RTÉ dressed before Toy Show the Musical and the assumption of He Who Can’t Be Named to Virgin Radio UK.

There’s a lot of enthusiastic dancing. The TV presenter Laura Fox takes on a samba in which she wears incredibly large trousers. It’s a very effective use of the “trouser” as a dancing tool – a pantasia, if you will. She takes nine points from each of the impressed judges. Her fellow telly person Katja Mia dances a very good Viennese waltz despite experiencing cruel body-shaming online. This inspires Lorraine Barry to look down the barrel of the camera and address the trolls directly. “It is your problem,” she tells them, rather impressively, and with chilling hints of Liam Neeson in Taken.

Davy Russell is a retired jockey, which means that in his old day job he performed tasks (usually being fast) in concert with his best chum, a horse. That it never occurred to the producers of DWTS to have him do his dances on a horse is my one complaint about the show. Yes, occasionally a dancer, crew member or spectator might be trampled underhoof, but that might happen anyway thanks to Davy’s human hooves (or “feet”, if you know your dance lingo). Each week in his intro, Davy Russell does a little dance where he mimes riding a horse. If they do not have his dance partner give him a piggyback soon, I’ll be sad.

Rosanna Davison comes out dressed as a sexy nurse and does a dance with her partner, Stephen, who is dressed as a sexy doctor (six years at sexy medical school). They proceed to act in a terribly unprofessional manner, spinning hospital beds, kicking their legs and lepping about. I believe this dance is called Problems in the HSE. Rosanna speaks sweetly of losing her “impostor syndrome”. I take this to mean that she and Stephen have been performing unlicensed operations backstage.

The best contestant is the retired newsreader Eileen Dunne. She spent her career delivering the news with her mouth. But if you think about it, feet are the mouth of the legs, and doing a dance is just a leggy news bulletin for visual thinkers. This week Eileen delivers “the news” with authority to the sound of Let’s Twist Again by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. (It’s nice to see young people exposed to the greats.) She has the lowest judges’ score of the night, but the likable actor Shane Quigley Murphy is deemed least worthy by the audience at home and is returned to the darkness from whence he came (Fair City).

There’s plenty darkness in Masters of the Air (Apple TV+), the third instalment of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’s second World War epic, which started more than 20 years ago with the excellent Band of Brothers. Masters of the Air has a similar mix of mild jingoism, terrifying realism and high production values, with, perhaps, a little less naturalism and a few more cliches. Another flaw is that the aforementioned realism means all of the terrifying air battles involve indistinguishably masked airmen with the muffled diction of the Batman villain Bane. Perhaps it’s an attempt to trick sprogs into learning about history. “Look at all the Banes, children!” Banes in Planes. That’s what I’d have called it.