Everybody loves Father Ted, right? Of course they do, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a work of unparalleled comedy genius, as fresh and funny today as it was the first time.
Reruns on Channel 4 and RTÉ2 have been near-constant since the final, poignant episode was broadcast in May, 1998. Life just wouldn’t be the same without the annual Christmas Eve showing of ‘A Christmassy Ted’ on RTÉ2.
The same goes for that other classic, Fawlty Towers. The Germans! Waldorf salad! Basil giving his recalcitrant Austin 1100 “a damn good thrashing” with a pathetically small tree branch!
No matter how many times you’ve seen all this before, it never fails to crack you up all over again. But here’s the thing: neither series was universally loved from day one.
I recently dug up an Irish newspaper review of the first episode of Father Ted. The critic (I won’t name them because it would be unfair to single out that one column after so many years) was less than impressed, finding most of the jokes weak, and wondered if Channel 4 would commission a second run.
But at least it was an honest critical assessment. A few of UK press reviews of the first Fawlty Towers, on the other hand, were downright hostile and appeared driven by malice. Several critics seemed to have it in for John Cleese for supposedly abandoning his radical comedy style in favour of something more conventional.
First impressions, especially of a brand new comedy, can be misleading, though, and I imagine quite a few of those critics changed their minds once they’d seen a bit more of Ted and Fawlty.
Changing your mind because you feel you judged a series too harshly too soon (something we’ve all been guilty of at times) is perfectly acceptable. Trying to rewrite reality, well, that’s a different ball game.
There’s been a lot of that very thing going on, particularly in the British media, with regard to the imminent departure from TV of Neighbours after 37 years. The last ever episode of the Australian soap goes out on Channel 5, which has been entirely funding its production for years now, on Friday and on RTÉ2 next Wednesday.
The big news is that former cast members Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Guy Pearce and Margot Robbie will be appearing.
Fair dinkum, as the Aussies say. It’s not like any of them needs the work.
Minogue has been a pop star for decades. Donovan is doing fine in musical theatre. Robbie and Pearce have long been major Hollywood stars. Clearly, they have a sentimental attachment to the series that gave them their starts.
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But to read some of the guff written about Neighbours over the last couple of weeks, you’d think the curtain was coming down on a beloved and respected TV institution, rather than something a British broadcaster has had to keep on financial life support because even the Australians don’t give a toss anymore.
Neighbours is still shown in Australia on one of the Ten Network’s subsidiary channels, but its audience is a meagre 200,000, compared to a million on Channel 5.
For a time in the 1980s, Neighbours definitely struck a chord with viewers in this part of the world, especially teenagers, who responded to its fresh-faced, attractive young stars (particularly Minogue, Donovan and Pearce) and the perennially sun-baked setting, which was a novel change from the drab cobbled streets and squares of Coronation Street and EastEnders.
At its peak, it was drawing 20 million viewers a day on BBC1, which dropped it in 2008 when the soap’s owners, Freemantle Media (which also owned Channel 5), tripled the asking price to £300m over eight years.
But let’s be honest: it was garbage wasn’t it? Cheap production, ropey acting, silly plots.
No soap has had more characters suffer from amnesia, none that I know of has had a storyline about a doppelganger, and I’m absolutely certain Neighbours is the only series in history in which a dog dreams about marrying another dog.
Out of a sense of duty, I watched a couple of this week’s episodes. The old faces still around are a bit more lined than they used to be; other than that, everything is a bad as it’s always been.
Farewell, then, Neighbours, and good bloody riddance to the lot of you.