It’s said that if you open up Marty Whelan’s suit you will find another suit, and so on unto eternity . . .
A CGI limousine navigates an enchanted city of glowing animated skyscrapers and huge shimmering portraits of Marty Whelan, before stopping at a cinema where a scary red-lipped, bellboy appears (he reminds me a bit of the clown from It). Some dolled-up naïfs emerge from the limousine, hand him a ticket and the crimson-clad ghoul leads them across the threshold of a multi-coloured cinema, which I suspect is actually a haunted passage grave.
There, they meet Marty Whelan and his television prodigy, platinum-haired Sinead Kennedy, current overseers of
Winning Streak (RTE1, Saturday), an eerie programme about the vagaries of chance based on Shirley Jackson’s short story The
Lottery (editor’s note: It’s actually a collaboration with the National Lottery).
The set of Winning Streak is what I imagine Marty Whelan’s house looks like. It’s all abstract shapes and glowing crystalline structures and bleeping 1970s computer sounds, and is overlooked by a large imposing decision wheel, like the one Whelan has in his bedroom.
Winning Streak is the longest running quiz show in the world and has seen many eras – the gilded age of the laughing prince (Mike Murphy), the dread reign of the shadow lord (Derek Mooney), happy-happy-boom- time when people played for Faberge eggs, enchanted scrolls (property deeds) and good quality decking, and “the great darkness” when people played for canned goods, firearms and the home phone numbers of their mortgage advisors.
Facing Whelan and Kennedy are around 70 people of all ages, on stacked seating, waving homemade signs and shouting under the heat of the studio lights. This is what the RTÉ Authority pictures when they talk about “the public” – a homogenous multigenerational mass waving cardboard and speaking in unison.
Whelan has an otherworldy ermine pelt affixed to his ageless skull (though he claims it to be the hair of a saintly child) and an almost unbelievably perfect moustache that resembles a furry lip guard or hair-hedge about which many poems have been written (I initially inserted a few lines from the Song of
Solomon here, but apparently it was “weird”). It’s said that if you open up his suit you will find another suit and then another suit, and so on unto eternity. Kennedy is smiley with the hair of a Disney princess.
Together they remind me, somehow, of trans-dimensional occult detectives Sapphire and Steel. They have an insatiable appetite for personalised trivia which they consume like succubae: “You’re a divil for cooking,” says Marty to a lady who is accompanied by a stuffed hedgehog and is, indeed, a divil for the cooking. They are funny and ethereal and paternalistic “Good girl yourself” they say or “Best of luck my friend” or “Well done, Daughter of Eve.”
There are many games that are essentially the same game. There’s one called Trap Door, which, sadly, doesn’t involve a trap door. When it’s time to pick next week’s contestants, Whelan and Kennedy wield knives and I assume they’re going to divine the identities from sacrificial entrails, but instead they just use the knives to open letters plucked from a sort of tombola.
In all the games, you can win cash and holidays and cars. It’s nice to watch people win things and to watch other people being pleased for them.
And then things turn, as they always must, to the wheel. “Spin that wheel,” say Whelan and Kennedy together. The wheel is spun. Money is won. Golden stars fall from the sky.
“The public” advance, a stone in each hand. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” someone screams, and then they are upon her.
A Daughter’s Nightmare
This week Lifetime in America aired a new TV movie Deadly
Adoption starring Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig. It’s an in-joke we’ll have to wait to watch on this side of the Atlantic, so I’m making do with A Daughter’s
Nightmare (Lifetime, Thursday) featuring Paul Johansson, a cuboid chunk of ham that once played an evil patriarch in One
Tree Hill – a programme about emotional basketball.
Lifetime movies are designed to turn people into stranger-fearing agoraphobes. In this one, a recently bereaved mother and daughter (sad piano music) are befriended by a cuboid hunk of ham, who turns out to have Munchausen’s by Proxy and tries to kill everyone (disconcerting synthesiser tones).
There were, in retrospect, a number of red flags about hammy (sepia flashback).
1. The ham has several prematurely dead wives. “Well, enough about my depressing past,” he says of his dead wives.
2. He “knows more about medical stuff than most doctors.”
3. He likes to loom into shot from the shadows. It’s like he’s invisible. Also, he’s named Adam Smith, like the liberal economist who first came up with the idea of “the invisible ham”.
4. and His when own it’s dog foundis terrified dead, heof him, laughslocal urchin maniacallyto bury andit. gets a
5. music When goes no-oneevil andis looking,he makes the an evil face. (Note to self: Do I do this?)
6. He gets the bereaved mother to drink cup after cup of his “wellness tea” (this isn’t a rude euphemism).
7. His disturbed stepson often has a bandage around his mirror-punching hand. Shush now, have some “wellness tea.”
8. The bereaved mother repeatedly blacks out and feels sicker and sicker and goes blind. You know what she needs? That’s right. A cup of “wellness tea”.
9. Everyone is sick and dying. “Wellness tea” for all!
10. Everything he says sounds suspicious when you play it all together as a sepia flashback with scary music.
11. Sometimes he mutters: “I’m a good boy, momma. I’m a good boy.” Although, to be fair, this is near the end of the film, when his murderous ways are well established, and sure what woman doesn’t find deranged Freudian mutterings attractive in a man?
There are many games that are essentially the same game. There’s one called Trap Door, which, sadly, doesn’t involve a trap door
Ageless skull: Marty Whelan