PATRICK FREYNE

Times have changed and Dragon’s Den is not the fire-breath­ing, wad-wav­ing wealth fest it used to be

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

Five drag­ons sit in a cav­ernous ware­house judg­ing the hopes and dreams of the com­mon man: in this case Terry, who has in­vented socks for glasses.

The drag­ons scowl mean­ing­fully and smile know­ingly with stacks of ¤500 notes at their sides, but they don’t flaunt their money like in the good old days. Ar­guably, they have little joy left, eight sea­sons in. Chief dragon Gavin Duffy rarely shouts “money fight” any more, at least on cam­era. And none of the drag­ons leans back on their leather arm­chair, rub­bing the money against their bare bel­lies while groan­ing in­de­cently like

you do when you have ac­cess to a big pile of money.

Yes, times have changed. Economies have boomed and busted and boomed again and Brex­ited and bur­bled since the pro­gramme first aired in the noughties. It is now the year 2278 or some­thing (check the top of this page for the ac­tual date, I’m a bit tired) and whereas in the early days of Drag­ons’ Den (RTÉ One, Sun­days, 9.30pm), par­tic­u­larly the UK ver­sion, the drag­ons would pose brightly with totems of wealth at the start of each episode – cars, yachts, ro­bot spouses, ge­net­i­cally re­con­structed do­dos, de­li­cious panda-meat din­ners and or­bit­ing moon sta­tions – now they ap­pear gaz­ing mood­ily out to sea like crusty old sea dogs or loom­ing atop build­ings like su­per­heroes with a se­cret sor­row. The mes­sage is clear: money does not bring hap­pi­ness. Hav­ing power over other peo­ple and their stupid dreams is what brings hap­pi­ness.

Drag­ons have come and gone to bankruptcy or New­stalk or failed pres­i­dency bids or deep into the vol­ca­noes of Doom Moun­tain where they slum­ber and feed. And so, apart from Gavin Duffy, who is func­tion­ally im­mor­tal, the rest of the cur­rent crop are newly hatched baby drag­ons re­ally.

Other things have changed too. In the halcyon days of the late noughties, when peo­ple said “I am an en­tre­pre­neur”, they meant: “My delu­sional folly has been fu­elled by an un­prece­dented credit boom and the pleas of my loved ones have grown faint be­neath the sound of blood rush­ing to my head.” And so, early participants in

Drag­ons’ Den left good civil ser­vice jobs to pitch high heels for cats or chat rooms for ba­bies and the money rained down upon them from the jewel-plated di­a­mond-en­crusted thrones (ac­tu­ally leather arm­chairs) of the in­dul­gently judge­men­tal drag­ons.

En­trepreneurs nowa­days are a bor­ingly sane bunch by com­par­i­son and Drag­ons’ Den is now filled with peo­ple who know the dif­fer­ence be­tween gross and net profit and aren’t quite risk­ing the star­va­tion of their chil­dren for com­pa­nies with names like Funky Petz (ed­i­tor’s note: good idea, Freyne, keep a record).

This week’s participants, for ex­am­ple, in­clude the afore­men­tioned Terry, whose idea isn’t as daft as I made it sound in the first para­graph. It’s ac­tu­ally a sen­si­ble de­vice de­signed to keep glasses pro­tected dur­ing hair-dy­ing pro­ce­dures.

Some drag­ons are un­con­vinced. “Terry, I don’t know what to do with you,” says elec­tric­ity provider Eleanor McEvoy, as though with­out her guid­ance Terry will wan­der the land for all eter­nity pitch­ing tiny sleeves to good lis­ten­ers. Luck­ily, Gavin Duffy is a man of vi­sion and soon has Terry toil­ing in his vast money mines along­side the damned pro­gen­i­tors of pre­vi­ous gad­gets and giz­mos.

Then we meet the farm-bred sib­ling pur­vey­ors of a new choco­late milk prod­uct. “We are adding value to milk,” they say, prov­ing their flu­ent knowl­edge of en­trepreneurese. The drag­ons take this as a jar­gon-chal­lenge. “There’s a ceil­ing on the sale due to the price point,” says new­est dragon Chanelle McCoy, a sen­tence which is ei­ther a sign she’s hav­ing an apha­sic episode or that she’s hav­ing the time of her life. It’s hard to tell with busi­ness folk.

Ev­ery­one perks up a bit for the next prod­uct be­cause it in­volves hu­man blood, and if I know one thing about mil­lion­aire in­dus­tri­al­ists, they love hu­man blood. The drag­ons lose in­ter­est, how­ever, when they re­alise it’s just a busi­ness of­fer­ing blood tests and not life-ex­tend­ing-trans­fu­sions of the kind they have pumped into their in­cu­ba­tion pods.

And then bis­cuit mogul (that’s a thing) Alison Cowzer is ex­cited by Sarah Kiely’s pitch for health-im­prov­ing “bone broth” and in­vests a por­tion of her bis­cuit bul­lion into Kiely’s broth caul­dron. Bone Broth does sound like some­thing drag­ons of all kinds, fi­nan­cial and myth­i­cal, might en­joy, which makes it a fit­ting con­clu­sion to the episode. All in all, I feel like Drag­ons’

Den has lost a cer­tain some­thing since the days when we still had hope. Nowa­days, it has all the piz­zazz of a busi­ness stud­ies course and could be plau­si­bly re­named Rich Peo­ple Do­ing

Sums. I’d favour them go­ing back to showbiz ba­sics and mak­ing the drag­ons wear cos­tumes or maybe even do dragon sounds while they de­lib­er­ate on their in­vest­ments.

I mean, it’d be nice to hear Gavin Duffy go­ing “Raaaaargh!” oc­ca­sion­ally. And it would also be cool to see some of the orig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of the Den show­ing up now and again: Bobby Kerr or Sean Gal­lagher or Socky or Zig and Zag. It was a good bunch.

TV zom­bies

The most re­cent sea­son of The

Walk­ing Dead (Mon­day, Fox) ended this week. Rick, our hero (the worst leader since that king on Easter Is­land who said “Hey, let’s cut down all the veg­e­ta­tion, burn our boats and fo­cus on cre­at­ing a gi­ant-head based econ­omy”) has met some vi­o­lent mono­syl­labic weirdos in a dump and now trusts them with his com­mu­nity’s lives.

The dump ho­bos, who took all of three apoc­a­lyp­tic years to shed the ves­tiges of west­ern civil­i­sa­tion and nor­mal speech (to be fair, I con­sider re­sort­ing to can­ni­bal­ism af­ter miss­ing a meal), pre­dictably be­tray Rick to arch-vil­lain Ne­gan. Then Ne­gan, in­stead of killing Rick when he has a chance, twirls his bat and waf­fles at him like an over­shar­ing, pos­si­bly lonely

Bat­man vil­lain. He does, to be fair, ac­cu­rately di­ag­nose Rick as a “stupid little prick called Rick who thought he knew shit but didn’t know shit and got ev­ery­one he cared about killed”, which is also, I pre­sume, what’s writ­ten in Rick’s biog­ra­phy in The Walk­ing Dead show bi­ble. Then a tiger at­tacks Ne­gan (this should be exciting but it’s just a re­lief he stops talk­ing, re­ally) and Ne­gan and his goons run away.

Amid all this, Sasha sac­ri­fices her­self, Eu­gene be­trays ev­ery­one, Morgan stabs peo­ple with a spiky stick and Mag­gie makes a long bor­ing speech (sounds like a day at work, says you).

Any­way, I can’t fig­ure out who is stu­pider, Rick or Ne­gan, but I fear it is those of us who are still watch­ing. Could it be that it was we who were the Walk­ing Dead all along? Yes. The an­swer is clearly yes.

None of the drag­ons leans back on their leather arm­chair, rub­bing the money against their bare bel­lies while groan­ing in­de­cently like you do when you have ac­cess to a big pile of money

Pho­to­graph: RTÉ/Ruth Med­jber

Raaaaargh! Gavin Duffy (left) and the rest of cur­rent crop of newly hatched baby drag­ons.

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