The Late Late Show wouldn’t be the Late Late Show if it wasn’t a little bit all over the place. That is certainly the case as the venerable carnival of chat returns with its first studio audience since the start of the pandemic.
One moment Kerry-born CNN journalist Donie O’Sullivan is singing the praises of a popular crisp brand, the next the son of murdered Frenchwoman Sophie Toscan du Plantier is gazing into the camera and pleading with the Irish public to help bring her killer to justice.
In other words, it’s just the Late Late being the Late Late. Host Ryan Tubridy is in upbeat fettle throughout – helped, no doubt, by the novelty of an audience off which to bounce.
They are seated bistro-style around small tables. And their presence brings down the curtain on 18 months of the Late Late taking place in front of a howling void upon which we have all projected our escalating dread and claustrophobia. It’s definitely an improvement.
Because it’s 2021 and everyone has an opinion about everything, Tubridy tends to catch a lot of flak – particularly on social media. But a) who doesn’t? And b) he has become a presenter forged in the image of the Late Late in that he’s a bundle of contradictions – his earnestness and irascibility co-existing slightly uneasily yet co-existing nonetheless.
Tubridy is, in a way then, the Timothy Dalton of Late Late anchors. He’s two removed from the definitive Late Late host (Gay Byrne) and probably won’t be fully appreciated until he’s gone.
Unlike Timothy Dalton’s James Bond, he is, however, up for a chuckle. That is made clear in a pre-credits sequence pinched from James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke and featuring Olympic gold medallist boxer Kelly Harrington (whom Tubridy is driving to a wedding).
Back in the studio, he sits down with Boy George, judge on a new Virgin Media talent show. It’s the former Culture Club frontman’s inaugural appearance on the Late Late – a shock to Tubridy but even more so Boy George.
“Mum’s from Dublin, Dad’s family from Thurles… My aunt would put on rebel songs on Christmas Day,” says George, a confident interviewee who understands immediately that it is his job to wax about his Irish roots.
He’s followed by Donie O’Sullivan, the Cahirciveen journalist whose Kerry charm has gone down a treat in the US. Chuckling he shares the secret of surviving his long day reporting on the right-wing takeover of the US Capitol Building in January. “It was the Taytos that got me through it,” he says.
Then there is a tribute to the late Dolores O’Riordan, who would have turned 50 on September 6th. Singers Emma Langford and and Kellie Lewis deliver a mash-up of Dreams, Linger and Zombie with support from the Irish Chamber Orchestra and an outdoor choir. The performance is followed by Tubridy conversing with The Cranberries’ Fergal Lawler and O’Riordan’s mother, Eileen.
“I can’t cry after Dolores,” she says. “I can’t cry yet. I know she’s happy now…I talk to her and pray to her all the time.”
The final interview is with Sophie Toscan du Plantier’s son, Pierre Louis Baudey-Vignaud. And suddenly we’re a long way from the week’s musical guests The Script and from Boy George talking about his love for Jedward. “My mother’s blood has entered your soil,” he says. “It’s not an easy issue for me. “
Baudey-Vignaud has come to the Late Late with two goals. He wishes to remind us his mother was a real person – not a protagonist from a true crime potboiler. “It’s a drama…with Netflix. My mother is more like a fictional character in the TV and in the media.”
And he wants anyone with information about her death to come forward. “You have a murderer still living in Ireland,” he says.
It’s a difficult interview. All Tubridy can really do is sit back and give Baudey-Vignaud the floor. But the fact it arrives at the end of an evening of song, dance and Tayto giveaways is also the Late Late in a nutshell. The episode is topsy-turvy, full of laughter one moment, tragedy the next, and with a drizzle of sentimentality sprinkled on top. And if that doesn’t capture life in Ireland, then what does?