Patrick Freyne – February 5, 2015
Currently I’m fascinated with a show called Gay Byrne’s Big Face (mistakenly listed as The Meaning of Life, Sunday, RTÉ 1). It’s structured around a series of reaction shots.
As celebrities talk, the Big Face grins widely, purses its lips in anticipation, frowns judgmentally and chuckles adoringly. He does exaggerated double-takes and puts on glasses and gazes over the rims in an avuncular manner. Most fans record it, edit out the celebrities and just bask in those reaction shots.
Gay Byrne’s Big Face was produced in response to public demand. As a confused, post- Catholic, post-colonial nation, it’s clear that we need the judgment of Uncle Gaybo. So it was only a matter of time before RTÉ hired a team of top animators to create the Big Face, which can henceforth cast judgment on the plain people of Ireland using a series of celebrity proxies. (The Big Face is very life-like, like Max Headroom or Lara Croft or Marty Whelan.)
Although the main appeal of Gay Byrne’s Big Face is being vicariously judged by it, the opening credits promise much more. “Why are we here?” they ask. “Is there a god? What happens when we die?”
Then a choir of creepy children sing “What’s the meaning? What’s the meaning of life?” At which point I usually find myself defensively shouting: “Leave me be, strange singing children. How could I possibly know that?”
Obviously, when exploring subjects like this, the people to consult are celebrities, whose experiences with limos hires, speaker’s fees and troublesome PAs gives them unusual insight. So Ronan Keating, Bertie and Cecilia Ahern, Colin Farrell and the Cheeky Girls have all queued up to showcase their half-baked agnosticism and sense that God is an energy or a feeling or a type of fog.
If the celebrities don’t answer the big questions posed in the credits by the end of the series, I will be deeply disappointed. It’ll be like Lost or Battlestar Galactica all over again.
But I trust Gay Byrne’s Big Face. I assume when, in the finale, the programme does hit upon “the meaning of life”, the stars will go out one by one and our heads will start to melt like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
“It’s happening,” Gay’s Big Face will shriek as it flickers through the facial expressions programmed into its operating system. The screen will fuzz out to reveal the true name of God and an avatar of Vishnu riding across a burning sky.
“Now this,” I’ll scream to my melting wife, “justifies the licence fee.”
Sunday’s episode brought us closer to this point. The Meaning of Life can be worthily vapid, but writer, comedian and actor Stephen Fry spoke honestly and movingly about his troubled childhood, mental health and animosity to the idea of a deity.
This was all the more remarkable given that he was speaking to a tennis ball on a stick on front of a green screen; the Big Face is usually added afterwards.
A bit of a –
Then, when the tennis ball on a stick/Big Face asked Fry what he would say if he arrived at the Pearly Gates in which he does not believe, Fry said at eloquent, angry and heretical length that even if god did exist, he considered him to be a bit of a shit.
So Fry would tell god: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean- minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” It was a fair point.
A nation of easily excited lapsed Catholics uploaded their excited prayers to the Great Zuckerberg and the Big Face went into overdrive, reacting for the nation – eyebrows raised, lips puckered, eyes saddened and popping.
“That sure is the longest answer to that question that I ever got in this entire series,” Byrne said, his Big Head swivelling 360 degrees like an owl’s.
“Well, there wasn’t a thunderbolt, was there?” observed Fry cheerfully.
Not yet, I thought. But any day now Gay Byrne’s Big Face will find the meaning of life and everything will change. Nothing will stop him then.