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'The TV spoiler has as much potential to ruin an evening as food poisoning'

Comedian Colm O’Regan on people’s aversion to spoilers – and whether they’re a symptom of notions.

IN HIS BOOK Bolloxology, bestselling comedian and writer Colm O’Regan takes a look at Irish culture and what makes us tick. He skewers all sorts of bolloxology, from inspirational quotes of the day to political doorsteps – and in this extract, he sets his sights on people’s fear around TV spoilers. 

Get With the Programmes

We are in a golden age of television. Every bloody series is a must-watch. This has left us more unsettled than ever. We’re either under pressure to get all our TV tasks done, or we’re dying to get on the telly.

No one is afraid of the spotlight any more. People used to freeze on the £5 question on Murphy’s Micro Quiz-M. Now children are calmly coining phrases about tractors or reciting poems about dead ponies on the Late Late Toy Show.

Spoiler Alert

‘Hold on a second – how far are you into it?’ As a question, out of context, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Perhaps if your friend was lost in a maze and rang you from inside it because they knew you’d already made your way out of it and therefore could guide them through it, then you would have cause to say it.

But many of us repeat this phrase quite often in social gatherings. It’s necessary because we need to avoid that thing that has the potential to ruin an evening as surely as a bout of food poisoning: the spoiler.

If you think spoilers are just aerodynamic structures made of lightweight polymers and fixed to the front or back of a Subaru driven at 7,000 revs from the Spar to the Cineplex so that its growl can be heard across the landscape like a lion in heat on the Serengeti, then, spoiler alert: they are so much more than that.

The spoiler is that tiny phrase uttered by someone who has finished the book, seen the match, is further along in the box set than you, and which renders all your future experience of the match, book or TV show moot.

house_of_cards_netflix-390x285 House of Cards Source: Netflix

It used to be that the spoiler was largely concerned with football matches. You would tiptoe through the day, avoiding human contact, so that you could watch Match of the Day or The Sunday Game with no idea what the result was.

Now, spoilers permeate every conversation. And if you haven’t seen the programme everyone’s talking about, conversations can become kind of awkward because the other person is DYING to talk about something but can’t because you haven’t been enlightened. They can’t enlighten you. They can only encourage you to access it for yourself via a computer programme. It’s like talking to a cagey Scientologist.

‘So, how far are you in?’
‘I’ve only seen a couple of episodes.’
‘Ah, so you haven’t got as far as the bit where . . . Oh. I shouldn’t say.’
‘Is it bad?’
‘No, no, it’s just . . . not what you’d expect.’
‘Any hints? Without giving anything away?’
‘Well . . . you know the way Elderthon Sagworth died in the first episode?’
‘WHAT?! Elderthon’s DEAD?!’
‘Oh crap – I thought you said you’d seen the first couple of episodes! Wait, which season did you mean?’
‘There’s more than one?’
‘Oh my God, yeah, we’re up to season five now!’
‘Oh no, I can’t believe Elderthon’s gone! He was the best thing in the show. What happened to him?’
‘He was killed by Toolsbane Halfwilly.’
‘Who’s he?’
‘Skon Dukesfilter’s son.’
‘Skon has a son?! But I thought he was dead!’
‘No, he was brought back to life.’
‘Look, I think you’d better go.’

67th Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room Peter Dinklage from the award-winning Game of Thrones Source: AP/Press Association Images

Even if you do avoid the spoilers and start watching a series, your happiness is going to be short-lived. It means that other series will be pushed further back in the queue. you’ll have a backlog of telly, which is more onerous than any never-ending TO-DO list.

And just like the aspirational TO-DO lists in work notebooks, we are coming to the sad conclusion that there might just be too much television to finish in our natural lifetimes.

We may have to compile a list for future generations. You don’t have time for that so you watch the first few episodes in a state of tension, waiting for it to get good. You ask your friends’ advice. One tells you to ‘stick with it’. Another says ‘ten hours of my life I won’t get back.’ Aaaaagh.

Once again the bolloxology of the modern world is the tyranny of choice.

Beginning a series now makes you feel like your biological clock is ticking. You have an imaginary conversation with the TV show, much as you would with a prospective partner in one of those upfront conversations early on in the relationship. you need to know if this programme is The One.

Are you any good? you’d better be good because I don’t have time to waste on you if you turn out to be a by-the-numbers police procedural, like all the others.

Just like in a relationship, this can put too much of a strain on the early episodes of the show and often, unless there’s a twist, such as the hero being killed early on, you and the TV show sadly go your separate ways.

Do you remember when there was nothing on?

Those wet summer evenings when the only backlog was one of scattered showers and you wrung every last minute of sustenance out of the two channels with their TV shows that wouldn’t even pass muster now. Jake and the Fatman didn’t have a brooding anti-hero, women being targeted by a serial killer who delighted in prime-number puzzles, or a troubled cop whose biggest adversary is inside his own head. Still, we watched the marrow out of it on bored evenings when regular television was on holidays.

Our minds were lean. We only got steak once a week with something like Robin of Sherwood (the mystical one with Michael Praed). Now, we’re all obese, with our recommended weekly requirement of good telly exceeded by Monday night.

And we’re permanently on a state of alert for spoilers.

Spoilers are so feared now they’ve permeated the real world too. One day you’ll meet a friend you haven’t seen in ages. Before filling them in on the intervening years, you’ll hesitate.

Should you tell him all that has happened in sequential order? What happens if you spoil the series?

Best to start with: ‘Hold on a second. My life: I’m in season thirty-eight now . . . where are you in it?’

Bolloxology by Colm O’Regan is published by Transworld Ireland and is available in bookshops now, priced €12.99.

Read: Netflix has a new rival as Amazon’s streaming service launches in Ireland>

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