The Trouble With RTÉ 2’s The Centre


RTÉ 2’s ‘The Centre’ not only pokes fun at trans people, it’s the kind of stereotyping-as-comedy show that’s so past its sell-by date, it should be in landfill, says Kay Bear Koss.


I am sitting down. I have braced myself as much as humanly possible for the task at hand: to watch the introductory episode of RTÉ 2’s new… comedy…. The Centre.

According to its website, The Centre is “a brand new sitcom for RTÉ Two, featuring an ensemble cast of some of Ireland’s top female comedy talent”.

Well, what could possibly go wrong with that?

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am not an objective viewer, but not because I am waiting to see how they handle the trans-woman character. It’s because I generally think Irish TV is shit. Sorry, shite.

The funny thing is, most of the Irish people I mentioned this masochistic undertaking to agreed with me. It’s like they watch RTÉ as a new form of Catholic self-flagellation. There are even Irish TV shows dedicated to showing how bad Irish TV shows are. Now that’s what I call meta-entertainment!

Some comments from sympathetic friends when they heard of my assignment to watch The Centre:

“Anything that Katherine Lynch does is usually awful.”

“Irish television is stuck twenty years in the past.”

That last comment echoed the reason for me watching the show – the nigh-certainty that ‘The Trannie’ character will be rolled out as the butt of a slew of two-bit joke about trannies, just like ‘The Gay’ character” was 20 years ago (if you’re feeling generous).

So, the show is a mock Reality TV/documentary format, relying heavily on a narrator to tell us how to interpret the characters. Already this is groundbreaking stuff.

Look, it’s a comedy (RTÉ’s description, not mine), so I’m not expecting it to be fair-and-balanced social commentary. I’m all for a cheap laugh, as much as the next person. 40 minutes later I still hadn’t emitted one.

None of the stereotyped characters are portrayed in a good light, and that’s the point of the show – so it’s not like I’m demanding they treat the trans character any differently. But my friends are right – this sort of humour is so past its sell-by date, it should be in landfill. So much so that I find it hard to be offended by the offensively ridiculous trans character, or others’ treatment of ‘her’ – and I stress her, because the show clearly doesn’t. This is not a woman undertaking an incredibly brave path through life, this is A Man. In A Dress.

We can be offended and write letters and make phone calls demanding that this sort of trans portrayal doesn’t belong on television, but honestly, this sort of show doesn’t belong on television.  A much better option is to simply not to watch, and I doubt that will prove difficult.

The problem is that some people inevitably are going to watch. People who do not yet perhaps have any experience or interaction with a trans person, who will think talking like this about and to someone – a person – is acceptable, just like jokes based on gay stereotypes used to pass as humour.

There are several important differences between the trans character, ‘Nuala’ and all the others. Firstly, none of the others are a minority under actual threat of violence, social exclusion or derision. Someone is likely to put up an argument that there’s a Traveller character as well, but that’s a shit comparison. People from the Traveller community have protected rights under law, a fairly established and sizable community, and aren’t really under physical threat.

Secondly, all of the other characters are treated as individuals or allowed dialogue to defend themselves against the ongoing, inexhaustible stereotyping-as-comedy, while he trans character is only and ever a punchline.

I made notes:

First scene in and ‘she’ is scratching her ass/pulling her nylons out, walking like a man, with 5 O’Clock shadow, after shooing away some ‘yoots’. The kids are spot-on annoying. I wonder if they are even acted or scripted, or just happened to walk onto the set.

The Narrator tells us ‘Nuala’ (pronounced Noo-alla) is six-month pre-op. The website says she has been living as a woman for three years.

Then most of the cast get a laugh out of a comment about the hookers in Thailand “havin’ mickeys”.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing about, Nuala,” someone says and there’s dead silence.

Later, we see the show’s resident bitch call Nuala, “King Kong in a thong.”

Here are some things the bitch says:

“Either you’re trying to regurgitate a coconut, or that’s an Adam’s apple I see.”

“Tip for you, bro… If you’re wearing open-toed sandals, shave your little piggies.”

“Hey Mrs. Doubtfire.”

“You look like you’ve been vandalised.”

“Your eyebrows, what did you draw them on with? An etch-a-sketch?”

At one point, the narrator says Nuala is “suffering from an afternoon post-hormonal slump.”

WTF is that?

That’s it. That’s the entirety of comments towards the show’s trans character in its inaugural episode. Otherwise we just get to see her laugh a ridiculously deep laugh.

Having said all this, I could just as easily watched The Centre intending ot pick out the scurrilous jabs at Muslims, or Travellers, or… well, they’re pretty much the only other minorities picked on. I don’t think Cultchies and D4 Orange Princesses count as at-risk minorities – sorry. And that’s the thing. It’s okay and probably even healthy to make fun of ourselves, to point out the flaws of the larger group. But any good comedian or writer will tell you, there’s nothing funny about picking on the people that have no power.

It’s easy and lazy, which sums up this show really. I really wish I could muster up more indignation and outrage, but when we’ve had shows like Orange is the New Black and Dirty Sexy Money and Hit & Miss, RTÉ and The Centre and its writers don’t make trans people look bad. They just make themselves look bad.


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