Ryan Tubridy opened the new season of The Late Late Show by beating up the big unpopular kid who nobody liked (but more of that elsewhere on this page). It was prison logic – take out the biggest man in the room first and nobody'll mess with you.
And it worked. Former Westlife man-baby Bryan McFadden, who emerged after Sharon Corr warbled a tune, was indeed impressed by Tubridy's populist strike against Cowen. "Poor An Taoiseach!" he quivered, and noted how tense the atmosphere was amongst the Coweneratti back in the green room. "We're not in Kansas anymore," noted Tubridy brightly.
But in a way, we were back in Kansas, with the revamped version of the original Late Late theme, the traditional owl, and the ever-important studio audience, treated with the right balance of wit, warmth and school-teacherly authority by Tubridy. ("There's one for everyone in the audience," he got to say with glee.)
And the Late Late still performs the same public functions. McFadden, for example, was here to wash his dirty laundry in public and so discussed his half-arsed attempts to get his children back from his tabloid car-crash ex-wife Kerry Katona. The ease with which Tubridy changed gears from Jeremy Paxman to Jeremy Kyle was noteworthy. Within seconds McFadden's stupid life seemed just as relevant as the stupid economy. Tubridy took a hard line. "If I felt there was a woman snorting cocaine in the bathroom and throwing tea on the accountant... I would probably emigrate from Australia to be back to be close to [my kids]," he said, to a round of applause. McFadden just looked sheepish, and back in the green room Brian Cowen was probably muttering "Poor McFadden!"
The next guest was initially a puzzle. Joan Collins? Had she been wandering around backstage since her last appearance in the 1980s? Well, she was a good choice. Collins is the kind of glamorous raconteur and wit that thrived in the show's heyday under Gay Byrne, and Tubridy quickly proved that, like Gay, he could relax her into giving up her best stories. Tales of Marlon Brando and ice cream and casting-couch shenanigans ensued, with Ms Collins literally sparkling (probably due to special eye-drops).
Cherie Booth was up next, and Tubridy didn't exhibit any strain when asking difficult questions about Iraq or her own feelings about her Downing Street years. She, in turn, didn't exhibit strain in answering them, coming across as likeable, smart and witty. Even his spirited banter with talented teenage Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan was a departure from his predecessor, who tended to treat young people as unnatural pre-humans precociously walking on their hind legs.
By the time the bizarrely-chosen final guests Niall and Gillian Quinn appeared (a nice couple but... A-list?) it was clear that Ryan Tubridy was actually born to this – he teased, he cajoled, he coaxed, and the Quinns exhibited understated life in response.
Now, I'd have some quibbles with the order of proceedings. It might have served Tubridy better to put the more controversial early guests midway through in the show, allowing him to exhibit his bite after his charm. And I do wonder whether the new house-band's tendency to punctuate exits and entrances with cheesy licks might not become a little wearing after a few episodes.
But the fact remains there was a good variety of chat-inclined guests, and while Pat Kenny treated his cue-cards like stone-tablets passed down from Jehovah and was never comfortable having something as anarchic as a "conversation", Tubridy, on whatever the subject, seems adept at letting his guests guide (or seem to guide) proceedings.
And those are the two ingredients that make classic chat shows work – chatty people and a chatty people catcher. The fact is, Ryan Tubridy is an absolute chatlete. Barring the discovery that he's been using chat-enhancing drugs, he's done very well.