Billy Connolly’s humorous guide to death

Death is a well-worn topic for TV makers, and is treated in a wide variety of ways: from tear-jerking poignancy in hospital beds and lovers’ arms, to spectacular technicolour sensation at the hands of assassins and explosions; from brutal, casual callousness in action scenes to morbid absurdity in black comedies. It is also hardly untrodden ground for documentary, but of course Billy Connolly’s Big Send Off (ABC1, 8.33pm) is not staking its claim for our attention based on the subject matter, but the host.

Connolly, who won his stripes as one of the funniest humans before letting us know that he was a hell of a lot smarter than we might have guessed, brings relentless Glaswegian irreverence, cackling incredulity at the world’s ludicrousness and indelible accent to the task of examining humanity’s attitudes to our demise. As Connolly notes, it’s life’s only certainty and it brings out all kinds of fears, hopes, superstitions and bizarre rituals.

Having been through diagnoses of both cancer and Parkinson’s disease, Connolly, 71, may be feeling the uncomfortable glare of death prickling on the back of his neck, but any terror or anxiety he might be feeling is not in evidence here, as he romps through the world of death with typically jolly mien. Death is a $21 billion industry in the US, which sounds insane, but then Billy’s trip to a lavish pet cemetery shows clearly how extravagant we’re willing to get in the face of any mortality. He notes the cemetery says more about the living than the dead, and this is clearly shown throughout the doco to be true of all our peculiar responses to death, from Chinese money-burning, to voodoo spirit-summoning, to the drive-thru funeral parlour.

Connolly’s travels with death take in anecdotes and interviews with experts in death, including undertakers, dying people and his comedic friend – and writer of history’s greatest send-off song – Eric Idle. The program is fascinating, poignant, thought-provoking and hilarious, thanks in main to the man at its centre, who with a serious mind and light heart, tackles the universal human experience with insatiable curiosity and irresistible warmth.

Warmth is not exactly the motif of Red Riding Hood (GO, 9.30pm), which relies more on chilly atmospherics and pale virginity in a flick that takes the beloved fairytale and wrings sexual allegory from it until it screams for mercy. Amanda Seyfried is suitably pearly-skinned and wide-eyed as the girl who falls for an orphaned woodcutter in a village terrorised by a murderous werewolf. The filmmakers stayed faithful in one respect: Seyfried does, indeed, wear a bit of red.

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