Television: A two-star hotel documentary, while politicians get the third degree

‘Copacabana Palace’ is a poor man’s ‘Inside Claridges’; ‘Episodes’ comes good; TV3’s election debate is a turn-off

House guest: Marco Antonio di Biaggi, a flamboyant Brazilian celebrity hairdresser, who stays at the Copacabana Palace every weekend

House guest: Marco Antonio di Biaggi, a flamboyant Brazilian celebrity hairdresser, who stays at the Copacabana Palace every weekend

Mon, May 19, 2014, 16:35

Ever since Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers flew down to Brazil and tap-danced in the Copacabana Palace, the Rio de Janeiro hotel has been a byword for glamour, its guest book stuffed with royalty and assorted celebs from Orson Welles to Justin Bieber. The hour-long Copacabana Palace (BBC Two, Monday) lovingly documents the lush details like a carefully managed marketing film – though it’s mostly raining during filming, and hotel security accompanies guests to the beach, which isn’t a great advert. Luxury costs about €800 a night, and stretches up to “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” territory.

The film-makers talk to only two guests, either because no one else will go on camera – few super-rich are Trumpishly media-friendly – or they consider the two they find so outlandish that they can’t resist giving them maximum (or, as it turns out, too much) screen time.

Marco Antonio di Biaggi, a flamboyant Brazilian celebrity hairdresser, stays every weekend. “I hate old hotels that smell, like, old,” he tells the unseen interviewer. “But listen.” Then he loudly sniffs the air. “It’s extra clean here.”

Benjamin Bowen, a British businessman, lives there with his bichon frise, Lady Bella – the hotel has put a framed photograph of the dog beside Bowen’s bed. “I don’t know where they got it,” he all but whimpers with delight. There is also a doggy vanity pack with canine cologne that Bowen won’t use because Lady Bella has her own. All of which ticks the “rich are barmy/indulged/seem a bit lonely but who cares?” box – and, anyway, we saw it done better last year, also on the BBC, in Inside Claridge’s.

It is only towards the end, when Copacabana Palace follows Vivienne, a chambermaid, home to the tiny room she shares with her three children, that the film stops being just another glimpse into how the super-rich spend their money and how five-star hotels are so good at making them feel as if they’re not just walking wallets. Here it becomes something more revealing.

The pre-World Cup clean-up that has taken over Rio has benefited Vivienne: her favela now has running water and a police presence, but raw sewage still flows down the streets, and it’s not unusual for her to dodge a gunfight on her way to work. She earns about €85 for her six-day week. In work she says she knows the importance of always smiling and leaving her troubles at home. “I play a character that doesn’t really exist,” she says.

The first series of Episodes (BBC Two, Wednesday), a TV show about making a TV show, got off to an uncertain start. Mixing traditional British sitcom (it stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig, both hilarious in Green Wing) with the brashness and zippiness of an American comedy (Episodes is by the Friends writer David Crane, produced by Showtime, and has Matt LeBlanc playing himself), it initially seemed more puzzling than funny.

The story centred on a married couple, played by Mangan and Greig, whose British TV series was bought by a US studio. Taken to Hollywood, the pair were thrown into a dazzling and frustrating world of rewrites, studio ruthlessness, creative compromise and money. Their classy TV show was dumbed down and they were given LeBlanc as its star.

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