TV review: Reliving the time when Burton and Taylor put their private lives onstage
Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter are superb as Hollywood’s fiery couple in BBC Four’s drama, but there was more real-life drama in a new RTÉ series about struggling businesses
Kudos is due to the programme makers for starting the series with an unglamorous but highly representative business story. James Fegan is the third generation to run the family food-distribution business – or, as he says, “moving boxes from one place to another”. He expanded the business in 2007, borrowing €3.5 million to build a massive warehouse in Finglas, and €1.5 million for a house.
And then business faltered. He supplies restaurants and shops; as their trade slumped, so did his. Some went under, so bad debts piled up. Asked how it has been going, he said, “It’s, oh, it’s bollix, is the best word I can use,” his stressed face telling more than he could. He was candid about how the years of drowning in debt has impacted on his mental health, as was his wife when interviewed at home. That sort of openness will surely help viewers who are in a similar situation.
Midway through the process the banks closed in, putting his building into receivership. “It’s just a new landlord for the building,” said Murphy, giving perspective to the situation, which seemed like the advisers’ most valuable role. They urged Fegan to get back to the day-to-day business of selling, meeting customers, and advised him to avoid in his office (“the bunker”) while getting deeper into despair about the scale of the debt.
No figures were picked apart, which is frustrating in a show about business survival. We didn’t see much of the fixing and negotiating that went on behind the scenes – and that would have been good – but Taking Care of Business, which ended on a positive note from a newly invigorated Fegan, did give a good insight into a bad situation.
When Christopher Guest made This is Spinal Tap, he helped create the mockumentary, a genre that has successfully transferred to TV, with such comedy gold examples as The Office, Parks and Recreation and Modern Family. So his UK TV debut, Family Tree (BBC Two, Tuesday), a HBO-BBC collaboration, came with the high expectation of something if not hilarious, then at least several inventive notches above your average sitcom. Which it wasn’t.
The plot – loose to allow for multiple eccentrics to pop up for brief turns – revolves around hangdog loser Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd – he could do this in his sleep) tracing his family tree. His bonkers sister Bea (Nina Conti) is a ventriloquist who expresses her feelings through her hand puppet, Monkey. Tom’s father is obsessed with 1970s racist and sexist sitcoms and is married to a dislikable eastern European woman.
Family Tree was unscripted, and while the actors sometimes came up with amusing lines, it just showed that improvisation can be as stilted and forced as any script. They threw everything at it, including the corniest slapstick, but got no laughs. This week, in the second episode, Tom discovered his grandfather was the back end of a pantomime horse, so he and sidekick Pete (Tom Bennett, the funniest character, and the least self-conscious) took part in a pantomime-horse race. Even that didn’t work. All curiously unfunny.