An old fashioned detective


TV REVIEW:The 2010 Emmy Awards RTÉ2, Monday

Agatha Christie’s Marple UTV, Monday

I Am Slave Channel 4, Monday

Dispatches Channel 4, Monday

Tonight with Vincent Browne TV3, all week

THERE ARE so many nit ads on TV you’d think great clouds of lice were hovering over every primary school in the country like swarms of locusts ready to strike, and a supermarket is advertising back-to-school deals that aren’t about copy books, as you might expect, but “special back-to-school” offers on meat and veg, as if parents didn’t quite bother feeding the kids over the summer but now, well, it might be time to get a dinner on.

The point is that schools are back and the summer is over. The advertisers know it, but the scheduling mandarins are still happy to rummage around the bins marked “repeat” and “ancient movies” to fill the time. The Late Late Showreturned to the screens yesterday, but, as far as new-season stuff goes, that was pretty much it. (For a proper skewering of Tony Blair – at the time of writing Tubridy’s lead guest – Andrew Marr’s interview with Blair on BBC2 on Wednesday was a masterclass in informed political interviewing.)

It was truly the worst week of TV, in an all-these-channels-and-there’s-nothing-on sort of way, of the entire summer. As if to rub it in The 2010 Emmy Awardsjust reminded us of all the brilliant programmes that TV can serve up – Mad Menand Modern Familybeing the big winners – making this week’s offerings across all stations seem even more limp and uninteresting. By far the most entertaining TV of the week was the hilarious Modern Family skit during the Emmys, featuring George Clooney. See it on YouTube for a laugh, and if you haven’t seen Modern Family, a sleeper of a series on Sky this past winter, then take a look at it in preparation for series two.

AT LEASTit was a bank holiday in the UK, which meant Monday TV was good: a choice between two very different feature-length dramas, Agatha Christie’s Marpleand I Am Slave, one about as challenging as a box of Milk Tray, the other deeply disturbing but superb.

This Agatha Christie story was not quite a Miss Marple mystery, because, as the writer’s fans know, the plot was originally written for another Christie sleuth, Ariadne Oliver, but Miss Marple – or, more particularly, Julia McKenzie as the spinster sleuth – has been such a hit that proper Miss Marple yarns are running out, so this one was adapted to fit.

It begins when her old friend Fr Gorman is bludgeoned to death on a foggy night in London after receiving a mysterious list of names from a dying woman. The names turn out to be a hit list of sorts and lead Miss Marple to the Pale Horse, a spooky inn run by three women who fancy themselves to be witches. Plenty of false leads later she collects the likely suspects around her in a panelled room and the murderer is revealed – and you couldn’t have guessed who it was in a million years because the plot so was meanderingly daft.

The drama looked lovely, set sometime in the 1950s, and the sleuthing was very genteel, with a lot of dodging into red phone boxes to make calls and deciphering of spidery handwriting. It turned out that Miss Marple rumbled the murderer, an adept poisoner, when she noticed that her face cream was facing the wrong way on the dressing table, and she deduced that it had been tampered with and must be jam-packed with poison – none of your DNA, blood-spatter CSIcarry-on here. It was all bonkers, with the familiar-looking cast camping it up; the real mystery was where have all those former TV regulars been all these years. Pauline Collins, best remembered as Shirley Valentine, was the landlady of the Pale Horse; Nigel Planer, late (or should that be very late) of The Young Ones, looked about 100. The priest was played by Nicholas Parsons with an hilarious Oirish accent – but, unfortunately for the sheer campery of the thing, he was bumped off before we could hear much of it.

TWO HOURS OFlight period drama in the very pretty English countryside was the easy option; the hard one was I Am Slave, a drama based on the true story of west African women trafficked into the UK as domestic servants.

With spare dialogue and a carefully built up sense of desperation and imprisonment, it told the story of 12-year-old Malia from the Nuba mountains, who is snatched during a raid on her remote village and sold into slavery, spending six years working as a domestic servant for a Sudanese family. When she reaches 18 the family tires of her, and she is sent to London to work in another household also run by a middle-class Sudanese family. Her passport is taken from her, and she is forbidden to leave the fine house in a leafy suburb. Cut off from contact with anyone outside the family, she is in effect being hidden in plain sight.

The word slave and the cruelties and dehumanisation that go with it belong to another age, but the end credits stated that 5,000 people are thought to be domestic slaves in London. This drama was crafted to reveal the brutality they suffer.

Looked at coldly as a drama, the problems were obvious. There were too many flashbacks to her childhood in Sudan, the ending was too neat and fairytale-like (she escapes and is reunited with her father) and the dialogue was stilted and designed to tell the story rather than reveal character. But it didn’t matter, largely because of Wunmi Mosaku’s compelling performance as Malia, which was restrained and measured, but also because the subject was so shameful and so unexplored.

IF THERE WEREany doubts about the credibility of the shocking storyline in I Am Slave, Dispatches: Britain’s Secret Slavesblew them away. It followed the London Metropolitan Police’s ongoing investigations into the trafficking of people, usually from Asia or Africa, to Britain, where they are forced to work as domestic servants in houses or in the catering industry, either with no pay or maybe £20 per week for a 19-hour day, seven days a week.

Some of those trafficked are as young as 11, and the police and agencies that help such workers have identified some foreign diplomats as among the worst offenders. The problem, however, is getting behind those closed doors.

The chat show must go on: Stand-ins soldier on while host is on hols

Radio listeners are used to summer stand-ins, but it doesn’t happen on RTÉ television, where current-affairs programmes, in a bizarre mimicking of the academic year, are mostly either abandoned for the duration or reduced in frequency. So hats off to TV3, where Tonightwith Vincent Browne soldiered on throughout the summer – without Vincent Browne.

The roster of stand-ins – Sarah Carey, Kevin Myers, Sam Smyth, Ger Colleran (all journalists) and Ivan Yates – was culled from Browne’s list of regular guests, and for the most part it worked. None was too slick, all were on top of their brief, some channelled Browne’s meandering way of asking questions (Smyth) or his pantomime reactions (Colleran), and they were best when they simply chatted to the panellists and didn’t deal with the autocue, which seemed to make them all stare in wide-eyed alarm. Yates looked the most polished and relaxed.

Highlights in the entertaining run included Smyth’s discussion of the print media, where he asked the Sunday Independentjournalist Niamh Horan what story she had been most proud of. “Finding the Taoiseach when no one else knew where he was,” she answered. And it did sound suitably mysterious until Smyth burst her bubble somewhat by reminding her: “He was staying with his family in a caravan in Galway. This wasn’t exactly like finding a Nazi war criminal. He was staying where he went on holidays for the past 15 years.”

Or, worse, Ger Colleran’s ruthless baiting of the model Glenda Gilson. She appeared to have thought the only thing she’d be asked about would be handbag- and shoe-related, but, in the middle of a lively debate about Ivor Callely, Colleran threw her a curveball by wondering what she, as a niece of the late Liam Lawlor, felt about Callely. She did her best, but it was like watching a grizzly bear crush Bambi: not pretty.