Good morning. Here is the news. And here it is again

Sat, Feb 2, 2013, 00:00

TELEVISION: With her newsroom heft and an ease with features, Keelin Shanley is just the right person for ‘Morning Edition'

Somehow, flopping on the sofa when the kids have gone out the door to school doesn’t seem quite the guilty pleasure when you find yourself watching Leaders’ Questions from the Dáil, though happily for Morning Edition, RTÉ’s new daytime news programme, only got lumbered with that on Wednesday.

The Six One News/Morning Ireland hybrid got off to a confident and efficient start, expanding on the station’s news offering and the TV choice at that time of the day.

There’s room in the two hours for longer news items from the station’s reporters, followed by studio discussion, a typical example being Tuesday’s one on sex-worker trafficking, which included a sparky studio debate. And Keelin Shanley, with her approachable style, is the right person for the demanding job, as she combines newsroom heft with an ease for more feature-type items.

The content this week was mostly on the heavy side, as if Morning Edition in its no-frills-budget-looking studio was in fear of edging into breakfast-TV pastel-sofa territory. Maybe it will lighten up as time goes on. By 9am, pure news junkies will already have gotten their fix.

It is worth mentioning that in our male-dominated media there has clearly been an effort on Morning Edition to find – and it’s not hard – a range of female contributors, resulting in the refreshing sight of all-female panels.

Some rule somewhere must say that sport and weather have to be in every news mix and repeated regularly until you almost know the reports word for word. (Time for me to flick over to Homes under the Hammer, on BBC One, and the dreadful Jeremy Kyle on TV3 for some spirit-sapping trash).

The business coverage is repetitive if you’ve already heard Morning Ireland and not much more than radio on the telly. RTÉ admits it’s not entirely sure who the target market is, so, as well as being a brave move in these straitened times, it is a case of if we build it they will come. We’ll see.

Looking for a story that epitomised US boom-time excess, Lauren Greenfield, the director of the documentary Storyville: The Queen of Versailles(BBC Four, Monday), hit pay dirt when in 2007 she met the former beauty queen Jackie Siegel and her timeshare billionaire husband, David.

They ticked the predictable boxes: he was 30 years her senior, she was a surgically enhanced blonde with an annual clothing budget of $1 million and they were prolific, conspicuous spenders, in the process of building the biggest house in the United States. And they were willing to give the director access to their day-to-day lives over what turned out to be several years.

The house was inspired not by the palace in France but by the version of it at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas. The 90,000sq ft monstrosity would have 30 bathrooms, 10 kitchens, countless bedrooms and features that Louis XIV didn’t bother with, such as a bowling alley, a spa, an ice rink and a sushi bar.

“See, that’s what $5 million worth of Chinese marble looks like,” said Jackie on a tour of the unfinished shell of a building. The glitzy, well-connected couple – “I got George W elected president personally,” said David – had seven children under 12 plus an adopted niece who ranged about their only slightly more modest mansion in Florida, waited on by a staff of 15 cooks, nannies and cleaners.

There was lot of bling and wastefulness to be sniffy about, but by the end of this compelling morality tale, and propelled by Jackie’s candour and warm, uncomplicated personality, it was almost easy to feel sorry for the Siegels. If their excess and self-regard were mesmerising, the swift turnaround in their fortunes – “from riches to rags”, as David described it – was jaw-dropping.

After the 2008 banking crash, Siegel’s business began to flounder, and his lenders called in their loans. He carped about the banks and their willingness to lend cheap money during the good times and their inflexibility and speed in foreclosure after the crash – a familiar compliant.

By last year, when Greenfield stopped filming, only one housekeeper remained, and she was living in the playhouse in the garden to get some peace. The dogs were doing their business all over the carpets, the children had been taken out of private school and the half-finished megamansion was for sale. Jackie was hoping to hold on to their home but accepted that it might have to go. David was slumped on a sofa in his den, surrounded by stacks of documents, endlessly berating the children for leaving too many lights on.

As a tale of hubris and a parable about what happens when the American dream is stretched until it snaps, this intimate and perfectly pitched film – Greenfield never judged her subjects – was unmissable.

The dire, relentlessly unfunny pilot for Ricky Gervais’s comedy Derek(Channel 4, Wednesday), came and mercifully went last year, but he’s a star, so it’s back for a series. He plays a 49-year-old with a learning disability who helps out at a care home for the elderly.

Because no subtlety, cleverness or even empathy is at work in the script or the direction, Gervais plays Derek with a pronounced gurning underbite, a long greasy fringe, a collection of tics, a heart of gold and, of course, a terrible cardigan – a disability cliche that didn’t need to be taken from the shelf marked Last Century and dusted off.

The pilot has been tweaked so that the focus is not just on Derek and the home’s manager, Hannah (Kerry Godliman), but also on handyman Dougie (Karl Pilkington) and foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, lager-swilling Kev (David Earl). He ends up naked in the bed of one of the residents in a “comic” moment.

Kev’s unlikely character is not the only thing that jars. The changing dramatic styles do too: Hannah talks to the camera, observational-documentary style, then it becomes a straightforward sitcom; and every time it soft-focuses on the elderly residents, chocolate-box music swelling in the background, it could be in a midafternoon TV ad for funeral insurance.

The plot is ancient: the man from the council arrives to tell Hannah that the home is to be shut; she vows to keep it open – a cue for more mawkish music and platitudes. Not that any of the old people has an actual part: they could be furniture for all they’re asked to do. This is a huge irony, as Gervais’s message in this heavy-handed noncomedy is that society doesn’t value the elderly and people who are different.

Ones to Watch Ghosts and other spirits

Being Human (BBC Three, Sunday), the supernatural comedy drama about twentysomething housemates trying to live normal lives despite their unusual afflictions – one is a werewolf, one is a vampire and the other is a ghost – is back for a fifth series. Its stars include Damien Molony.

More addiction-related programmes on RTÉ, this time in four parts. In Des Bishop: Under the Influence (RTÉ One, Thursday), the comic explores the Irish relationship with alcohol and other addictive substances.

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