Just what our current affairs shows need: more hugs


TV REVIEW:IN THEIR PROGRAMMES on the economic wreckage, George Lee didn’t do hugs; nor did Richard Curran ever say, “Oh, don’t worry, hon, it’d be weird if you weren’t upset.” That’s what we’re used to from our TV chroniclers of the bust, but it’s not the approach of perky, wide-eyed Stacey Dooley. She is not an economist, nor is she an expert in fiscal meltdowns, but her programme, the deeply depressing Ireland: Lost and Leaving (BBC Three, Tuesday), still covered all the bases and captured the reality of the economic crisis for a cross section of young people.

It’s part of a series in which the 25-year-old presenter explores how the recession is affecting her generation. Last week she covered the rioting in Greece; next week she will be in Japan, where signs encourage young people not to kill themselves because of money problems. Her take on Ireland had less overt drama but plenty of quiet personal tragedies, and she captured the sense of hopelessness felt by well-educated young Irish people who see no option but to emigrate. Her skill is that she fits in, not because she kept saying “I’m half Irish”, in her rather irritating high-pitched voice, but because she can talk to her peers and get them to open up.

In Tullamore she went to the pub with a group of young locals of whom only one, Tina, has a full-time job: she works at Aldi and has a degree in theology and sociology and a master’s in journalism. Dooley followed Ciara Costello, a newly qualified speech therapist, home to Galway to find out how she and her family felt about her imminent emigration to Australia, where she has secured a four-year contract. “I’ve never even had a phone contract for four years,” she said, looking slightly stunned by her predicament. Dooley was there sobbing at the airport to see Costello off: detached and cool aren’t her thing.

On Dublin’s northside she got into an apartment in Priory Hall, that shameful, unfit-for-purpose monument to the property boom. She got a guided tour from Graham and Sinéad, both of whom have had to leave the apartments for which they each paid €250,000.

“Doesn’t, you know, the council check that everything’s okay while they’re being built? I’m no expert or anything, but they do in London, I think,” Dooley said in her innocent-abroad way that often gets to the crux of things. “Ireland’s building controls are on a par with Namibia’s,” said Graham.

She did try to end the documentary on a positive note by meeting volunteers developing the Hireland concept, through which they hope to persuade every employer in the country to take on one person. But the overall effect was unexpectedly insightful – you don’t expect much from the generally dumbdocs on BBC Three – if relentlessly gloomy.

DERVLA KIRWAN DOESa convincing line in nice middle-class, slightly worried yummyish mummies, and she’s the best thing in this week’s big new drama series, Blackout (BBC One, Monday). She plays Alex, the wife of councillor Daniel Demoy (Christopher Eccleston), an alcoholic who is mired in council corruption and kills someone during a drunken blackout. Then he accidentally saves someone else’s life, becomes a local hero and is elected mayor. And he seems to have got away with it.

That’s the substance, but the director’s relentless emphasis on style ruins the thing: endless close-ups of Eccleston’s worried face, hyperbright lighting indoors, spooky blue-tinged night shots and a lot of mumbling. It’s a determinedly Everyman story but could be set in Sacramento or Scunthorpe. He’s a council official, and the council offices are vast, supermodern and anonymous; they live in a loft; it’s raining all the time; and, for a heavy-handed touch of noir, he arranges to meet the business contact that he kills down a dark alley. And, of course, it’s pouring rain.

Afterwards he has it off with a random blonde who looks like a gangster’s moll. It’s all horribly self-conscious. Even the opening shot establishing Demoy as a drinker, sweaty-faced and downing a bottle of vodka, went on for so long in loving close-up that it became unintentionally comic. Two more very pleased-with-themselves episodes to go. If it wasn’t for Kirwan I’m not sure I’d bother.

NOT QUITE SUREwhether Martin and Paul’s Surf ’n’ Turf (RTÉ One, Wednesday) is a cookery programme or a travelogue – or not quite either – but it’s entertaining enough. Okay, the bit where the bloke shot the rabbits and Paul Flynn skinned them wasn’t entertaining at all – and, yes, I know meat doesn’t come vacuum-packed from supermarket shelves, but still.

The shtick is that Flynn loves turf – or meat (not the stuff from the bog that’s causing all the rows) – and Martin Shanahan loves fish, and both are travelling around the country to prepare their favourite ingredient for a cook-off for invited guests. The first one was in Cobh. Shanahan was natural and giddy, while Flynn hammed it up. “I’ve set myself a very difficult task,” he said, looking worried, as if he had to explain the Higgs boson instead of making a stew. But they’re good companions to tour the country with for the summer. One Cobh woman remarked, “We were wondering would a pet rabbit taste this good. We’ve a bunny out the back.”

THE POTTED PLANTis a staple of cheesy low-budget programmes, so of course one appeared on the set of the spoof books show Alan Partridge on Open Books with Martin Bryce (Sky Atlantic, Monday).

Steve Coogan has resurrected his character for a series of parodies on well-worn TV formats. Last week it was a hilarious skewering of those tiresome travel shows in which celebrities go walkabout. This week’s was a meta tour de force in which Partridge, the cravat-wearing celebrity author, was interviewed by Chris Beal (Robert Popper), a failed writer, about his autobiography, I, Partridge.

For us fans of earnest culture shows, this sharp-as-a-tack satire hit all the right buttons, with the softly-spoken bearded interviewer in oatmeal and beige and the narcissistic writer who thinks every detail of his writing life – “boiled eggs in a bowl in a drawer” for energy – is worth passing on to the earnest-looking audience.

The fun is watching the way Coogan pulls Partridge back into sneering obnoxiousness just when you think he’s layered on so much pathos you might be starting to like him, or at least feel sorry for him. “That ginger actor – gactor. I love wordplay,” he says.

Get stuck into . ..

Kenneth Branagh returns as the gloomy Swedish detective Wallander (BBC One, tomorrow). He has moved house for a fresh start, but in a typically Wallanderish turn there’s a body buried in the garden.

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