Race to the finish line

Sat, Mar 20, 2010, 00:00

TV REVIEW: The All Ireland Talent ShowRTÉ1, Sunday HorsesRTÉ One, Tuesday New Directors: UFORTÉ2, Monday The EclipseRTÉ One, Wednesday The Good WifeRTÉ2, Monday

IT WAS THE thought of all those viewers that propelled me into tuning in to The All Ireland Talent Showfor the first time on Sunday. Over half a million – huge by any standards – have followed the show since it started back in, oh, what feels like a decade ago, and Sunday was the final, dragged out into two parts.

For a first-time viewer, much was a mystery – not least how, if it’s been going on so long, did they manage to end up with six contestants in the final? Isn’t that rather a lot? And why was Shane Lynch sitting there like a scary-looking ornament with no acts of his own left to mentor in a barn of a studio? I did hear him on radio ages ago complaining that Dublin people weren’t voting, as if the whole thing was, like Killinaskully, a mystery to anyone inside the Pale. Maybe it was all fizz and frolics during the series – and the first part of Sunday’s programme had a bit of life – but the second part, the final proper, was earnest, with the tired-looking judges (a sprightly Dana excepted) grimly eyeballing the cameras, encouraging the public to vote as if they were pleading for a new kidney.

Presenter Gráinne Seoige gave the proceedings a bit of glitz courtesy of her red dress in the first part and her spangly blue mini in the second, the gúnas offering more variety than the insistent “tension-building” drumming and the repetitive lighting effects.

Even the star turn Mary Black, who can lift the spirits of vast concert halls, sang as if she was at a wake. All very peculiar. In the rushed ending it came down to two, each act waiting a cruel length of time for the verdict. Chloe Coyle, Dana’s protégé, won.

IF PERFORMERSthink they live in a vicious, competitive world, then Liz Mermin’s superb documentary Horses showed that it’s a cakewalk by comparison with horseracing. The award-winning American filmmaker followed Wexford national hunt trainer Paul Nolan and three of his champion horses over a year. In one scene, we saw him phoning an owner to break the news that an injured horse would be laid up for a year. That’s a €15,000 stable bill if the owner is willing to take a punt or . . . the alternative was left hanging, but it was clear it was unlikely to be a happy retirement out to pasture.

The crisply natural camera work captured the equine athletes in all their neurotic, highly strung majesty, how they’re cared for (treats of a honey and garlic mixture, massages, and sinus-clearing infusions) and how hard work it all is. Beautifully shot 7am misty-morning ride-outs start the day for the stable hands whose love and care for the horses was touching. Nolan’s personality filled the screen – a straight-talking pragmatist, he should be given a series of his own. “He’s going to run a cracker or he’s going to run shit,” he said after walking the track before a race where he pronounced the ground to be “riding dead slow side of good”. It’s a world with its own language – full of nerves and financial risk where success and failure can turn on a slight injury or the weather. This compelling film went a long way to explaining why there was so much fuss this week about Cheltenham.

ANOTHER IRISHdocumentary worth a look, but this one made on a shoestring by a filmmaker just starting out, was UFO. Pete Higgins went to Ireland’s premier UFO portal – otherwise known as Boyle, Co Roscommon. His star was local woman Betty Meyler, who founded the UFO Society of Ireland – though Higgins was on screen as narrator and interviewer most of the time and the simple film worked because of his respect and restraint. It’s too easy to dismiss ufologists (who knew there was such a word?) as crackpots, but he didn’t; he simply told their story and let the viewer decide. As it should be.

THE BIG DRAMAof the week was The Eclipse, a film that came loaded with Irish heavyweight credentials. Directed and co-written by Conor McPherson, based on a story by Billy Roche and staring Ciarán Hinds and Aidan Quinn, it won three Iftas at last month’s awards. It’s a spooky story about the intensity of grief and how the past haunts the present (and that’s haunts as in ghosties; this was always a story of the supernatural), with Hinds playing a widower with two children living in a seaside town that’s host to an annual literary festival. The festival brings all sorts, including Quinn as a famous, narcissistic writer and Iben Hjejle as the author of books about the supernatural. Solid, craggy-faced Hinds, who as always was magnetic on screen, is drawn to Hjejle because he feels haunted by his dead wife and she understands these things, and the obnoxious Quinn is obsessed with her. The town, Cobh, is presented in washed-out greys and blues, the interior of the old buildings shadowy, a place where all manner of gothic horrors might be shimmering beneath the surface.

In the first half of the drama there were so many extraneous scenes: boats in the harbour, children running in a sunny park, Discover Ireland postcard stuff. All beautifully shot, but they appeared to have so little to do with the plot that it took patience not to give up. Extraneous scenes are one thing, but characters who don’t seem to have a function are another, and, despite it being virtually a three-hander, Quinn’s famous author didn’t really have a plot function. The real problem was the lack of tension – surely a must in a supernatural-themed drama – caused largely by the leaden pace and not helped by repetitive and intrusive score, made up mostly of piano pieces and (with sledgehammer subtlety) choral music.

A LIGHTER DIVERSIONis The Good Wife, the hit US drama series starring Julianna Margulies which began on RTÉ this week (it’s been showing on Channel 4 since December). In the opening scene, Margulies as Alicia Florrick stands hand-in-hand with her husband, Peter (Chris Noth), before the assembled press, while he announces his resignation from the state’s attorney office having been found to have used public funds to pay women for sex. It’s a scene we’ve seen before in real life and that gives the set-up an added frisson. Soon he’s in prison and a humiliated Margulies, who has stayed at home to raise their two children, must try to pick up her legal career starting once again at the bottom.

On her first day, knowing she is still the subject of intense gossip, her new boss (the fantastic Christine Baranski), suggests she can easily overcome the public humiliation. Nodding to a framed photo of herself with Hillary Clinton, she breezily advises, “If she can do it, so can you.” It’s clever and smart and fills the hole left by Boston Legal.

Avert your gaze Gay teenage romance and Lady Gaga in ‘Glee’ series two spoiler alert

Plot spoilers for long-running series are always just a few clicks away on any one of a gazillion fan or gossip sites – doesn’t everyone know by now that Peggy is leaving Eastendersor that smoothie actor Nigel Havers is on the way to Weatherfield to flirt with both Rita and Audrey in Corrie?The information slips out in all sorts of waysbut its unusual for a network to announce a new series and reveal several spoilers at the same time.

The second series of the mega hit Gleeon TV3 and Channel 4 – think Famemeets Gossip Girls– begins in the US in April (here in the Autumn) and the cast and producers from Fox were giving plenty away when they announced the line-up at the William S Paley Festival in Los Angeles. Rachel (Lea Michele) will have a new love interest, as will the brilliant Kurt (Chris Colfer) who spent series one mooning over Finn. How the scriptwriters will handle a gay teenage relationship should be interesting.

Madonna’s songs will once again feature – the entire plot in an episode in series one was constructed just so Papa Don’t Preachcould feature, a case of the music marketing tail wagging the story dog. Lady Gaga’s Gleedebut was announced too, though she won’t be tottering down the halls of McKinley High. It’s just her songs that’ll feature.

Meanwhile, both Bryan Adams and Coldplay were reported to have refused to allow their songs to be used.


tvreview@irishtimes.com