Television: Six. Hours. From a tent in a car park. What are we at?
‘The Rose of Tralee’ has tried to modernise. But all that’s amazing about it is the number of us who still watch
Winner: Philadelphia Rose Maria Walsh
For a few minutes, park the labels “bogger bingo”, “old fashioned” and “part of what we are” and consider whether The Rose of Tralee (RTÉ One, Monday and Tuesday) is good TV entertainment. It is, after all, on for six prime-time hours on the national broadcaster’s flagship station. (The BBC stopped showing Miss World decades ago; that contest has long been consigned to the outer reaches of cable TV.) It’s arguable, too, whether it would take place on the scale it does were RTÉ to stop showing it.
This year there’s an effort at modernisation; a borrowing of elements from other entertainment shows. So Will Leahy is a sort of sidekick, reading out tweets and joshing with Dáithí Ó Sé, the host. For online viewers, during the news break Aidan Power presents a look backstage. But The Rose of Tralee is still filmed in a tent in a car park, so the production values match the hokeyness of the competition, from the village-hall stage set to the shaky camerawork and the lighting that manages to be gloomy and strongly coloured at the same time.
There’s less eejiting around from the host. He’s not called on to kiss a fish or milk a cow, as in other years, and he keeps the show flowing – which is a big ask in a live six-hour gig. They let the pageant’s 32 contestants off the hook, too, when it comes to the party piece. Most don’t do one – a sort of blessing, as many of those who do recite woeful self-penned poems. The winner, the Philadelphia Rose, Maria Walsh, doesn’t do a turn at all – a top tip for next year’s contestants.
The Toronto Rose, Katie Blundell, sets out to teach Ó Sé ice hockey and gives him a woolly hat to wear. “I’m collecting Irish sweat,” she says. The interviews are to show the women’s personalities – and, its fans would say, are what make The Rose of Tralee different from other beauty pageants. But they are rehearsed to within an inch of dullness, veering towards the bizarre – which should be entertaining but isn’t.
And so, to pick random but representative examples, one woman’s story is about the time her mother thought she had “gas”, but it turned out to be a pulmonary embolism. Another woman recounts the time her mother tried to fix a lamp and glued a towel to her finger. These are not interesting stories.
The astonishing thing is that the viewing figures are so good. Nearly half the people watching TV at the time tuned in, and no doubt they’ll do it all again next year.
Rarely is the remote control a portal into another space-time continuum. But as RTÉ shows a carefully constructed vision of comely maidens, a flick over to TV3 is like entering a parallel universe. On Tonight With Alison O’Connor (Monday and Tuesday) panels of women – pro-choice and anti-abortion – are discussing the latest shocking treatment of a pregnant woman in this country.
The facts, in so far as they are known, are that a teenage migrant says she is pregnant as a result of rape and requests an abortion. In a sequence of events that could come straight from a dystopian novel, the girl is made continue the pregnancy and then given a major operation – a Caesarean section – to take the premature baby out. The barbarism gives ammunition to the pro-choice side, particularly on Tuesday night, when the TD Claire Daly is strong in her arguments but matched in conviction by the anti-abortion campaigner Caroline Simons. There are lively exchanges, but it feels like a rerun of many other debates, even though the shock of the recent event gives it a new urgency.
It has been a good summer for Vincent Browne’s late-night current-affairs show, and proof it can survive in his absence. Changing the roster of presenters weekly, and including people whose interviewing styles are very different from Brown’s – such as O’Connor, Dearbhail McDonald, Nóirín Hegarty, Justine McCarthy, Mick Clifford and Niamh Lyons – give it a liveliness and an unpredictability that are difficult for a current-affairs panel show to achieve over the summer months.
Otherwise there is an educational, back-to-school feel about some of the schedules. A new natural-history programme, Super Senses: The Secret Power of Animals (BBC Two, Tuesday), dishes up fascinating animal facts in a stunningly beautiful three-part series. An absorbing history documentary, Richard III: The New Evidence (Channel 4, Sunday), sees a range of experts, including a Swedish armourer and medieval combat specialists, solve a mystery that has confounded historians: given the king’s spinal curvature, would he really have been able to lead his men into battle?
The discovery of his bones in a car park in 2012 has allowed the experts to build a picture of his fitness levels and diet, and the facts are brought to life as a young man with the same disability is trained to fight on horseback and in armour. He proves that the king could have been a warrior. Analysis of Richard’s bone reveals he drank about three litres of alcohol a day. They don’t replicate that in the experiment.
Unusually for a documentary presented by Dr Michael Mosley, Horizon: Should I Eat Meat? – The Big Health Dilemma (BBC Two, Monday and Tuesday) feels like a rather long, confused lecture. The common wisdom is that eating too much red meat contributes to a range of cardiovascular diseases. Mosely is a hands-on presenter; we’ve seen him in other documentaries trying different diets. Here he volunteers to up his red-meat intake to 130 grams a day, twice the British average, for a month, to see how it affects his health.
While he’s waiting for his arteries to harden he talks to food experts. The problem is that when Morgan Spurlock, in his film Super Size Me, ate only food from McDonald’s for a month, it looked dramatic and had significant health consequences. In the Horizon documentary Mosley just adds a couple of sausages and a burger or chop to his regular diet, which isn’t particularly radical or strange.
And, in the end, the tests show that it doesn’t greatly affect his health. “Just when I thought things were becoming clearer I found another study,” says Mosley, introducing yet another food scientist with another theory – but also putting his finger on why this documentary is so unsatisfactory.
The only broad conclusion it could reach is that processed meat is less good for you than a steak, and a little of what you fancy is grand. Which you probably know anyway. firstname.lastname@example.org