Television: Thrills in Washington DC, a bellyful of pills in Mumbai

‘Hostages’, Channel 4’s new political thriller, could struggle to keep viewers. For really involving TV, try ‘Her Body, Our Babies’

Hostages: Toni Collette with Dylan McDermott (right)

Hostages: Toni Collette with Dylan McDermott (right)


In the opening scene of Hostages (Channel 4, Saturday) the new US political thriller, we saw a nice suburban family – Mom and Dad and two teens – on the sofa watching TV together. But before you could say “A family watch TV together? Mine would need a gun to their heads” the camera pulled back and we saw that they were surrounded by masked intruders who were indeed holding guns to their heads. I like to think it was a knowing nod from Jerry “Mr Blockbuster” Bruckheimer, the show’s executive producer, who knows all about changes in viewing habits.

A flashback to 12 hours earlier revealed that Mom (a magnetic Toni Collette) is a Washington doctor due to operate on the US president. The terrorists want her to let him die in surgery – or her family gets it. As a race-to-save-the-president story it beats the usual sniper-on-the-loose caper, and the pilot introduced several story strands: the husband is cheating, the daughter is secretly pregnant and the beefcake terrorist leader (Dylan McDermott) is an FBI agent. Hostages is, like Homeland, based on an Israeli TV format, and, like Homeland, it has obvious suspense potential, but it’s hard to see how it can be strung out for 14 more episodes.

It snuck on air before Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Wife returned – or, indeed, the terrific cop spoof Brooklyn Nine-Nine (E4, Thursday, started) – so if you want to commit to a season of a glossy US import it’s hard to see Hostages making the cut.

Having watched Her Body, Our Babies (RTÉ One, Monday), the quietly powerful observational film about surrogacy, the documentary I really want to see is far in the future. In Who Is My Mother? Ruby and Donal, Co Clare twins born by surrogacy in Mumbai – as we saw in Her Body, Our Babies, and now grown up – will head to India to try to find their mother. They’ll know who their genetic father is: he’s Seán Malone. The Clare man and his partner, Fiona Whyte, who are in their 50s, with children by previous relationships, wanted a child because, said Whyte, “when you love someone you move on to having a child with them”.

For Her Body, Our Babies Edel O’Brien, its director, followed them throughout 2013 as they travelled to India, handed over his sperm and €25,000, and bought the services of two impoverished women, one to be filled with drugs so she can produce eggs, the other – the briefly shown Shobha – to carry Conor and Ruby for nine months, away from her own family, in the clinic’s grim-looking accommodation. For all that she was paid €6,500. She got a little more than usual because they were twins.

Whyte, who had an engaging openness, seemed pleased by how life-changing the money would be for Shobha – although had she seen the excellent documentary House of Surrogates on BBC last October, which showed the toll surrogacy takes on some Indian women and their families, and the vast profits made in the commercialisation of the process, she might not be so convinced.

In my future film Ruby and Donal may indeed find their egg-donating mother: the Clare couple picked her out of a catalogue, but in India surrogacy is unregulated, which usually means dire record-keeping, so you never know. It’s doubtful that they’ll find the countless number of half-siblings they have in the rich West.

The twins will be glad they avoided the fate of their own half-sibling. When given the choice of how many embryos to implant in Shobha, the Clare couple opted for three, to increase the chances of a viable pregnancy. The embryos took, and the “foetal reduction” of one of them was among the more disquieting moments in a documentary that shone a light on the myriad of ethical and legal questions surrounding surrogacy.

My imagined future documentary will prompt articles horrified that back in the 2010s comparatively rich westerners used poor Indian women as human incubators, like the plot of a dystopian sci-fi novel.

Having watched O’Brien’s superbly paced, intimate documentary, which touched on nearly every part of the process, including the lack of legal clarity about surrogacy here – but not, unfortunately, what happened to the Indian women afterwards – we can’t say we didn’t know it was going on. It was strong, thought-provoking TV.

“To put it crudely, it’s a buyers’ market,” said Bridget Betts of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering in Finding Mum and Dad (Channel 4, Wednesday), a heart-string-tugging documentary about a scheme in Britain to find adoptive parents for hard-to-place children. The “adoption activity days” give prospective adopters a chance to see the children in a play environment, to pique their interest. Single boys are tough to place, older kids nearly impossible; family groupings are especially tricky.

The film focused on two desperately cute brothers, four-year-old Connor and six-year-old Daniel, who despite attending three parties in their Sunday best, or dressed as Superman and Batman, didn’t find a “forever family”. There was always the threat that the boys would be split, so the youngest could find a family while the older one went into care. Their distressed foster mother said she “felt like I was supposed to be selling an unwanted product”.

Adoption parties work – they were first tried in the US – with 48, or nearly a quarter, of the children put forward in the British pilot finding adoptive parents, so the scheme is to be rolled out across the country.

It was a restrained, sensitive piece of work by Channel 4 – a surprising find, as the station is currently deep in poverty-porn territory with the vile and deliberately controversial Benefits Street, with its “See all those scroungers: go on, hate ’em” message.

In the second episode of The Taste (Channel 4, Tuesday) the sole Irish contestant, Ballinasloe Barry, was a one-spoon wonder. The first to be eliminated from the cook-off, he was full of optimism, calling his splodgy-looking mess a “modern” tiramisu and then, in a shocking revelation, admitting to the judges that his dried strawberries and lady’s fingers were shop-bought. If he’d vomited on to the spoon and served it, the judges couldn’t have been more horrified.

The most curious fact about this week’s The Taste was the viewer fall-off: only about half of its opening-week audience tuned in for week two. It’s an entertaining show, even if Ludo Lefebvre, one of the judges, is overegging his French accent to the point of incomprehensibility, so it must be the reverse Nigella effect: many viewers wanted to check that she was still standing after her travails, then weren’t bothered to come back for second helpings.

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