What time is it? Why it shouldn't always be wine o'clock


TELEVISION:Maia Dunphy proves a good guide to the world of the serial tipple, while there’s a glut of serial killers on Sky

So having watched Reality Bites: Merlot & Me (RTÉ Two, Monday) it turns out that waiters aren’t actually stingy and I should stop giving them the gimlet eye at their idea of a glass of wine. Their pesky measures are correct – 100ml for a small one – and it’s home drinkers with wine glasses the size of baby’s heads that get it wrong. Those two freely poured glasses of supermarket plonk at wine o’clock probably add up to four official glasses.

The very funny Maia Dunphy is the “me” in the title, on a quest to discover if her home-drinking habits – wine most nights, vodka chilling in the freezer – is doing her, a healthy woman her mid 30s, any damage, healthwise.

Her liver is working fine. (The doctor giving her the results was wearing a tie with a pint motif. Booze really is everywhere. He wasn’t amused when she pointed it out.) But a plastic surgeon suggested that alcohol ages a person – and, in a line that would make you put a cork in it pretty quickly, he said, “It makes everything drop a little faster.”

Dunphy is a fantastic presenter: smart, funny, warm and able to personalise a subject without coming across all me, me, me. She found that her own drinking habits reflect a broader change in alcohol consumption among women – it has risen hugely – so you’re as likely to be offered a glass of wine as a cup of tea at a friend’s house; it’s part of the supermarket shop (“next aisle over from the Sudocrem”), and opening a bottle at home to destress after a long day is so common as to be unremarkable.

The facts are sobering: down half a bottle of wine a day and within 10 years a woman is on her way to liver cirrhosis with an increased risk of breast cancer.

One of the funniest and most revealing segments was in Beaumont Hospital’s neurology department, where Dunphy took a series of tests that revealed her to be quick-witted and steady. Then, sitting across from the neuropsychologist Dr Niall Pender – such a communicator he should get a health programme of his own – she drank two glasses of wine.

Redoing the tests, the results were very different. She was unsteady on her feet, slower-witted and had poor reaction times. Pender showed how her judgment was now impaired – saying she wouldn’t, for example, be able to drive.

Look beyond the humour and Dunphy’s engaging candour and this was good public-service information delivered entertainingly. Merlot Me was packed with quickfire interviews. Contributions from a psychologist, an addiction counsellor, doctors and her book club – glug club, more like – built a convincing picture of women drinking much more than they realise.

Highlighting the changing drinking patterns, a publican’s wife told of finding the itemised bill for her wedding in 1977. It included, for the women, 30 “dressed oranges” – a tooth-jangling concoction of orange juice topped with cream – and several jugs of squash.

Killer idea

The debate about gun control in the US after the mass murders at the cinema in Colorado and the school in Connecticut shone a spotlight on broader issues of violence in popular culture. The Following (Sky Atlantic, Tuesday), the US psychological thriller that premiered there on Monday, got caught in the glare, with executives from Fox having to step up and defend their expensive new drama.

Popular series such as Game of Thrones, The Waking Dead and Breaking Bad all feature intensely gory violence; at this distance The Sopranos is starting to look quaintly restrained. Even run-of-the-mill police procedurals, such as Criminal Minds and NCIS, have a new serial killer every week. Seen in that context, The Following isn’t doing much different from anyone else. But in its downbeat, realistic, cinematic way it seems to be doing much more of it.

Kevin Bacon, in his first prime-time series, plays Ryan Hardy, former FBI agent, maverick, loner, alcoholic . . . fill in the rest yourself. He’s called back into the field when a notorious serial killer, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy), escapes from prison. A charismatic university lecturer with a fascination for Edgar Allan Poe, Carroll killed 14 of his female students before Hardy caught him, in 2003.

All this is slickly and efficiently told in flashbacks. Episode one ended with Carroll – who notched up another seven graphic murders in under an hour of TV via eye-gouging, throat-slitting, the whole bloody mess – being recaptured.

The twist is that while in prison the psychotic mastermind has, through the internet, been able to sign up a network of like-minded psychos to murder on his behalf.

Tension is ratcheted up with the unmasking of some of these fellow travellers, and they are the least likely types – the friendly gay neighbours, the sweet nanny – and so the first stirrings of paranoia, that bedrock of any good thriller, are set.

Although it’s new, The Following doesn’t feel original. There are echoes that niggle while you’re watching. The obvious one is that cultured monster Hannibal Lecter; the Poe fixation is familiar from a Michael Connelly thriller; the FBI dynamic from Patricia Cornwell.

Bacon and Purefoy are terrific, though. They are nuanced and complex despite their, on paper, cliched characters, and as Carroll’s new mission is to write a novel based on Hardy, “I need a strong protagonist, someone searching for redemption, my flawed hero.”

It’s likely that although he’s in prison there’ll be plenty of Hannibal-and-Clarice-type scenes featuring the two men psyching each other out.

It’s tense stuff; a cleverly set-up psychological thriller that has enough plot and, with Bacon and Purefoy, personality to sustain it. It is as graphic and gory as you might expect. You also might need a stiff drink.

Ones to Watch Gates opens new daily news programme

RTÉ’s new daily television news programme, Morning Edition, gets off to a strong start on Monday with Keelin Shanley interviewing Bill Gates, recorded during the Microsoft founder and philanthropist’s visit to Dublin this week.

The unsung heroes of Mount Everest are the sherpas, who make up half of all the people who scale the peak each year. Climbing Everest with a Mountain on My Back: The Sherpa’s Story (BBC Four, Thursday) meets four of them, up the mountain and at home.

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