Operation reconciliation: a taste of controversy mustn't lead to a binge


TELEVISION:‘Operation Transformation’ provides a public service – let’s hope it doesn’t now get hooked on sensationalism

On Tuesday’s Operation Transformation (RTÉ One), Dr Eva Orsmond ate humble pie (5,000 calories) and apologised to Charlotte O’Connell for last week’s show, when she sneered at the young woman’s tears and shouted at her to “cop on”.

An ugly exchange last time in a harshly lit studio; a pretty reconciliation this week in a cosy kitchen. Then the two women hugged as a schmaltzy soundtrack played in the background – the bread-and-butter of reality TV.

All of which makes it downright daft that the Irish Patients’ Association, an advocacy group for patients, has complained to the Medical Council about Orsmond’s treatment of O’Connell. The 23-year-old wasn’t in a private consulting room: she was on national television. And, as Operation Transformation has been on the go since 2008, she, like the other four overweight participants in the show, knew what she signed up for.

And it is intrusive, from exposing deep personal fears and regrets to involving family and friends in the “journey”. (Now that’s a word to test your gag reflex.) There’s also the ultimate indignity of being publicly weighed in skimpy Lycra – would a T-shirt really weigh so much more?

The four professionals have their television roles too. Presenter Kathryn Thomas is the nonjudgmental big sister with the subliminal promise that if you stay off the pies you, too, could look this gorgeous; personal trainer Karl Henry is lovely and encouraging; the mousy anonymous role is filled by the psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy; and Orsmond is cast as the nag, with the bonus of a guttural accent, so that when she’s even a teeny bit annoyed she sounds angry enough to kill.

The hoopla about the “cop on” scene was milked for all it was worth. Orsmond was on The Saturday Night Show (RTÉ One) defending herself against a bullish onslaught from Brendan O’Connor; on RTÉ radio John Murray revelled in the story on his Monday-morning show; and it was widely reported in newspapers, with Orsmond labelled “Dr Evil”. So the ratings for Tuesday’s “apology night” were huge. Which is a pity, because while Operation Transformation is a reality show – with all the exploitative downsides of that genre – and while Thomas’s script is so sickly sweet it’s a diabetes risk, the series performs a solid public service with its straightforward message about obesity awareness and getting people of all ages moving. It would be a pity if, now that it has got its first taste of controversy, Operation Transformation began tipping the scales towards sensationalism.

By the time Richard III: The King in the Car Park (Channel 4, Monday) aired, the news was out. The bones found in the car park of the social-services office in Leicester were indeed those of the last Plantagenet, King Richard III, so there was no suspense, but it was a cracking yarn all the same.

The overly long documentary, full of unintentionally hilarious moments, did at least have a star in Philippa Langley, a poster girl for the I-told-you-so school of eccentric theories. The “Richardian” pinpointed the burial spot after years of research and fundraised for the excavations. Presenter Simon Farnaby, looking like a student who wandered in from the 1990s, with his bushy hair and army-surplus jacket, filled in quiet moments with limping hunchbacked impressions of the dead king. But he mostly ambled around, giving Langley, who couldn’t have been more teary if she’d been Richard’s wife, a shoulder to cry on.

Clips of Laurence Olivier as Richard III were lobbed in at random intervals, and experts gave details about how they were proceeding, with their open scepticism receding as the science began to back up Langley’s theory.

Much time was spent peering into the hole in the car park – beside a parking space labelled with the letter R, which Langley took as a further sign that “Richard wanted to be found”.

It’s such a big story that a more serious documentary about it will probably be made, but none will be quite as shambolicly eccentric as this one. And no one will peer at the skeleton, as Farnaby did, and comment that the king was stabbed “basically in the arse”.

Even those who don’t subscribe to Netflix will probably be aware – there has been huge publicity – that the video-on-demand service commissioned House of Cards, a $100 million political drama starring Kevin Spacey. All 13 parts were released last Sunday, just in time for a weekend of binge viewing. I’ve managed only two episodes – there are no cliffhangers, so you don’t feel compelled to watch the lot – but they’re terrific.

It’s a stylish, smart and very American version of the BBC’s 1990s Westminster-based drama, with Spacey as Frank Underwood, a Democratic congressman overlooked for a top job in the new administration. Driven by that disappointment and by his terrifyingly manipulative wife, Claire (Robin Wright), he sets out to destroy the man who took his place as secretary of state and to undermine the president, his one-time political ally.

The first two episodes are all about putting his pawns in place in the claustrophobic hub of Washington. They include Kate Mara as the driven young journalist Zoe Barnes (she demands a blog from her editor because print is dead), whose youthful hubris makes her believe she can manipulate Underwood.

There’s nothing particularly new in the politically charged, power-hungry machinations – The West Wing and any number of movies have seen to that – but it is still absorbing. It features a chilling performance from Spacey, his soft Southern drawl and gentlemanly air masking a ruthless drive for power.

David Fincher, who also directed Fight Club and The Social Network, establishes his characters with ruthless economy. In an opening scene a dog is knocked down outside Underwood’s house, and as the congressman cradles the injured mutt he breaks the fourth wall (a dramatic device that can be almost menacing) and, looking straight to camera, says: “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, and useless pain, the sort that’s only suffering.”

Then we hear the crunch as he breaks the dog’s neck.

Ones to Watch Cowboys, mobsters and bankers

Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis star in Vegas (Sky Atlantic, Thursday). A cowboys-versus-mobsters series set in 1960s Nevada, it was created by Nicholas Pileggi, who knows his way around a Mob story, having screenwritten Goodfellas and Casino.

If your blood pressure can take more banking woe, Richard Curran explores what happened at the failed building society in Inside Irish Nationwide (RTÉ One, Monday).

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