Television: GTA gaming geeks in crusaders’ crossfire

Review: ‘The Gamechangers’; ‘An Inspector Calls’; ‘Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You’; ‘Scannal’

The Gamechangers: Ian Keir Attard as Dan Houser, Joe Dempsie as Jamie King, and Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser

The Gamechangers: Ian Keir Attard as Dan Houser, Joe Dempsie as Jamie King, and Daniel Radcliffe as Sam Houser

 

After The Gamechangers on BBC Two on Tuesday, Rockstar, which makes Grand Theft Auto, the video game that is the subject of this fact-inspired drama, tweeted a review: “Was Basil Brush busy? What exactly is this random, made up bollocks?”

Succinct, certainly, but two other things about that strike me. One is the Basil Brush reference, a reminder that GTA’s creators are British. The other is that the cool kids from the multibillion-dollar franchise – GTA:V made $1 billion in three days and is the most successful entertainment product in history – must have had an irony bypass.

This clever and knowing film (unauthorised by Rockstar, which is suing the BBC) is essentially a classic courtroom battle between censorship and artistic expression. It’s a story said to be well known in the tech world, but for the rest of us it makes an intriguing, peculiarly American fight.

In 2003 Devin Moore, a teenage gamer and GTA fan from Alabama, shot and killed three policemen. The Gamechangers re-enactment is all the more chilling because it is shot in the style of the game: filmed from behind, so there’s the jerky movement of Moore’s outstretched arm as he fires and the stilted walk as he leaves the scene.

The incident prompts a (now disbarred) Miami lawyer to sue Rockstar. Jack Thompson (Bill Paxton), who refers to himself as Batman, is a moral crusader concerned about the impact of violent video games on American youths.

The Gamechangers pits Thompson against Rockstar’s founder, Sam Houser, played by Daniel Radcliffe, who is rarely better than here as the obsessed, obnoxious creative genius running the company with his brother and two other expats in New York. The tough battle, which Rockstar ultimately won, went on for the three years that the company spent devising its GTA: San Andreas game.

Unweighed down with code or geekspeak, The Gamechangers provides a small insight into a stratospherically successful industry.

An Inspector Calls (BBC One, Sunday), JB Priestly’s 1912-set detective thriller so beloved of amateur dramatic groups for its single set, its lovely costumes and its vast scope for melodrama, makes a solid and entertaining transition to the small screen. David Thewlis plays the (bolshy) inspector coming to interrogate the wealthy couple (Ken Stott and Miranda Richardson) about a death in their village. Its director, Aisling Walsh, moves much of the action out of the room to several atmospheric locations while keeping the old-fashioned drawing-room charm of the play.

The science presenter Michael Mosley has the same single-location problem for his new series, Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You (BBC Two, Monday). It explores what happens in the womb from the first second of conception, complete with an onscreen clock counting up to delivery day. Episode one charts the changes in the first eight weeks, and how any tiny slip-up in DNA formation can have a profound impact.

The CGI of the cells dividing is technically amazing, but a womb is not the most exciting spot for an hour’s TV. So Mosley takes the story to a range of far-flung locations.

In Gambia he meets a 90-year-old man because research has shown that you live longer if you are born in the rainy season there – your mum will have eaten vegetables at just the right time. In New York he meets Melanie Gaydos, a model who on day 38 in the womb experienced a DNA hiccup and so has never grown teeth, hair or nails. And in Brazil he meets the Da Silva family, who have six fingers on each hand because the brilliantly named “sonic hedgehog” protein didn’t kick in properly, and the finger-growing instructions got mixed up.

It’s all suitably awe-inspiring, extraordinary and educational, although anxiety-prone pregnant women might give it a miss – there is such a thing as too much information.

Scannal (Monday, RTÉ One) is a bit like Reeling in the Years’ sober, more sensible sibling. Both mine the RTÉ archive, but while you’re likely to come away from the latter absent-mindedly humming Abba or marvelling at the changing fashions in eyeglasses, there’s no such joy after an episode of Scannal.

There are any number of scandals to pick from, and given our reluctance to learn from history there always will be. Its makers, with their sharply honed directorial and editing skills, take a subject, give it historical, social and political context, and show why we should still care. And it’s seamlessly bilingual – a rare feat.

The season opens with the death of Declan Flynn, a quiet, unassuming 31-year-old who was beaten to death in 1982, in Fairview Park in Dublin, by five teenagers in a crime labelled in reports – and in the trial – as “queer bashing”. There were two scandals: Flynn’s death and the sentences handed down to the teenagers. All walked free, and the implication from the tone in the court was that anyone could understand why they did it. A single man in a park known to be a gay pick-up place? Well of course. It’s just that the lads went too far.

The death was taken up by the fledging gay community, and Flynn became a figurehead. There were protests, which were tiny compared with this year’s gay-rights marches, but they had an impact. Questions about the sentencing were asked in the Dáil. Sen David Norris recalls that he had seen Flynn at a gay disco and in a Dublin gay bar and, in effect, outed him posthumously – something he says he was criticised for at the time but for which he has no remorse.

Flynn’s brother and sister are interviewed, both dignified and quiet, making the point that, for them, he wasn’t a gay cause – he hadn’t come out to his family, so they knew nothing of that, true or not. They say that his identity – as a man, a brother and a son – has been lost in this scandalous story of injustice. The Flynn family’s home movies of Declan as a boy make the story all the more poignant.

Maggie O’Kane, who reported on it at the time, remarks that the five teenagers (who celebrated publicly when they were given suspended sentences, so avoiding jail) were reflecting a prevalent attitude in the grim Ireland of the 1980s. That’s a lot of food for thought in a scant 30 minutes.

Ones to Watch: The filthy rich, now and then

In Ireland’s Great Wealth Divide (Monday, RTÉ One) David McWilliams, our own version of Thomas Piketty, looks at this age of hypercapitalism, in which the ultrarich get even richer while the rest of us feel worse off than ever. Highlighting the growing wealth inequality in Ireland (expect your blood pressure to soar), McWilliams explains why it is happening, what we can do about it – and the dangers of doing nothing.

It’s the final series of the cultural phenomenon Downtown Abbey (Sunday, ITV; Tuesday, TV3, featuring Hugh Bonneville, left). Will poker-stiff Mary finally find love among her many suitors? Will Dowager Grantham (who must be 110 by now) keel over under the weight of all those quips? Will Mr Carson and Mrs Hughes get together below stairs? These and other soapy questions will all be answered . . . by Christmas.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

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