Television: Nigella’s living well. It’s the best revenge

Review: ‘Designing Ireland’, ‘The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds’, ‘Simply Nigella’

Charming guff: Nigella Lawson, back on BBC Two. Photograph: Gary Moyes

Charming guff: Nigella Lawson, back on BBC Two. Photograph: Gary Moyes

 

This is the year of Irish design, which I suspect will come as news to people who aren’t directly involved in or especially interested in that world. So it’s a pity that Designing Ireland (RTÉ One, Thursday) has taken until the eleventh hour – or more literally, month – to make it on to our screens.

Designing Ireland has a wide brief, so this first of four parts skims the surface, jumping randomly to spend time with some makers – Inis Meáin knitwear, Nicholas Mosse pottery – and visiting the Waterford Viking Triangle before gliding on. It starts with Neolithic influences (cue inevitable swelling music) and later follows the rule that every documentary about Ireland must include grainy footage of the War of Independence.

By the 24th minute, when we arrive at 1973 and joining the EEC, subjects briefly touched on in this whistle-stop tour include round towers, Georgian silver, Éamon de Valera’s vision for Brand Ireland – rural people living simple lives – and the design of a Jacob’s Cream Crackers tin.

The frustrating thing is that I could have watched a whole show about any single item: about the first State currency – the one with the pig, the salmon and the chickens – commissioned by Ernest Blythe and WB Yeats; about the architect Dominic Stevens and the house he built for €25,000; or even about the evolution of those Jacob’s tins.

I would be particularly interested to hear more about Herbert Simms, the Dublin city architect who in 1932 responded to a housing crisis by designing superb apartment blocks that, in design terms, have stood the test of time.

Designing Ireland attempts to tackle the question of what an Irish design is, and there are good examples, from Aran jumpers to willow baskets. But it’s a difficult concept to pin down. “What about the Irishness of the Orla Kiely brand?” Angela Brady, one of the programme’s presenters, asks the Irish-born designer after some forced attempts to shoehorn her into an Irish context. There is a mention of the nature-inspired colours in the oilcloth on the table at her granny’s. “Well, we are Irish,” Kiely says.

Unusually, several of the strong roster of contributors – particularly the design academics, among them Jennifer Goff, Audrey Whitty and Lisa Godson – are relaxed on camera. In contrast, Brady and her copresenter, Sandra O’Connell, look and sound distinctly uncomfortable.

The show’s sponsors include ID2015 – the year-of-design people – the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. Perhaps so many spoons stirring the pot accounts for the overly wide brief and the self-conscious “landmark series” feeling.

Still, as this is the only design-themed series we’re likely to see for ages, I’ll keep watching it, although with the feeling that, as a TV offering, it isn’t well designed.

Last year’s one-off observational documentary The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds demonstrated that, in fact, four-year-olds don’t really have a secret life – they’re not preschoolers by day and international jewel thieves by night. But they are adorable, with that “kids say the darndest things” factor. And they’re back for a whole series (Channel 4, Tuesday).

Another group is filmed during their first week in school as two psychologists look on from afar, like birdwatchers in a hide, analysing the kids’ activity. The children call each other poopyface, there’s a lot of nose-picking, and rows are ended with a “I won’t even talk to you ever again” (girls) or “I’m going to punch you” (boys). That’s about as secret as it gets.

“Smell that,” says Jack, proffering his whiffy sock. His new pals oblige. “There’s an expectation in that relationship; now a bond has formed,” says one of the experts in a top tip for corporate-bonding events.

And what happens when Jay’s toy is broken? Why, he throws a strop, of course, and stomps off. “It’s good to show disappointment up to a certain point,” says the psychologist. “But if those feelings overwhelm you they can make you do things that are not helpful to recovering from the situation and moving forward.” (Why did an image of the Web Summit spring to mind? I don’t need the blokes in the hide to analyse that one.)

I was hard pressed to watch last year’s full hour of The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, never mind this year’s four-parter. But if you’re a parent of someone that age it’s likely a must-see.

Simply Nigella (BBC Two, Monday) could be subtitled See, I’m Living Well – It’s the Best Revenge. You’d think all that court business with Nigella Lawson’s staff and the messy divorce would have chipped away at the domestic-goddess image, but here she is looking fantastic, less dressed up and toning down the flirty thing.

It’s still a recognisably Nigella cookery show, set in a stunning kitchen that may be in her home on a fabulous London street – several exterior shots rub that in – and featuring the same charming guff: “Avocado toast isn’t a recipe: it’s part of the fabric of my life.”

Mashed avocado on dinkelbrot, Lawson’s first recipe, is for breakfast. In the happy tradition of cookery shows, few of us will ever make it because (a) it would be weird for breakfast and (b) although it is pathetically simple it involves an avocado.

If you’re like me you buy avocados when they are bullet hard – too mean to buy the ripe ones – and forget about them until they’ve gone squishy and mouldy. As for dinkelbrot, even if I knew where to buy the German spelt bread, it resembles a mini manhole cover and looks about as appetising.

We’re on familiar ground with Simply Nigella, not least in her posho script – “My enthusiasm for lamb ribs is evangelical; I lived on breast of lamb when I was a student” – and the programme’s all-round lushness. There are also out-takes at the end, which is new, possibly to show that Brand Nigella is a carefully crafted, knowing thing.

“I’ve been told that, in Arabic, ‘Nigella’ means ‘seed of blessing’,” she says, then laughs and says to the director, “Maybe that’s going to too far.”

The line stayed in, though.

Ones to Watch: On grocers and gangsters

The excellent Dispatches strand casts it investigative eye over Aldi in Aldi’s Supermarket Secrets (Channel 4, Monday). The German chain is hugely popular in Ireland and Britain, where it has been named best supermarket. But does it always deliver on promises to provide value without compromising on quality and service?

The Last Panthers (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) is a star-filled multilingual crime series about Europe’s murky network of gangsters and jewel thieves. Starring John Hurt and Samantha Morton (left), it is directed by Johan Renck, who worked on Breaking Bad. All reason enough to tune in.

[CF413-407]tvreview@irishtimes.com[/CF413-407]

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