There was more driving in Looking After No 1 (RTÉ One, Monday) than in an average episode of Top Gear. TDs, especially rural ones, spend a lot of time in their cars. The Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae has even perfected the trick of writing in a notebook that's perched on his steering wheel while he chats on the phone as he zips along his constituency roads. Take that, you road-safety types worried about drivers texting. The other TDs in the programme – and with elections on the distant horizon there must be 153 others raging they didn't get the exposure – were the Limerick TD and former minister Willie O'Dea, the Mayo TD Michelle Mulherin, and the Dublin TDs John Lyons and Aengus Ó Snodaigh.
Their big commute isn’t to the Dáil, where their job is to be national legislators. It’s to their clinics, where they meet constituents who come with issues ranging from heavy schoolbags to visa problems for a Syrian family in Egypt. No problem was too small or too big, and no one who asked for help or advice was pointed in the direction of, say, the Government-funded Citizens Information office or the relevant public service, because each petitioner was a potential endorsement in the voting booth – not to mention the fact that they were in front of the cameras.
“Everything you do has an eye towards the next election,” said Mulherin with admirable honesty. Although relatively new to the game, she understands the wasteful parish-pump system. The election boundaries have changed, so the veteran vote-catchers O’Dea and Healy-Rae are already moving in on new townlands to spread their helpfulness. This often means submitting a parliamentary question about a constituent’s problem. Because they’re sent by a TD they must be answered – expensively and in detail – by Government departments; 45,000 were sent last year.
Looking After No 1's producer-director, Janet Traynor, kept the tone upbeat, and the TDs were hard-working and sincere. But this was a clever film: without haranguing or getting mired in the minutiae of politics, it was an indictment not just of our political system, with its emphasis on clientelism and vote-chasing, but also of Government services that for many of us are distant, frightening and unapproachable. Every interaction in the TDs' clinics – we saw them taking place mostly in pubs – shows that there is still a perception, on which the TDs feed unashamedly, that they can fix things and get things done.
“You get to know how far you can push yourself to deliver the right entitlements to people,” said Ó Snodaigh, whose time-consuming work sorting out a constituent’s carer issue was admirable. But in that case, as in all the others, there was the obvious unspoken question of whether he should have been involved at all – of whether, as an elected national legislator, he should not have been busy with Oireachtas business instead.
“I never heard anyone coming out with the statement of city-pump politics. If you are pumping for people in a parish, they’re as good and as important as the people in the city,” said Healy-Rae, prompting yet another groan from this viewer at least.
More light-hearted – and filling the "light factual" Reality Bites brief of "grabby content, grabby titles" – was Oi Ginger! (RTÉ Two, Thursday), though it took me awhile to get over myself about the title. When did we start saying "ginger"? Was it around the time we started saying "fell pregnant" and other teeth-grinding, peculiarly British expressions? Despite this, Oi Ginger! was fun. Its presenter, the fashion journalist Angela Scanlon, and her contributors, who came from all points on the redhead colour chart, tackled every aspect of the subject, from bullying in childhood to the "ginger gene".
Scanlan, a proud redhead, was up for all sorts of japes, such as wearing different wigs to a Dublin bar to test research that suggests redheads are the least likely to be chatted up when compared with their blond and brunette sisters. And in this week, when such matters came into focus, a lesson in basic genetics is never a bad idea. Talking to a scientist at Dublin City University, she discovered that, recessive genes being what they are, it’s perfectly possible for a dark-haired couple to have a red-haired child. It’s startling to hear, though, that many redheads wouldn’t like to marry another redhead, because “it would be unfair to the child”.
Even fans of The Bridge, the gripping Swedish-Danish series shown on BBC Four earlier this year, can't have too many quibbles with The Tunnel (Sky Atlantic, Wednesday), the Anglo-French remake. Like the original, the drama begins when a dismembered body is found lying across a national border. In this version it's the Channel Tunnel (the first time a drama has been filmed there), forcing the British and French police to work together.
So far – two tense episodes in, and eight to go – it's a faithful reproduction. The striking French actor Clémence Poésy plays Det Elise Wassermann as a socially difficult and humourless stickler – much like the original Swedish character – and Stephen Dillane is Det Karl Roebuck, her laid-back, less rule-bound British counterpart, who is also funnier than the Danish original – or perhaps his humour was lost in translation. And although it's filmed in Britain and France, The Tunnel replicates the sombre mood and grey atmosphere that helped make the original Scandi-noir TV series so compelling.
The finalists in The Great British Bake-Off (BBC Two, Tuesday) were great – Ruby, Kimberley and Frances: it’s all first names in the tent – but the three challenges were odd, prompting the inevitable series-four question of whether the TV phenomenon could be running out of ideas. There was a pretzel (who makes them?), a pie (one of the finalists put rice in hers, another couscous, which is plain weird) and, finally, a wedding cake (to be made in six hours, which is just silly).
This might prove to be the baking competition's top series yet: it will be hard to beat Tuesday's nine million viewers, even with next year's move to BBC One and the prefinal publicity, which included an X Factor-type spat on Twitter between the top French chef Raymond Blanc and the terrifically irritating Ruby. It can only slowly collapse like a souffle from here – though I'll be happy to eat my words.