The heart of the matter and the centre of attention

TELEVISION: The versatile Bláthnaid Ní Chofaig shows comic talent in TG4’s satire – and balance in a powerful RTÉ interview…

TELEVISION:The versatile Bláthnaid Ní Chofaig shows comic talent in TG4's satire – and balance in a powerful RTÉ interview

It’s been nearly three years since the first series of An Crisis, TG4’s sharp, satirical drama set in a half-baked Irish-language quango, so the second series, Crisis Eile (Wednesday), has been a long time coming. Perhaps acknowledging the time gap, its writer, Antoine Ó Flatharta, has changed the location, making Crisis Eile appear more a standalone comedy series, albeit with the same sharp satirical bite, than a follow-on.

Series one was set in Dublin, with the bumbling Setanta (Risteárd Cooper) heading a team of dysfunctional, daft or jobsworth public servants attempting to keep their cushy gig as the beady eyes of accountability bore down on them. As the quango’s function was to promote the Irish language and culture, it was a subversive subject for TG4 to give the green light to.

In this series, Cooper is gone and the new location is Brussels, where the former minister for transport, self-important battleaxe Maeve Kelly Clarke (Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh, underplaying it nicely and displaying a real talent for comic acting), has been exiled “as a reward for her many blunders” to the political boonies: the European Commission.

She’s given culture, heritage, multilingualism and climate action, a portfolio with the least promise or purpose – not that gravy-train Clarke is too interested in the finer details. Subtitles! A new EU commissioner! A Scandinavian official! It’s like Borgen – except of course it’s not.

An Crises Eile is funny and hits its targets head on. The format is old-fashioned sitcom, so the first episode (of six) was about setting the scene and introducing characters. Some who appeared in the first series (including the effortlessly comic Norma Sheahan) are now exiled in Brussels too. There were several swipes at EU bureaucracy, Irish political dynasties and Ryanair, including a running gag about the dreadful service on “Nolanair”, the budget airline that the new commissioner travels with “for the optics”.

Though maybe Clarke’s translator dying midmeeting and then being kept in the stationary cupboard was a bit too out of kilter with the rest of the comedy that worked so well because it was rooted in reality. And viewers afraid they won’t have a clue what’s going on should tune in: it’s mostly in English.

Human face

I suspect that as many people will see Crisis Eile as Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh’s other programme this week. The Truth of the Matter (RTÉ One) pitched up in the God slot on Sunday night. It’s a pity, because she was talking to Tom Curran, partner of Marie Fleming, the woman with MS who brought her right-to-die case to the High Court in December. (She lost her case but has lodged an appeal.)

Their wide-ranging, honest conversation covered the changes in a relationship when one person becomes a carer, the devastation of progressive illness and the pain of the inevitable loss when Fleming’s wish to die by assisted suicide is carried out – there was certainty in Curran’s voice that that would happen.

It put a human face on the news bulletins about the case. The conversation flowed easily between the two despite the uncomfortable setting – they were mostly perched awkwardly on what looked like a hard bench in a religious meeting house.

It was also clear that there was no area Ní Chofaigh could ask that he hadn’t discussed many times before, either with their families or with the gardaí who he said interviewed him two years ago, when news of the wish to die came out.

Ní Chofaigh struck a balance between natural sympathy and straight questions about the societal implications of permitting assisted suicide. His partner, Curran said, is “physically devastated” by the illness but mentally unchanged. “There’s fight in here. When we fight, it’s great – not at the time, but it’s great she still has that fire.”

Too much of the interview was conducted without Fleming (perhaps that was because of her deteriorating health), and at times it seemed as if she was already gone. The really powerful and intimate scenes were when the camera was let into the couple’s home and an exhausted-looking but spirited Fleming talked of her love for her partner and her readiness to die.

Hector goes Hector

Hector Ó hEochagáin – or Hector O Huckleberry as the RTÉ website calls him, in what must be one of the more amusing instances of an automatic spellcheck gone rogue – is back on screen after “a self-imposed three-year TV exile”. Having watched two episodes of the four-part series, the question is why?

Last week was Hector Goes . . . Holy, about the Catholic Church. This week it was Hector Goes . . . Traveller (RTÉ One, Monday). The documentaries are as forced as their titles’ syntax. As TV subject matter, the church and Travellers aren’t exactly unworn paths, and there’s nothing in these documentaries that you don’t know or haven’t seen or heard before. For the church programme he concluded that “religion gives us something to believe in”. And Hector’s hyperactive style is at odds with his calm, thoughtful interviewees.

It’s all a bit exhausting. For a reason not quite clear – maybe to give the whole thing a sort of hipster gloss – he travels around in a vintage orange Volkswagen camper van.

This week the Travellers interviewed were an interesting, varied group – kudos to his researcher – and included a barrister and a Traveller who is still a practising tinsmith.

But as Ó hEochagáin always seems impatient for his interviewee to stop talking so he can jump in and tell them at length what he thinks, you never feel you’re getting to the heart of their story. Travellers are like you and me was his point throughout, they’re “proud Irish men and women”, except they’re also Travellers. Another revelation.

There’s nothing to be learned from Hector Goes . . . Hector, as it should be called, unless you want to know a lot more about Hector.

Ones to watch Golden ‘Girls’ and brass tacks

Lena Dunham scooped two Golden Globes for Girls (Sky Altantic, Monday). The award for best comedy might seem puzzling to new viewers watching the second series, because, while it’s as strong and as smart as the first series, it’s undeniably dark.

The Week in Politics (RTÉ One, Sunday), with Seán O Rourke, is a late-night favourite with political anoraks and anyone who enjoys seeing a superb interviewer at work. This week it moves to a new slot, at noon, with a repeat at 11.05pm