TV Review: Kitchen hero? This fish and chip vehicle isn’t worth its salt’n’vinegar

Donal Skehan is a man with a van, but he cooks better in his own kitchen, where the locals can’t bombard him


On Monday evening on RTÉ One, three of the programmes were repeats. On Wednesday they were all repeats except Fair City and the movie (although that might have been a repeat too). I could go on through the other days, in a schedule padded with well-aired shows such as Feargal Quinn’s Retail Therapy and Track and Trails, but you get the picture. That’s our flagship national station, and it’s only June in this peculiar stop-start of a summer, not deep, dark August, the month when viewers know to expect nothing much new on TV.

There are some new series, of course, such as Kitchen Hero: Homecooked (RTÉ One, Tuesday) in which the hook is that the TV chef Donal Skehan tours festivals, giving open-air cookery demonstrations. It’s weather-dependent, though: the rain in this week’s programme, filmed in Waterford, was biblical, so the crew set up under a teeny plastic awning. In the first episode, last week, the hungry hordes in Howth crowded around Skehan’s small cooking table, so close and ravenous that he looked uncomfortable. In Dungarvan he was even more edgy. The gaggle of children peering into his wok were like starving urchins who looked set – health and safety be damned – to dive into the chicken chilli curry at any moment.

Skehan cooks tiny portions, then exhorts the crowds to “tuck in”, and everyone tries to look delighted at the tiny offering after standing in the rain for so long. The outdoor scenes are intercut with footage of him cooking in his own kitchen, where he’s much more relaxed. When Skehan started out, his cookery programmes seemed fresh and new, aimed at a different, younger audience, and it made sense that the dishes were on the basic side. But now that he’s in a grown-up slot there’s nothing heroic about being able to rustle up fish and chips and a curry.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is huge business in the US, which is where the geologist Iain Stewart spent most time filming Horizon: Fracking – The New Energy Rush (BBC Two, Wednesday). “It is the most important geological story right now,” he said before going on to make a strong and easily understood case to prove his point. Cheap, plentiful shale gas, an alternative to oil and gas, is trapped in rocks deep below the surface. There might be more gas under the US than there is oil under Saudi Arabia; hence the attraction.

The only way to get the gas out is to bore deep holes, then pump a mixture of water and chemicals down them at enormous pressure, so that the rocks split and release the gas to the surface. In the US, where people own the mineral rights under their land, it has been a bonanza for some people. A farmer in Louisiana, the splendidly named CB Leatherwood, showed the cheque for close to $500,000 he got to permit fracking on his land. He now gets annual royalties. With shades of Jed Clampett in the Beverly Hillbillies, he showed off his fleet of new cars.

The other costs involved in this new source of cheap and plentiful energy are not as easy to measure. Stewart visited an isolated community in Pennsylvania that has been dogged by mysterious illnesses since fracking began nearby, and he went to a house where the drinking water is so full of gas that it can be set on fire. It’s likely, a scientist said, that water contamination could be caused by shoddy engineering, with the mysterious cocktail of chemicals leaching into the water table. What the impact might be of such violent interference with layers of rock that haven’t been disturbed for millennia is a question that Stewart pondered but couldn’t answer. He is calm and analytical, and this was a cool, balanced and informative look at a subject we’ll be hearing a lot more of, possibly in more fractious documentaries.

You could nod off for a little Sunday-evening snooze during the latest Miss Marple (UTV), the first of three adaptations with Julia McKenzie as the spinster sleuth, and not miss much. Miss Marple, in her hat and support tights, never looks quite right outside St Mary Mead, but there she was in the Caribbean, in the 1950s, for a break. All the usuals were there: the old major, poison and voodoo, fast blondes from London and a mysterious millionaire.

And there was one unexpected in-joke. The writer Ian Fleming (Jeremy Crutchley) arrives from a nearby island for dinner and admits he’s having difficulty finding a name for his main character. He’s introduced to a James Bond (Charlie Higson, who wrote the Young Bond series), and the rest is history. Though you might have drifted off and missed it entirely.

You’d expect a Miss Marple drama to be gentle, twee and comfortably old fashioned – that’s the charm – but not Trojan Donkey (Channel 4, Friday), a new comedy starring the Irish comedians PJ Gallagher, Jim Nugent and Sharon Mannion. It’s a late-night hidden-camera show in which the three dress up, in rather am-dram wigs and garish make-up, as various outlandish characters to dupe unsuspecting members of the British public.

So Ursula Celebrity Stalker (Mannion) pretends she thinks the young, blank-looking man on the bus beside her is the singer Peter Andre, and that weak gag stretched the full length of the programme. The young fellow seemed bored, and he didn’t appear particularly interested when the hidden-camera truth was revealed at the end, robbing the idea of even the last chance of a laugh. All the set-ups were like that: weak at the start, dragged out and not funny at the end, not least because the people pranked weren’t too bothered.

“Flogging a dead donkey” is tempting shorthand, but when Miriam O’Callaghan interviewed Gallagher on radio this week she referred to his new show as Trojan Turkey. It was an error, she assured him, sounding mortified, but it’s more apt.

My highlight of the week was the CCTV-footage section in Crimecall (RTÉ One, Monday). Two clips showed men filling up their cars at petrol stations and then driving off without paying the €50 or so – we’re not talking Whitey Bulger here – while the third featured the theft of a bicycle on Dawson Street in Dublin. The camera wasn’t even on the bicycle; it was on the empty chairs outside the cafe beside where the crime of national importance took place. We looked at the chairs while a voiceover described what the thief was doing off screen: “He’s cutting the lock. He’s cycling away . . .” .

It was funnier than anything on Trojan Donkey.

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