Welcome to Pat Kenny's nation, a chilling scenario

The Pat Kenny Show imagines the nation not as it could be, but as it is, an easily goaded, roiling mess

In the first instalment of the season, Pat Kenny  tackles the housing crisis in stark and personal terms, by imagining the people watching him.  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

In the first instalment of the season, Pat Kenny tackles the housing crisis in stark and personal terms, by imagining the people watching him. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

In an ideal world, a current affairs talk show would stand back, present urgent societal problems clearly and compassionately, move graciously beyond apportioning blame, and involve frank, searching discussions between citizens, experts and authorities to set out realistic paths towards improvement. Then again, in an ideal world, there would be no current affairs shows.

For the first broadcast of its new series, The Pat Kenny Show (TV3, Wednesday, 10pm) presents the world as it is, a roiling cacophonous mess, by charging into the emotive many-headed monster that is the housing crisis.

Kenny, too often dismissed as a stilted narcissist, introduces the problem in stark and personal terms, by imagining the people watching him. Speaking into the camera, Kenny explains that some viewers are watching in the comfort of their own homes. But many precarious others have tuned in while withstanding exorbitant rents or temporary accommodation. And, more harrowing, there are those “who will never watch us, because they’re sleeping in a doorway”. It’s a chilling scenario, this Pat Kenny nation.

It’s even worse than that, explains broadcaster Sarah McInerney, adding that the crisis affects “real people”. Real people? “Leo’s people. People getting up early in the morning.”

We see a clip of an evicted young mother, then endless queues for rented accommodation. From the audience we hear from a woman whose home has been repossessed. From Claremorris, we hear mealy-mouthed equivocations from Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

There is a panicky sense throughout. Everyone speaks frantically, as though urged on by wind-it-up hand gestures. The set, with neon bars across a dark void, forcibly recalls the accelerations of Tron. With little room to manoeuvre within a tight hour, Kenny prompts everyone – even us. So a radical suggestion from financial commentator Brendan Burgess – roughly, that “working families” be prioritised for social housing in Dublin, and reviewed regularly, while the unemployed are banished to the sticks – is something “some people will not like”.

Actually, everybody hates it. Burgess has been retained as our Thatcherite piñata, with so little self-awareness his retort to the challenge of living on social welfare is to say “I’d go out and get a job.” Presumably as a pantomime villain.

By the end it feels like a runaway show: the Fianna Fáil guy courageously shirks all blame; audience members are called upon for fleeting seconds, as though to put a statistical face on all the humans; a nonsense Tweet parachutes in from nowhere (“We don’t have a housing shortage we have a housing emergency!”). You suspect that somebody is dousing a fire in the control room with a bucket of confetti.

That may be unfair. It could be a serious effort to represent the people of Ireland in our vast, cacophonous, Pat Kenny-watching panoply. But to see how Pat Kenny nation approaches its problems is to realise, with morbid certainty, that no crisis will ever be solved.

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