The days are dark and stormy and the world is frightening and confusing. Thankfully, Today is back on RTÉ One, overseen by soothing Kerry folk figure Dáithí Ó Sé and his platinum-haired, twinkly-eyed television “wife” Sinead Kennedy. They’re here to tell us everything is fine. Frankly that could be another name for this show: Everything is Fine. Doctors could prescribe this to overstimulated teens or pets.
Dáithí and Sinead know that everyone watching daytime television is coping with care responsibilities or retirement or convalescence or solitary home working or a hangover or a TV column they have to write. They know our nerves are shot. So, everything is designed to be gently chatty, informative and completely unthreatening. Tonally it lies at the midpoint between Prime Time and Teletubbies with Dáithí as a blend of David McCullagh and the gurgling baby-faced sun.
The cameras pan and circle and zoom almost imperceptibly. The music is all jaunty major-key madness. Nobody raises their voices. Even the competition question is as stress-free as possible. “Which of these landmarks is in New York? Is it the Statue of Liberty, the Spire or the Trevi Fountain?” asks Dáithí. “The Statue of Liberty!” I yell and I stand up, putting my hands on my hips proudly. It’s my first win of the day and I feel great.
Dáithí and Sinead are back after the summer break, so one of the first things they do is show us some holiday snaps, because that’s just polite. Sinead has been in Belgium, home of the Smurfs, and I’m surprised because I thought RTÉ presenters were bound to these shores by meagre salaries and love of country. Dáithí, more properly, has holidayed in Kerry, which he owns, and which he cannot leave due to a wizard’s enchantment. He shows us a picture of himself by a river. Out of shot is the border with Cork, which is on fire.
The word ‘Today’ is in a picture frame, presumably so that whenever Dáithí asks a production assistant, ‘You boy, what day is this?’ they can just point at it. It is always Today
I assume the studio is in Kerry too, because Dáithí jokes that he’s been sleeping on the studio couch all summer and I can tell it’s not really a joke. This is his actual house. I picture him in the darkened studio at night wearing a Wee Willie Winkie hat, a nightgown and holding a candlestick.
I like his tasteful decor. There are two couches. There are shelves arrayed behind the couches with plants, succulents, a model of the world cup, some leather-bound books and a globe that features only Kerry (presumably). There are glowing orb-like lamps. The word “Today” is in a picture frame, presumably so that whenever Dáithí asks a production assistant, “You boy, what day is this?” they can just point at it. It is always Today. There’s also always a mysterious staircase behind them. Dáithí and Sinead don’t seem to have noticed this stairway and they never seem to climb it. The next meeting of the Dáil media committee will probably be about what’s kept up there. But that’s for another day.
The scope of daytime TV is ridiculously wide. “Michael, this might be an odd question,” says Dáithí early on the show. “Do people dream differently in the summer than in the winter?” He’s addressing dream interpreter Michael Murphy but I prefer to imagine this question being aimed at Minister for Finance Michael McGrath during a budget debate.
There’s more. There’s a slot in which a pharmacist advises people how they can best ward against various winter bugs. “Chickenpox, I haven’t heard about them in years” says Dáithí at one point, as though chickenpox was an old friend or a band from 1989.
There’s a great segment where an art and design historian shows Sinead a dress formerly owned by Jack Lynch’s wife, some spoons made from the horns of a cow and a shoe in the heel of which is encased another shoe. “Why isn’t the mainstream media covering this?” I cry.
Sinead also oversees an unthreatening fashion show on a tiny red carpet. When an item of clothing is modelled the words come on screen like on Sesame Street. A woman comes out in a scarf. “Scarf” says the screen. A woman comes out in trousers. “Trousers” says my screen. In fairness, the brand name and price also come up, so it’s not just about teaching us new words but by this stage I’ve been lulled into an enjoyable fugue state. At one point the fashion lady advises that every wardrobe should contain “knee-high suede boots” and I write it obediently in my notebook.
While this is a far better way of engaging with the world than say, Twitter, if I was the producer I’d have Dáithí saying “Shhhhhhh, it’s okaaaaay” gently in the background throughout
There’s still more. A chef named Wade cooks some appetising fish while Dáithí watches. Interestingly he’s standing a full metre away from Wade. The producers have presumably learned that this is necessary lest Dáithí grab some tasty fish in his mitts and runs up the mystery stairs to the attic. I picture him wandering around Kerry stealing picnic baskets and pies from windowsills like a cartoon bear or a Depression-era hobo (some people say I review Today purely so I can imagine Dáithí Ó Sé in different scenarios; to which I say: I pay my licence fee and can do what I like). “I’ll taste it now for Sinead,” says Dáithí with a wink and he tastes the food. He looks so happy.
To paraphrase Dolly Parton, it takes a lot of emotional intelligence to be this entertainingly eejity. Sinead and Dáithí are a ridiculously safe quartet of hands. They’re easy with each other, with the guests and with the viewers and this is informative, kind, good-humoured, cheap broadcasting. Sadly, there are occasional nods towards a wider world of strife. At two points on the show, news controversies of the week (people singing at rugby matches/temporary pedestrianisation) are discussed by a panel of people who’ve been allowed outside. And while this is a far better way of engaging with the world than say, Twitter, if I was the producer I’d have Dáithí saying “Shhhhhhh, it’s okaaaaay” gently in the background throughout.
In Evil (Sky/Now TV) there are occasional whispers but they’re not usually so soothing. They tend to come from demonic entities which may or may not be hallucinations. Evil is written by Michelle and Robert King, creators of the Good Wife and the Good Fight and it’s the saga of a trainee Catholic priest (Mike Colter), an agnostic psychologist (Katja Herbers) and an atheistic technical expert (Aasif Mandvi) who investigate possessions, miracles and strange phenomena for the Catholic Church.
You don’t have to be a lapsed Catholic to enjoy Evil (or indeed, to enjoy actual evil) but it certainly helps. There are three series of it on Now TV. It’s darkly funny, narratively inventive and filled with fun Easter eggs for people whose upbringing was rendered terrifying by moralistic priests, medieval demonology and a general fear of damnation.