Life in a Million Ads review: Is this the worst moment for RTÉ to air a ‘sustainable economy’ documentary

Television: Architect and presenter Roisín Murphy’s enthusiasm is not enough to stop this documentary falling short

Depending on your view, this is either the best or worst moment for RTÉ to air a documentary about the “sustainable economy”. Nobody could dispute the broadcaster’s talent for recycling our licence fees in all sorts of creative ways – though we might quibble about the “sustainability” part.

That said, architect Roisín Murphy is an enthusiastic presenter and, during Life In A Million Ads (RTÉ One, 9.35pm on Monday), puts in lots of legwork as she tracks down online sellers who make a living dealing in all sorts of fascinating bric-a-brac. She travels to Crossbarry in West Cork to talk to Eoin Reardon, who has amassed thousands of TikTok videos in which he restores old tools.

In Limerick, she meets a “miniaturist” who has a business selling tiny doll houses. A trip to Kildare, meanwhile, introduces the Kildare & West Wicklow Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has raised funds for animal welfare by selling tractor saddles and recycled saunas from a charming charity store. We visit its nearby facility where rescued dogs are kept in rude health – though cat lovers will protest about the lack of whiskered wonders.

This is all great fun. Unfortunately, the film has an undercurrent of preachiness that detracts from the enjoyment. Murphy talks about the “circular” economy and says she and other adult family members will swap holiday clothes. Good for her, but not for everyone.


She also incorrectly describes her home in Drumcondra, Dublin as a “village”. It’s a gentrifying inner suburb which, with house prices closing in on an average of €500,000, is an unattainable address for many viewers (including those who grew up there and are now priced out by the gentrifiers).

Life in a Million Ads also wedges in an exhausting number of shots of Murphy on her bike or taking public transport. Yet when she arrives at the KWWSPCA Noah’s Ark charity shop, the film omits to mention that it is located in Newbridge, Co Kildare, across from the Whitewater Shopping Centre.

Did Murphy (and camera crew) travel there by train and then walk the 20 minutes from Newbridge station to the Whitewater? Or did they endure the Kafka-esque fever dream that is the 126 bus – the Dublin commuter version of the Trans-Siberian Express meets the Magic Tunnel from Willy Wonka?

Murphy (and her camera crew) also swing by a market in Ratoath in Meath, though, again, the location is only revealed in the closing credits, and we don’t see her (and camera crew) cycling there. Is it possible that – pass the artisanal salts – an internal combustion engine may have featured at some point in the making of this documentary? Or did they all schlep from Montrose to the Meath commuter belt by cargo-bike?

Still, there is no detracting from Murphy’s ardour for old things given a new lease of life. She talks about her love for Waterford Crystal while one of the collectors she meets in Ratoath proudly displays a book signed by Field Marshal Montgomery.

What a shame the film didn’t skip the preachiness and lean into the thrill of being a connoisseur of the weird and wonderful. Less guff about sharing your holiday trunks with your siblings or the quaint “village” of Drumcondra, and more about these eccentric magpies and their passions, and this would have been a real keepsake of a documentary.