Hollywood hangers-on


TV Review: There are a couple of things I have inherited from my late father that have been particularly unhelpful in my life. One is a persistently damp but stoical old sweater that he wore in the Arctic; the other, a blind incomprehension about finance (he discarded all mail with windows - hence the meagre, if woolly, estate), writes Hilary Fannin.

So before I start scrambling my figures and sautéeing my risks (or doing whatever it is that people who can count do), let's leave this week's much-flagged RTÉ documentary about house prices aside for the moment and move swiftly along to Entourage, the popular new US hit from HBO.

In Entourage, thankfully, nobody worries about house prices. Stucco mansions suffuse with home cinemas and aquamarine swimming pools stuffed with buoyantly enhanced blondes are the order of the day, and, if you tire of your mansion, your blonde or your Rolls Royce, you just chuck 'em and get another.

The pilot episode introduced us to the beautiful pout that is Vince Chase (Adrian Grenier), new "It" boy in Hollywood, a recent import to La La land who, with one action movie under his belt and a kind of liquid sensuality, roams Beverly Hills with his entourage of three: half-brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), himself an aspiring star; bright Holden Caulfield-esque mate and manager Eric (Kevin Connolly); and roly-poly driver-cum-dude Turtle ("make out with me and I'll show you where Vince eats his breakfast"), played by Jerry Ferrara.

Entourage is unlikely to rock your world and the pilot was a bit of a creaky old casting couch, with the boys sitting in an LA deli sucking watermelon between their whitened teeth and throwing shapes at the heavily laden bimbette constabulary that paraded past their table like an over-decorous dessert trolley. However, with the benefit of having seen a couple of future episodes, I can tell you that it does improve, and rather like Robert Altman's The Player, offers an intelligently gleeful gape at the fragile and ludicrous trappings of Hollywood, a society so immersed in its fantasy of itself that it thinks it can conquer death with a Caesar salad and a bag of silicone. Co-produced by actor Mark Wahlberg, this seemingly insouciant comedy has a satisfyingly dark edge, and there was one rather nice moment of recognition for an Irish audience when Vince's spookily unruffled ego was momentarily rocked on learning that Colin Farrell had accepted a role he had just turned down. I knew Vince's designer- crumpled hedonism reminded me of someone.

All right, here goes: despite or maybe because of my laughable credentials in the field of economics, I found journalist Richard Curran's Future Shock: Property Crash, an exploration of our apparently solipsistic journey towards negative equity, difficult to take too seriously.

It wasn't the facts, which all sounded pretty damn serious, an unappetising platter of tart little bite-sized indicators, including rising interest rates, relocation of multinationals to cheaper economies, a sliding US dollar and a slowdown in construction (apparently 280,000 of the workforce are involved in the building industry, proportionately twice the UK figure). No, my scepticism had more to do with the soundtrack. Wide shots of semi- detached, commuter-belt, M50-ville housing estates, anonymous unit after anonymous unit, their optimistic gables glinting in the sunlight, were underscored by predatory Jaws-like music, a portent, the programme seemed to suggest, of imminent ghettoisation. The prospect of thousands of young families, already mortgaged up to the hilt, unable to meet their monthly payments because of redundancies and spiralling costs, the vista of school-less, transport-hungry estates full of unemployed young parents drowning in their interest-free- option LCD screens and hire-purchase couches, seemed just a breath away. I was there, almost, ready to hurl my belongings into a tea chest (this time I'm not taking the jumper) and hammer a "for sale" sign on to the hysterically fecund cherry blossom tree; then, just as the programme had you shivering in the grip of "negative sentiment", it kind of seemed to change its mind.

The bang-crash-wallop that engulfed Britain in the 1990s will not necessarily happen here, it backtracked; it might be more of a "soft landing", a "slowdown". Leafy suburbanites and ornamental fish-pond farmers, the programme predictably concluded, should remain unbruised when the Tiger does finally get kicked in the ass by the US ringmaster. And, once again unsurprisingly, it's the newly qualified nurses and teachers on average salaries trying to raise the €420,000 to get a foothold on the property mountain who can toss their beleaguered cents into the air to decide whether they'll eat or pay the mortgage.

So what's new? Where's the insight? One laconic expert, musing about the merits of selling one's house and renting it back from some fictitious buyer (presumably one who hadn't seen the programme), opted not to bother really.

In the end, the storm he saw coming on the horizon wasn't going to ruffle his teacup.

So, should we stay or should we go now? As the song says, if we stay it will be trouble, if we go it will be double (or maybe it was the other way round). In Future Shock: Property Crash, nobody seemed too sure about either the shock or the crash.

'GOING GREAT, MATE, welcome to Australia." Struggling to relinquish the April sunshine that was bathing the back of my over-priced home last Sunday, I stumbled blindly into the gloom to watch Ocean's Deadliest, unprepared for what a moving experience it would be to see Steve Irwin's final documentary.

"Mission accomplished, you beauty," said Irwin, diving into the sea after an angry and volatile saltwater crocodile who had been released from the deck of his boat, Croc 1, with a tracking device on its back.

The fearless naturalist, swimming in the wake of the great big prehistoric handbag, seemed impervious to danger, but it was during a break from filming that Irwin (while snorkelling) was fatally pierced in the heart by a stingray barb.

At the time of the accident, it was oceanographer and ecologist Philippe Cousteau (grandson of Jacques) who attempted to resuscitate Irwin. Cousteau, who ended up fronting the programme, has, like his grandfather, the confidence of someone whose passion for his subject is matched by education, access and success. A tanned young sprite, he was born to travel the world promoting ecological awareness and conservation; however, his warmth towards his temperamental opposite, the more rambunctious and instinctive Irwin, seemed genuine.

"This is so much fun," said Irwin as the two naturalists went diving to collect venom from the ocean's deadliest, to aid scientific research (ironically) into antidotes for toxic stings. Among their harvest were lethal stone fish, pretty molluscs harbouring poisonous milkshakes in their cone-shaped shells, and fragile but murderous box jellyfish. Then there was the six-foot, four-stone toxic sea snake, described by Irwin as an "absolute ripper" as he cradled it in his arms. The creature, which could kill with a stroke of its incisor, appeared quite comfortable, peaceable even, in Irwin's grip.

After the vicarious thrill of watching the ocean reveal her more delinquent residents, the programme ended with Cousteau taking us on a sober trawl through man-made ecological disasters: seabirds drowning in oil slicks, discarded ghost nets continuing their pointless carnage, and massive industrial trawlers plundering the ocean bed, ripping it to shreds like a tattered stocking.

The preternatural brightness when I resumed my place in the sun felt a little more sinister and less welcoming.

STILL, WHY WORRY about global warming and the desecration of the planet when, courtesy of TV3 and its "multimedia partner", you can download Xposé on to your mobile phone and keep yourself entertained while you sit on an overcrowded, gridlocked bus on your way home to your stagnant asset. Yay! Your very own red carpet! Xcited? Xhausted? You will be.

Put it like this: if we lived in the middle of the ocean (which we probably will fairly shortly), I'd be one of the less attractive specimens that lurk under the algae, spitting my venom at the scuttling shoals of giddy fish on their way to the spindly fin shop to buy a pair of slingbacks because, on the fishy box, Lorraine Keane and her guppy sister presenters just used up all their oxygen telling them that Eva Longornia has a pair.

Xposé is a competent, utterly bland bubble of trivia, aspirated nightly, which, if you are remotely interested, will tell you that 200 pairs of hands made the aforementioned shoes for "pint-sized" Eva (okay, that is mildly interesting), that there are 7,000 bottles of champagne chilling in Punchestown for all the best-dressed laydees, that this season's hot make-up tip is "skin should look like . . . skin", that "tabloid totty Candice" has a 25in waist and that TV3 awards presenter, the "dishy Craig Doyle", once put his willy in a sock (okay, that's kind of interesting too) - but honestly, who gives a flying carp? Really, like one of Steve Irwin's old aquatic mates, the jolthead porgy, I'd rather whack my noggin off a crusty mollusc than Exposé myself again.