Saturday 19 August 2017

Smitten judges, the wow factor and property porn reincarnated

Home truths: Declan, Helen and Hugh from RTE's Home of the Year
Home truths: Declan, Helen and Hugh from RTE's Home of the Year
Richard Ayoade

John Boland

Home of the Year (RTÉ1) is the grandiose yet staid title of a series that should have been called The Wow Factor.

"Wow!" said judge Helen outside a house in rural Tipperary. "Look at this jetty!" Upstairs in the house she was no less enthusiastic. "Wow!" she exclaimed. "What a great bedroom!"

But Helen, who's a textile and homewares designer, was only getting into her stride. "Wow!" she said of another house's interior. "It's almost cathedral-like", and "Wow! Look at those amazing doors!" And as for all the windows in a third house: "Wow! Loads of light!"

By this stage, I've almost worn out the exclamation-mark key on my laptop and so am grateful that Helen's co-judges - interior designer Hugh, a cool dude with a nonchalantly worn scarf, and architect Declan, a cool guy with a buttoned-up collar - were more restrained in their observations, though so generally smitten by what they saw that there was hardly a critical word to be heard from either of them.

Twenty-one house owners have submitted their properties for this competition, all of them mightily proud of their taste and style ("We are so blessed," cooed one woman of her revamped home), though to outsiders, the series - adapted from a Danish format - might just seem the reincarnation of the property porn that was synonomous with Celtic Tiger Ireland.

Indeed, this remains a country where people who had been conned into buying overpriced houses are still being evicted for inability to pay their mortgages. I wonder what they're making of this smug Home of the Year love-in - that's if they can afford a television set, computer or tablet on which to watch it.

Meanwhile, BBC4's Storyville documentary, My Mother the Secret Baby, offered a vivid glimpse of how Irish people suffered under a tyranny even more malign than the Celtic Tiger, though Daisy Asquith's film managed to be charming as well as sobering.

Daisy's mother, Pat, was born out of wedlock, as they used to say, having been conceived after a dance in Co Clare in the mid-1940s. Her pregnant mother fled to England, where Pat was born and raised as a much-loved adopted child by a couple in Stoke-on-Trent.

Some years ago, she contacted her natural mother, who had returned to Clare, got married, had eight other children and didn't want to know about this shameful reminder of her youthful past. Neither did most of Pat's eight half-siblings, though one of them was notably open to Pat's quest and was bracingly, and eloquently, supportive in the film. But at the documentary's heart was elderly Clare farmer Johnny, nephew of the hitherto mysterious local man who had emigrated to New York after impregnating Pat's mother. Daisy took Johnny and wife Mary to New York, despite the fact that they'd never before been on a plane, or even on a train, and there they learnt more about Pat's father.

This could have been in the mould of Who Do You Think You Are? but there was an affectionately quirky quality to it that transcended such comparisons. It could also have been reminiscent of such movies as The Magdalene Sisters and Philomena, though the social and religious aspects were mainly left for the viewer to mull over. Instead it was an affecting film about the complex histories of individual people and about the catastrophes that finally bring strangers together.

What brought David Cameron and Nick Clegg together was the subject of Coalition (Channel 4), a sprightly 90-minute drama about the coming together of the now-dissolving current British government. The overall story was well-known but James Graham's witty script kept it very lively and there was fine playing by Ian Grieve as Gordon Brown, Donald Sumpter as a world-weary Paddy Ashdown, and especially by Mark Gatiss, who was mischievously amusing as Peter Mandelson.

Barry Cummins's Prime Time special report (RTÉ1) on the Graham Dwyer murder of Elaine O'Hara was an exemplary account of a ghastly crime, with due attention paid to the dignity of the unfortunate victim and to the painstaking work of An Garda Síochána in identifying and gaining evidence against the perpetrator.

Also impressive was A Nation Divided? (BBC3), in which Muslim journalist Shaista Aziz travelled to Paris to gauge the fallout from the Charlie Hebdon massacre.

Azis was there to inquire rather than to fulminate and she remained civil even when being informed by right-wing racists (are there any other kind?) that they didn't want people like her in their land of freedom, equality and fraternity.

And, yes, the nation she encountered was alarmingly divided, but then it always has been, especially with regard to an alienated population that was once vilified merely as Arab rather than as the more loaded Muslim.

And in a good week for documentaries, the second instalment of Caribbean with Simon Reeve (BBC2) was just as engrossing as the first. Reeve may look winningly naïve but he's bracingly intent on getting beyond stereotypes and superficilaties, as he did last week when visiting Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

This week he was in Barbados, where he met local people trying to withstand the influx of celebrities and greedy property developers. "They don't want the black man on the beach," said a man who'd been offered $8m (€7.4m) to vacate a wooden house on the coast that his grandfather had bought for $24.

In St Vincent, Reeve interviewed cannabis farmers who are cultivating their illegal crops while the government looks the other way. And in Caracas, he was brought to a half-finished tower block in which thousands of squatters reside as the money from Venezuela's massive oil reserves is pocketed by an elite. Incidentally, I last saw this tower block in the second season of Homeland, where it was used as the surreal temporary home of the kidnapped Brody.

There's more to travel than sneering

Halfway through Travel Man: 48 Hours in Barcelona (Channel 4), presenter Richard Ayoade confided: "I wouldn't wish me on anyone," and this viewer couldn't help but agree.

Accompanied by fellow comedian Kathy Burke, who mainly just giggled throughout, he sneered at the city's football museum, at the food he was served in an experimental restaurant and during a Cava tasting.

So why was he there? Beats me, especially as nothing of any interest or even usefulness was conveyed about Barcelona. Indeed, all that came through was the presenter's condescension. Ayoade (right)was quite funny in The IT Crowd (though not as funny as either Chris O'Dowd or Katherine Parkinson), but his determinedly arch comic persona doesn't at all work here. Next week he's in Istanbul, but I won't be there.

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment