Tuesday 27 September 2016

Television: Once again, RTÉ fails to pass the reality-show test

John Boland

Published 13/12/2015 | 02:30

Guinea pigs: Keith and Claire on RTE's Tested on Humans
Guinea pigs: Keith and Claire on RTE's Tested on Humans

RTÉ2 has come up with a new reality series called Tested on Humans, though unfortunately it's being tested on viewers as well.

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"Why have I signed up to this," asked presenter and DJ Keith Walsh at the outset of this week's opener. A good question, though co-presenter Claire Tracey was more up for it.

"I say yes to everything," she trilled, "I'm the man - I've got the balls". If you say so, Claire.

In her other life, Claire is a model, just as Vogue's Wild Girls (see below) is presented by a model and just as, if RTÉ has its way, the news and weather and Prime Time Investigates and Ear to the Ground will probably be soon be presented by models.

Anyway, as narrator Mark Lambert cheerily told us, Keith and Claire would be tested "physically, mentally, scientifically and emotionally - all for your viewing pleasure".

The programme's notion of viewing pleasure was soon apparent as Keith and Claire were trussed, blindfolded, thrown into a van and taken to a desolate building where they were further abused by their abductors - all in a declared attempt to simulate the conditions under which tiger kidnappings are carried out.

This unpleasant codology must have been deeply offensive to real-life victims of such violent abductions - which, according to a guy who runs a company called Global Risk Solutions, are "fast and aggressive and with plenty of violence".

"Crazy" was Keith's verdict at the end of the ordeal, though I can think of other words.

In the tests that followed, the duo were forced to eat fruit that smelt disgusting and fish that tasted awful ("It's like somebody farting in my mouth", in Claire's charming description, as Keith puked into a bucket), had to rescue someone from a smoke-filled room and were hypnotised by a guy who solemnly declared that he was "really interested in how the brain works".

For myself, I mainly worried about the brains of those who dreamt up this insulting nonsense, though when I heard that the format was Danish, all became clear. Those Danes would do anything for a laugh.

Meanwhile, model Vogue Williams would seemingly do anything for air-time, including being spanked with a wooden paddle in this week's concluding episode of Vogue's Wild Girls (RTÉ2).

"This wasn't a turn-on," she wailed after she'd bent over a table and had her denimed bottom beaten by a middle-aged woman who ran night courses in the erotic arts.

"How could I think sexy thoughts when all I could think about was the size of my big ass?" - a complaint that should have enraged anyone who actually does have a big ass.

Clearly, though, Vogue has a big tolerance for tired old twaddle, as she visited sex shops and S&M basements and fetish B&Bs and "clit instructors" and swingers' clubs, seemingly unaware that countless such programmes have already been made and that only the very sad or socially sequestered would find anything novel or exciting in what she was showing us.

On a more serious note, RTÉ Investigates (RTE1) went undercover to reveal what some of our politicians actually get up to when they're not supposedly serving the people who elected them.

Extensive news coverage of the programme has made critical comment almost redundant, though I was struck by David Norris's senate outburst in which, while deploring the venality that was exposed, he deemed RTÉ's secret filming to be "disgraceful".

It's a vexed question, though I'm half with him. Yes, certain scandals would remain unrevealed without such covert tactics, but should a line be drawn and, if so, where?

I doubt, for instance, that well known media types would fancy being secretly filmed buying a few lines of cocaine for the weekend - not, of course, that such transactions have ever taken place.

The three-part Blood and Gold (BBC4) aims to tell the history of Spain and in this week's opening programme it got as far as the middle ages, presenter Simon Sebag Montefiore cramming in as much information as the time would allow.

Too much, I'm afraid, and within 10 minutes my brain was spinning at the amount of facts I was being asked to absorb about a peninsula whose near-encirclement by water has proved historically to be both "a blessing and a curse".

You really needed a Simon Schama to make this complex story of Phoenicians, Romans, Jews, Muslims and Christians both lucid and exciting, but Sebag Montefiore hasn't got that presentational flair and though I learned a lot from this first episode, I'm afraid I'll probably have forgotten most of it by next week.

I've already forgotten the opening instalment of That's So Last Century (Channel 4), in which a variety of middle-aged celebrities - including James Corden and Vic Reeves - tried to explain to their offspring why VCRs, instamatic cameras and other outmoded technological gadgets were once considered the epitome of cutting-edge cool way back in the 1980s.

It was harmless stuff and nostalgically quite amusing, particularly when one child tried to take a selfie with an old camera, but there was no real point to it.

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