Tuesday 19 September 2017

Television: Rats in your basement? Whatever you do, don't call the handyman

Horror story: Denise Gough as Paula and Tom Hughes as James in the new RTÉ series
Horror story: Denise Gough as Paula and Tom Hughes as James in the new RTÉ series

John Boland

'I'm having a problem in my basement", the title character in Paula (RTÉ1/BBC2) told the handyman from whom she'd sought assistance, "vermin are getting in". She didn't know the half of it.

Then she had frantic sex with the brooding young stranger, thus breaking one of the age-old rules of thriller-dramas: never shag the guy who has come to solve your rat predicament, especially when it leads to such post-coital joking as: "You could be some psycho for all I know".

The opening episode of Conor McPherson's first television series skirted with other conventions of the genre, too, while maintaining a clammy hold on the viewer, as handyman James (Tom Hughes) set out to destroy the lives of teacher Paula (Clare-born Denise Gough) and her married fellow teacher and ex-lover Philip (Edward MacLiam).

James was an especially nasty piece of work, though, in truth, none of the people here elicited much sympathy, including the abrasively defensive Paula. This is a horror story that looks set to become even more horrible in its final two instalments - I've already recoiled from the handyman's vision of a young girl with her lips sewn together.

David Lynch, who created and directed the first season of Twin Peaks in 1990, said of the second season, which he didn't write or direct, that he stopped watching it "because it got so bad". Obviously he thinks more highly of the much-anticipated new sequel (Sky Atlantic), if only because it's again his own creation, though from the evidence of this week's pilot episode, it's hard to see why.

No concession is made to any older viewers who saw the original but have quite forgotten most of its details, while anyone under the age of 40 won't recall the original at all and thus won't register any feelings of recognition about the appearance of Kyle MacLachlan in the role that he first played 25 years earlier.

And while Lynch is as adept as ever at creating unsettling and often menacing scenarios, what he offered us in the opening hour was a series of seemingly unrelated scenes so baffling that I hadn't a clue what was going on and presented with such sluggish solemnity that I soon ceased to care.

Maybe as it progresses it will all start to make some kind of surreal sense, but in a television world so rich with competing dramas, I haven't the patience to see how this one might develop.

"We never know what's going to happen next, do we?" said Alfie during the second episode of Redwater (RTÉ1/BBC1). Indeed we don't, or at least not in this daft Irish spin-off from EastEnders. And so we had troubled priest Fr Dermot, who had drowned uncle Lance at the close of the first episode (no inquests in Ireland, apparently), piously kneeling at the bedside on which Lance was stretched, while the US-raised son of dope-smoking Eileen ("I can't see how you can survive without it") was "apparently one of those gays", according to auntie Agnes.

Meanwhile, Fr Dermot was grappling with the revelation that he was the illegitimate son of Kat from EastEnders, though auntie Agnes assured him that "God wanted you raised in Redwater". Then they knelt by Lance's bedside and prayed for the repose of his soul.

After that there was much boozing at the pub wake in which teenage Aideen sang 'The Parting Glass' in memory of the departed Lance. Lucky Lance is all I can say.

In Brexit, Trump and Us (RTÉ1), presenter David McWilliams brought a hundred people into a hall on whose floor was a series of rectangular markings.

"Who here was a messer in school?" he asked, and those who deemed themselves to have been messers gathered together in one rectangle. "Who had sex last night?" he inquired, and some of the hundred went to another rectangle. "Who regards Ireland as home?" he asked, and others squeezed into yet another rectangle.

This was David's way of showing that we can all be put in boxes, but it was a silly gimmick and should have been discarded long before shooting began, not least because it had no discernible bearing on the film's main thrust, which was all about... well, I'm not exactly sure, given that David himself didn't seem too certain.

With Trump in the US and Europe in an uncertain state, "Ireland has to figure out its place in the world", he announced, and so off he went to London, where he met an Irish guy who had voted for Brexit; to the "melting pot" of Marseille, where he chatted to journalist Lara Marlowe about Marine Le Pen; to a Le Pen rally in order to see what her "message is all about"; and to rural Donegal where a group of farmers told him how Brexit is likely to have a negative impact on their livelihoods.

Along the way he had some interesting things to say, especially when, in a reference to his daughter's dyslexia, he took issue with a conformist Irish educational system that rewards conventional notions of intelligence and achievement at the expense of others with less categorisable attributes.

But the film was all over the place, and by the end, the viewer was asked to be content with such woolly assertions as "We've got to be a nimble cog in a global supply chain", "we're all in this together" and our future is "far too important to be left to politicians and unelected interests".

So what are we all supposed to do if we're to secure both our own future and that of the nation? Sadly, he never quite got round to answering that one.

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