Television review: Endearing Christy just the ticket for busman's holiday to Nepal
Last year, RTÉ plucked street-sweeper Mark Crosbie from the mean streets of Dublin's Temple Bar and transplanted him to the decidedly meaner streets of Manila for the first instalment of Toughest Place to Be (RTÉ). The documentary series has returned, and its second offering - which aired on Monday night - saw Dublin Bus driver Christy Carey travel 7,000km to Kathmandu for a busman's holiday of the life-changing variety.
In a poverty-stricken city still struggling to recover from the devastating effects of the 2015 earthquake, Ballyfermot-based Christy moved in with his Nepalese counterpart Jaihram and his family for a week. In his host's rickety old bus, Christy throws himself into his new role with gusto, acting as Jaihram's conductor as they negotiate the traffic-clogged, crater-pocked and treacherous roads of the world's third-most polluted city.
The show appears to be an attempt to mix fish-out-of-water humour (Christy, on hearing his destination, exclaims "Ah, here, where is this place... Google it there") with serious insight into the realities of the everyday struggles of living in a developing country. I have my doubts about the success of this blended format but, a bit like Jaihram's extended family, couldn't help falling for the honest charm of Christy, who took to the task at hand with an infectious enthusiasm. Whether valiantly struggling with Jaihram's temperamental gear box - his nemesis for the week - or talking to the other conductors, mostly homeless young boys who bed down on the bus floor at night, Christy's warmth, good humour and openness never failed to impress. And the Dubliner, an impressive ambassador for his home, was clearly moved by his experience, even if this viewer was not always.
There was less sympathy for the Bus Éireann drivers discussed later on Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1), with the brewing dispute at the company just one of a number of topics up for debate. I couldn't help wondering if a dose of Kathmandu reality might be just the cure for this latest bout of industrial handbags at dawn. Maybe Christy could have a word.
Also on the agenda was the 'baptismal barrier', a bit of a yawn-fest where everyone kind of ended up agreeing that what we needed was more schools. Moone Boy actress Norma Sheahan was in the hotseat to represent those incensed by the very thought an oversubscribed Catholic school turning a child away on the basis of religion. Maybe it was just me, but it was difficult to take her seriously at times as she veered dangerously close to morphing into 'Linda', the busybody housewife she plays in the Chris O'Dowd sitcom.
Marginally more entertaining was an audience discussion on the timing of Enda Kenny's departure. Most seemed to think the Taoiseach should exit stage left sooner rather than later, while others insisted that it didn't really matter as the many-headed Hydra that is Fine Gael would simply replace Kenny with more of the same. One concerned citizen seemed worried Enda had been running himself ragged with 20-hour days. How sweet, I thought. No, wait, it turned out he was just angling for Enda to take break - a really, really long one. The highlight, though, was the show's 'Reeling in the Endas' video, a montage of clips where we got to see a youthful Taoiseach able to hop over railings while out canvassing morph into the sandy-haired elder statesman we know today.
The ravages of time were to the fore also in a one-off documentary over on Channel 4 that followed British comedian David Baddiel, he of Baddiel and Skinner fame, as he and his brothers coped with his dad's dementia. The Trouble with Dad saw the thoughtful funnyman, who has already toured a show on the topic, lay bare the realities of living with Pick's disease, a form of dementia that sees the sufferer lose all their verbal inhibitions.
It was hard not to laugh at the Uzi-like barrage of sweary insults dad Colin hurled at his son, but it never felt uncomfortable or voyeuristic, and that was mainly down to Baddiel himself, who saw both the humour and tragedy of his dad's condition as we watched him try to connect with the man he once knew, who, we were told, had always been quick to trade stinging 'bants' with his sons.
"We're chasing after fragments of my dad that are still in there," he told viewers, adding that is was hard to know where Colin stopped and the Pick's started. An engagingly honest take on one family's dementia journey.
After poverty, politics and illness, an injection of US razzmatazz from flashy finance drama Billions was right on the money for me. Returning for its second series this week, the show is one of a number of dramas aired on Sky Atlantic recently that have been fuelling our desire for smart, slick television. They share the same high-production values as well as a penchant for English actors playing Americans - think Jude Law in The Young Pope, Riz Ahmed in The Night Of and the double-whammy of Dominic West and Ruth Wilson in The Affair. The last one has just wrapped up its third season and not a moment too soon. By the end, the main characters' endless whining and litany of bad decisions had me pummelling the sofa in frustration, and I couldn't stand looking at Wilson's trademark pout for much longer. Thankfully, Billions seems like it might avoid a similar fate.
Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti return as the ambitious hedge-fund manager Bobby Axelrod and the ruthless US Attorney for New York, Chuck Rhoades. This first episode linked nicely back to where we left off, without suggesting we were in for little more than a rehash of what went before. The introduction of an intriguing new character, auditor Oliver Dake (Christopher Denham) from the Office of Professional Responsibility, looks set to shake things up. It's a testosterone-filled and brash show full of bombastic monologues, but it's a hell of a lot of fun.
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