Wednesday 26 October 2016

Television: You'd swear that joining the Army was a dog's life

John Boland

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

Four-letter abuse: Some of the Recruits turning out on RTE.
Four-letter abuse: Some of the Recruits turning out on RTE.

Screened over two successive nights, Recruits (RTÉ1) consisted of roaring and shouting and effing and blinding for the best part of a hundred minutes. Meanwhile, Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week (BBC2) consisted of roaring and shouting and effing and blinding for the best part of 60 minutes. Was it something we said?

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In the BBC film, a Navy Seals hard-ass was given to such snarling exhortations as "Die first and then quit" and "Fear is a choice. Don't choose it", while his similarly hard-ass pal Woodie assured the wannabe commandos who'd signed up for the punishment that "everybody's going to suffer".

Not to be outdone, the soldiers in Recruits, who were in charge of 40 Irish Army trainees in the Curragh, came up with such manly mantras as "to make them you have to break them" while informing their charges that "this isn't the f**kin' Boy Scouts" and that "you shouldn't f**kin' be here if that's how bad you are".

As it turned out, some of them weren't there very long. The Army training course lasts for 17 weeks, but recruit O'Beirne, one of the few women who'd enlisted, felt utterly defeated after three weeks. "My heart isn't in it", she finally told the lieutenant who had just given her a gruff pep talk about hanging in there.

Indeed, two-thirds of the way through the first instalment, eight had bailed out of the gruelling physical regime, though maybe they'd also become as weary as this viewer of all the four-letter abuse that was meted out to them. No doubt it's militarily character-forming to be told publicly that "you look like a f**kin' bag of shite", but try saying that outside the confines of a barracks.

Shane Brennan's film was not without interest, though there was more focus on the punishing regime than on the trainees themselves, and it was sometimes hard to differentiate between the various recruits, despite brief snatches of them with their families. And certainly after an hour of relentless effing and blinding, I felt I'd been punished enough.

But let Ray in the BBC film have the conclusive last word: "We don't give a shit what any of you have done in your lives. We're here to weed out the weak. I shit you not, I'm going to have half of you gone before the blink of an eye."

I tried to imagine Ryan Tubridy saying that to the school children who were competing in Ireland's Spelling Bee (RTÉ1), but the RTÉ man was all sweetness and light and heartfelt compassion for the 11- and 12-year-olds who fell at the final linguistic hurdle.

This charming film chose to focus much of its attention on such runners-up, beginning with a mini-profile of Jean-Ted, who has a Bulgarian mother and of whom his teacher in Drumcondra said with some fervour: "He's impossible to catch out - he's just unbelievable." But caught out he soon was when asked to spell "ephemeral", the Leinster heat being won instead by 12-year-old Dara from Gorey who has a Dutch father and who successfully teased out "polymorphonuclear".

She had a lovely presence in Garry Keane's film, as had Connacht champion Diana (11), whose parents are Russian and who was tearful at coming second to Dara in last June's grand final - Diana stumbling over "annihilate" and Dara winning with "multiplicity".

Tubridy, who was quizmaster, also was a winning presence in an engaging film that celebrated its young victors while honouring those who had to accept defeat.

Not so winning was the return, for a second season, of 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy (Sky One), in which Baz Ashmawy takes his 70-something mother Nancy around the globe and gets her to undertake various daredevil stunts.

The appeal of this notion eluded me first time around and it remained mysterious in this week's opener to the second series. Ashmawy, who was formerly associated with some dire RTÉ reality shows, tries to make out in this series that a) his mother will be petrified by what he asks her to do and that b) she's a bit of a character.

But, true to form, she seemed entirely unfazed during this week's jaunt to the Philippines in which she danced with maximum-security prison inmates, got massaged by pythons and travelled around the 38th floor of a hotel in a seat propelled along a rail line.

As for her being something of a character, she just comes across as a nice Dublin woman who's indulging her son's latest bid for stardom and who hasn't an awful lot to say about anything. Certainly this viewer wondered what he was supposed to be watching, not to mention why.

The Trials of Jimmy Rose (UTV Ireland), which is a three-part drama, began with career criminal Jimmy emerging from a lengthy stint in jail to the strains of 'That's Life'. It was an arresting start and Ray Winstone was reliably good as an old lag re-entering a world that was by now largely unfamiliar to him, but whether you'll want to stay with him as he's faced with an alienated wife, a son who wants nothing to do with him and a granddaughter who's become a heroin addict will depend on your tolerance for dramatic cliché.

I definitely could have done without the far-fetched scene in which Jimmy tries to rescue the girl from her sleazy boyfriend.

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