Sunday 25 September 2016

TV3 political show hasn't the welfare of viewers at heart

John Boland

Published 26/04/2015 | 02:30

Joanna Tuffy, Willie O'Dea, Catherine Byrne and John Halligan take part in TV3's 'Dail on the Dole'.
Joanna Tuffy, Willie O'Dea, Catherine Byrne and John Halligan take part in TV3's 'Dail on the Dole'.
Catherine Byrne meets single mother-of-two Laura Spencer in episode one of Dail on the Dole

From its title, you might imagine that TV3's new series, Dáil on the Dole, was looking forward to a time when all of our ministers and TDs will be forced to eke out an existence on social welfare payments - an eventuality that's no doubt devoutly wished by many disaffected voters.

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Or perhaps the series would at least show some of these political legislators temporarily having to scrabble for survival, even if just for the sake of the cameras - much as Michael Portillo and others did when, under the guise of social experiment, they briefly moved into homes a good deal less salubrious than those to which they were accustomed.

But no such luck on either front, TV3 having timidly decided that it would be sufficient to show each of its chosen TDs interacting with and advising one of their constituents while not being compelled to endure the discomfort and privations of actually living with them. The result in this week's opening instalment was somewhat - and perhaps predictably - dreary.

This is not to fault either Fine Gael TD Catherine Byrne, a working-class woman who seemed to genuinely care about the plight of the less fortunate, or Laura Spencer, the 28-year-old single mother of two young girls from the Liberties who was seeking a better life for herself and her daughters.

Laura was cynical of politicians but Catherine was insistent that they shouldn't be stereotyped - after all, just like everyone else, "we're human beings". And as a human being, she was rightly admiring of Laura's culinary career studies and distressed by the state of the council flat in which Laura and the girls had to live.

So Catherine pulled a couple of strings and got basic repairs done to the flat, though she was unable to secure funding for the local pre-school breakfast club to which the girls went in the morning while Laura attended the DIT in Cathal Brugha Street.

Laura was lively and articulate but in the end you couldn't help feeling that it was Catherine who got the better deal out of the film, enhancing her caring profile even as she gamely defended the policies of her government.

No one fared well in the catastrophic Dardanelles campaign dreamt up by Churchill and Kitchener in 1915, though Gallipoli: Ireland's Forgotten Heroes (RTÉ1) was an impressive account of the debacle in which more than 3,000 Irish soldiers were slaughtered - three-fifths of the Allied casualties.

David Davin-Power's grandfather, Jack, survived the campaign, and RTÉ's political correspondent wrote and presented this factually dense but commendably clear telling of what happened to these soldiers - not least when the survivors eventually returned home and discovered that, in the aftermath of Easter 1916 in Dublin, they weren't welcome. As Oliver Fallon of the Connaught Rangers Association remarked in the film: "They realised fairly quickly that there was no room for two sets of heroes".

As in Gay Byrne's fine documentary about his father's war, Davin-Power was an unshowy presenter throughout, content to let descendants of the soldiers and well-chosen historical experts do most of the talking, though there was a striking interlude on a firing range in which he nervously fired a Lee Enfield rifle and a Vickers machine gun, two weapons with which the Gallipoli soldiers, most of them volunteers, were forced to become intimately acquainted.

The Graham Dwyer Murder Trial (TV3) told much the same story and at much the same length as Barry Cummins's Prime Time special report for RTÉ1 three weeks earlier, but it came across as more lurid and less nuanced, not to mention too late.

Cummins also fronted Tuesday night's Prime Time report, Confessions of a Killer, which again eschewed sensationalism and which featured a moving interview with Stella Nolan, sister of Sylvia Shields, who was butchered by Mark Nash 18 years ago in her Grangegorman sheltered accommodation.

In the second instalment of Vanessa Engle's three-part Inside Harley Street (BBC2), cosmetic doctor Michael Prager cheerfully confessed: "I don't sell happiness, I sell Botox injections". But that's clearly enough because he and his colleagues have got an ever-increasing clientele, 56-year-old Amanda Glover wanting something done about her "old lady's arms", which led Engle to wonder aloud whether this procedure was really important and whether Amanda shouldn't be spending the money on something that mattered, like founding an orphanage or campaigning for world peace. Well, Amanda cooly replied, "it matters to me".

Running over five nights, Alex Polizzi: Chefs on Trial (BBC2) was really The Apprentice meets Masterchef, as nine wannabes auditioned to become executive chef at the posh Gilpin Hotel in the Lake District. But first the contestants had to go through a grilling by the owners and by Polizzi, described in the London Times this week as a "scary dominatrix", though she's not as interesting as that.

In fact, smug condescension is what comes through. Still, the two instalments I saw were quite jolly, not least for the unfounded optimism of some of the competitors. "They're going to love it!" Ian declared of his elaborately high-concept bream dish, and you immediately knew that they weren't going to love it at all.

Channel 4's new series, The World's Most Extreme, began with a top 10 of extreme bridges, starting with New York's George Washington, which was deemed to be the busiest on earth, with more than 100,000 cars, 10,000 trucks and 1,000 buses crossing it every day.

Then there was the world's roughest, which consisted of 600 yards of rotting planks in Bolivia; and the five-mile long, 200-foot high Chesapeake Bay bridge, described as "the scariest on the planet" and requiring terrified motorists to hire seasoned drivers to get them to the other side.

Number one, though, was the Millau viaduct in southern France, 1.5 miles long and taller than the Eiffel tower. Oh, and it shortens your Paris-Perpignan journey by almost three hours.

No whoopee for these Goldbergs

On Tuesday night’s main RTÉ1 news bulletin, arts correspondent Sinéad Crowley celebrated the 20th anniversary of Father Ted and paid tribute to that sitcom’s enduring appeal.

Comedy, of course, is notoriously hard to gauge on its initial run and I recall that when Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’s inspired creation first aired on Channel 4 in 1995, I didn’t really recognise its unique qualities. And perhaps in time I’ll also be raving about The Goldbergs, which E4 has begun to screen, but somehow I doubt it.

Adam F Goldberg’s sitcom, based on his own family, simply isn’t funny and wastes the talents of Jeff Garlin (so good as Larry David’s screw-up agent in Curb Your Enthusiasm) and of George Segal as an aged Lothario. 

Indeed, this week’s first episode, which was clearly intended to be wacky, registered as just limp.

No whoopee for these Goldbergs

On Tuesday night's main RTÉ1 news bulletin, arts correspondent Sinéad Crowley celebrated the 20th anniversary of Father Ted and paid tribute to that sitcom's enduring appeal.

Comedy, of course, is notoriously hard to gauge on its initial run and I recall that when Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews's inspired creation first aired on Channel 4 in 1995, I didn't really recognise its unique qualities. And perhaps in time I'll also be raving about The Goldbergs, which E4 has begun to screen, but somehow I doubt it.

Adam F Goldberg's sitcom, based on his own family, simply isn't funny and wastes the talents of Jeff Garlin (so good as Larry David's screw-up agent in Curb Your Enthusiasm) and of George Segal as an aged Lothario.

Indeed, this week's first episode, which was clearly intended to be wacky, registered as just limp.

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