Thursday 8 December 2016

A proper Charlie. . . Yes, he's back again!

CHARLIE BIRD’S ELECTION NATION
RTÉ1
CORP AGUS ANAM
TG4
BLIAIN IN INIS OIRR
TG4
IRISH FILM AND TELEVISION AWARDS
RTÉ1
BAFTAS
BBC1

Published 19/02/2011 | 05:00

In case you were wondering whatever happened to Charlie Bird, RTE1 this week confirmed his continuing existence. "Hello, I'm Charlie Bird," he told a Sligo woman in Charlie Bird's Election Nation.

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"How are you doing, Charlie Bird's my name," he informed a man in Portlaoise. "I'm Charlie Bird," he revealed to a couple of people in Slane. And he conveyed the same information to sundry startled passers by in Drogheda, Navan, Longford, Claremorris, Tallaght and Galway.

Just over a year ago, Charlie took advantage of a documentary series about his life in the United States to tell an aghast nation that he couldn't hack it any longer in America and had decided to quit his glittering job as RTÉ's Washington correspondent. Then he vanished from the airwaves, popping up months later as temporary stand-in for Marian Finucane before dematerialising again.

On Charlie Bird's Election Nation, though, he was back with a vengeance, and with his old nose for a scoop still intact, informing us at the outset that "the general election is now under way" -- which was useful news for those of us who'd been wondering about those strange posters on lampposts and all the leaflets clogging up our letterboxes.

Anyway, here was Charlie, "out and about travelling the country, talking to people on the streets about the issues that affect their lives" -- though that wasn't strictly true, given that none of the people he met got to utter more than a five-second soundbite.

"You seem angry," he remarked to one woman, but when she confirmed this observation that was the end of her contribution, Charlie having moved on to someone else. "The banks -- shut them all down!" a woman in Sligo declared. "That's a very extreme view," Charlie commented, and then he was gone again.

In Portlaoise a woman said that her partner, who had to emigrate, regularly sent her money.

"He sends money home, that's interesting," said Charlie, though clearly not sufficiently interesting for him to stay any longer with her.

But, as I said, the programme wasn't about her. It was about Charlie, who was filmed umpteen times as he strode down the streets of nine Irish towns (three minutes in each town), waving at people he didn't know and would never see again.

Need I go on? Oh, I will. Pointing at a woman in Drogheda who was extracting money from a banklink, he yelled "Oh my God! She's only taking out €10". "I can see a revolution," a woman in Navan predicted. "You can see a revolution!?!" Charlie screeched. "I'm from Amsterdam," a busker in Galway told him. "From Amsterdam!" Charlie marvelled. "There's no breakfast rolls any more," a guy in Galway quipped. "No breakfast rolls! I love that!" chortled Charlie, as if the guy had just invented the phrase.

"We're banjaxed," a woman in Claremorris declared. "Do you mean that?" asked an incredulous Charlie. Well, we're certainly banjaxed if RTÉ thinks the likes of this is good enough for us.

Reviewing TG4's new drama series, Corp agus Anam on RTÉ1's The Panel the other night, everyone approvingly compared it to The Wire and The Sopranos, and I concluded they must have been watching something different from what I'd just seen.

Leaving aside the fact that a film can't be like The Sopranos if it's also like The Wire (two very different experiences, I would have thought), the notion of elevating Corp agus Anam to the stature of either was simply risible.

Certainly, on the evidence of its first episode, writer-director Darach Mac Con Iomaire's film couldn't make up its mind whether to be a thriller, a domestic drama or a probe into social ills and it ended up failing to convince on any of these levels.

The hero, a crime correspondent played by Diarmuid de Faoite, was like no journalist I've ever met, starting off as a hard-bitten hack and then, out of nowhere, developing a social conscience and becoming a crusader for justice. He also got away with stunts that would get him fired in any newsroom I've ever worked in. His home life, needless to say, was unsatisfactory, while I couldn't make out what part in the proceedings would be played by his almost catatonic father-in-law.

All, presumably, will become clearer as the series progresses, but the pacing in this first episode was very sluggish, the tone was uncertain and I couldn't understand why the principal characters were moping about with a perpetual air of gloom that seemed to me entirely unearned.

However, the same channel's Bliain in Inis Oirr is a delight. Celebrating life on the smallest of the Aran Islands (population 250), the four-part series is alert, inquiring and affectionate in equal measure.

"I've been to Dublin and away on holidays -- that's it," said local farmer Pádraig Póil. He thinks Inis Oirr very beautiful -- a view confirmed by the superb photography -- but he laments the fact planning restrictions imposed on the island by authorities who don't live there and are "just looking at a map" means that young people who choose to live there aren't even allowed to build a wall without getting permission. "They shouldn't bring in laws that make no sense," he said.

Marika Leen, a Dutch woman who fled her homeland for Ireland when she was a teenager, is the island's thatcher, and other outsiders include the biology teacher, who divides his professional time between Inis Oirr and Inis Meáin. They were all absorbing company and I look forward to becoming reacquainted with them next week.

In a week of awards, the Irish Film and Television Awards (RTE1) never rose above the level of a poor man's BAFTAs. The latter's most arresting moment (BBC1) came with best supporting actress Helena Bonham Carter's ditzy speech when she spoke giddily of her "incredible luck" in getting parts and in "making a living pretending to be someone else -- and getting paid lots of money".

However, she neglected to mention her incredible luck in coming from a posh background that included Asquiths and Rothschilds, in going to an elite public school, in marrying Tim Burton and in numbering David Cameron and Nick Clegg among her pals. The way she told it, you'd imagine she was little orphan Annie saved from penury by an acting career. Thespians are great.

jboland@independent.ie

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