Thursday 24 August 2017

Diarmuid's clean-up mission is rubbish

Dirty Old Town? Britain's Royal Weddings BBC1 Meet the Middletons

Who needs to watch good programmes when instead you can watch programmes that are good for you?



The television schedules are littered with earnest exhortations to clean up my house, fix my family, tart up my back bedroom, eat healthily and get to grips with my embarrassing body, and now Diarmuid Gavin is browbeating me into doing something about the streets beyond my front door.

Diarmuid is a man with a mission and in his new series, Dirty Old Town? (RTé1), his aim is to shame us into eradicating the filth, dereliction and eyesores all around us in our various communities. Not that he puts it like that. Diarmuid's an upbeat fellow and so the series is all about "potential and style and possibilities".

Still, he wasn't afraid to confront the basic issue and to demand that we do the same. "Ask yourself the question," he entreated, "are you living in a dirty old town?" Then he kept asking it throughout the programme, just in case we hadn't heard it the first time.

He himself went in search of somewhere that could benefit from his concerned attention and he happened upon Charleville, "a typical small Irish town that seems to have lost its mojo" but that "ticks the boxes for potential and personality". And so Diarmuid got to work, asking a hundred locals to an open-air lunch during which he outlined his clean-up ambitions.

Then he and a handful of volunteers went to a plot of waste ground adjoining a nearby housing estate, where they filled plastic bags with broken bottles and old shoes as the residents peered at the do-gooders from behind their curtains.

After that came fund-raising efforts and more worthy environmental endeavours, which no doubt were of great benefit to the town and its people but were a complete snooze for any viewer who didn't happen to live in Charleville and who could think of more interesting things to watch than a televised version of the Tidy Towns competition.

Keelin Shanley is an excellent journalist and has a striking screen presence and Eddie Hobbs is bracingly forthright and provocative in most of his media outings, but The Consumer Show, which has begun a new season on RTé1, is ill-suited to their talents.

The visual set-up doesn't help. Shanley is given the main presenting duties and her pieces to camera are generally filmed in long shot, which means that her co-host is left looking stranded and a bit forlorn in the background as she introduces each item. And when they do converse, there's no discernible empathy, or even ease, in their interactions, which adds to the stilted feel.

Such awkwardness probably wouldn't matter so much if the substance of the programme was absorbing, but in this week's opener (as in most of last season's series) the chosen topics were treated so generally and the advice given was so unspecific that the viewer was left wondering about the point of it all.

An item on prices in five supermarkets concluded they were so variable that no particular chain could be singled out as offering the best or worst value. That wasn't very useful, nor did I learn anything from Hobbs's piece on property prices, beyond his prediction that the market hadn't yet bottomed out and that borrowing for a mortgage would get more expensive. The third piece, on debt management companies, pinpointed a firm with whose practices two clients were unhappy but the firm "hadn't responded" to the programme's queries and viewers were merely advised to read the small print in any such contracts.

Accustomed to the no-nonsense and often hard-hitting brief of such series as BBC1's Watchdog, I found The Consumer Show far too timid to be of any service.

A republican with a small "r", I couldn't give a hoot about the upcoming Windsor nuptials and so was hardly the target audience for Britain's Royal Weddings (BBC1), though I might have found it tolerable if presenter Sophie Raworth hadn't sounded so obsequious and if the film had fulfilled its promise to provide "the intimate story" of such occasions. Alas, there were no juicy titbits.

Channel 4's Meet the Middletons opted for a more irreverent attitude, though it couldn't make up its mind whether to be merely snide or downright sneery. The Middletons in question were the extended family of the future princess, and they included hairdressers, plumbers, fitness instructors and trainee midwives.

The film's makers seemed to think that these occupations were a cause for hilarity, while the narrator assured us that what we were being shown was "in the national interest." Yeah, right.

jboland@independent.ie

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