John Boland: Desperate times do not call for desperate 'Housewives'...
In Life and Debt, RTÉ One's latest bulletin from the boom-to-bust frontline, cash-strapped Sandra was rummaging through the rails of her local Vincent de Paul outlet. Meanwhile, over on TV3, the first instalment of Dublin Housewives introduced us to five fun-loving socialites who wouldn't be caught dead in a charity shop.
Maybe that's a bit unfair to Jo, who was the most down-to-earth of the women and who seemed to mean it when she declared: "If I was to lose everything tomorrow and was put into a corporation house, I'd be no different as a person."
Indeed, it was Jo, a married mother living in Castleknock, who brought a degree of reality to an otherwise vapid exercise, confessing at the end that she often felt very lonely and wondered what the future held for her.
No such thoughts crossed the minds of the other four, least of all Danielle, who runs an anti-wrinkle clinic, who doesn't have a special man in her life ("I'm busy") but who fancies rugby players, so long as they're 6ft 4in and stupid.
"The last thing I need is a man with a brain," she said witheringly.
Lisa, on the other hand, is simply thrilled at the thought of upcoming nuptials to celebrity solicitor Gerald Kean, who, she confided, "works hard, enjoys life and makes me laugh a lot". He's rich, too, which I'm sure is another plus.
"My parents are of Italian descent," a heavily pregnant Virginia told us, before adding: "They're Italian." That probably accounted for their Italian descent. Pregnancy, she assured us, was "a wonderful thing", though something of an inconvenience, too. But not to worry because "I'll be back out partying again very soon".
The film showed them partying and lunching and shopping and sashaying along the street. Presumably they were still at it in the week's other three episodes, but half an hour of their company was good enough for me.
There was no partying in Life and Debt, just familiar tales of financial woes, the most familiar being that of Jillian Godsil, who gained newspaper headlines last winter when she tried to sell for €500,000 a big country house which she'd bought for twice that price and for which the bank was seeking €900,000 in mortgage repayments.
In fact, her YouTube video of the house did attract a half-million euro offer, but the bank refused it, which she couldn't believe. Matters got worse when the bailiffs arrived at her public relations office in Wicklow, though they found nothing of any value there and went away empty handed.
Ger Sweeney owed a more modest €4,000, but he couldn't pay that back, either, and was trying to find out if he qualified for debt relief. His financial worries and the breakdown of his marriage were stresses that "piled in on top of me" and he suffered a stroke.
Tommy and Sandra Keane were left owing €22,000 after his Tipperary plastering business collapsed. The bank consented to temporarily reduced mortgage repayments, but Tommy wasn't hopeful about improvements in his situation.
RTÉ has cornered the market in these doom-and-gloom documentaries, though I remain dubious about what purpose they fulfil.
From The Real Mr and Mrs Assad (Channel 4), I learned that the Syrian president was "very friendly, very open and with a good sense of humour". Such, at any rate, was the verdict of Lord Risby, who used to be director of the British-Syrian Society.
In a previously unseen 2009 French documentary, Assad described himself as a "humanitarian", while wife Asma had nothing but praise for Syrian values, which she thought "pretty unique".
Two years later, the Assads are presiding over a country in which 10,000 civilians have been killed by government forces, while, in the words of reporter Jonathan Miller, "Syria's Prince Charming and his Rose of the Desert are now reviled".
The film promised to reveal "the most controversial couple in the world as they've never been seen before", but in the event viewers learnt little that hadn't already been well publicised. However, in the wake of the latest massacre in Syria, the footage of Tony Blair fawning over Assad and the queen joking with the couple seemed especially grotesque.
Sky Atlantic, importer of American TV dramas, has been making much of its first British-made series, Hit & Miss, which is written by Paul Abbott (State of Play, Shameless) and stars Chloë Sevigny as Mia, a hitwoman in the Manchester area. Actually, the idea owes more to The Crying Game than to Nikita, as you soon discover -- in the shower after a killing, Mia reveals herself to be sporting a male appendage.
If this all seems too silly for words, well, it is, especially when she/he finds out that she/he has fathered a child and is required to look after him. This takes her/him to a bleak house on the moors, where she/he meets up with a bunch of gloweringly foul-mouthed kids.
The whole thing is deeply weird, made even weirder by Sevigny's minimalist acting and attempt at an Irish accent, but the brooding atmosphere is oddly compelling.
The Frontline (RTÉ One) ended its current season with a tedious debate on the arts. The Gate Theatre's Michael Colgan defended subsidies, while economist Moore McDowell pooh-poohed the notion that the arts should be exempt from financial cuts. Nothing got said that hadn't been said a trillion times before.