Sunday 24 September 2017

John Boland: tribute proves she's a hard act to follow

The Constant President RTÉ One Pension Shock: The Future Is Now RTÉ One Republic of Telly RTÉ Two Baz's Extreme Worlds RTÉ Two Pan Am RTÉ Two The Big Interview With Mike Murphy RTÉ Two

The pre-election antics of some of our current presidential hopefuls make the poise, dignity and charm of Mary McAleese seem all the more admirable, though it should be recalled that in her own bid for the office 14 years ago she wasn't fondly regarded by everyone.

Eoghan Harris later conceded he had been wrong in deeming her a "tribal time bomb", but he had merely been giving memorable expression to what I and many others feared about Áras an Uachtaráin becoming the official southern repository for narrow-minded Northern nationalism.

Happily, that turned out not to be the case and you'll encounter few people in Ireland today with a bad, or even sceptical, word to say about either Mary McAleese herself or the way in which she's handled her presidential role.

And demurring words were few and far between in The Constant President (RTÉ One), which documented her last year in office -- ubiquitous historian Diarmaid Ferriter being the only contrarian contributor as he begged to differ with the McAleese view that heading up trade missions had been a beneficial innovation of her presidency.

"Presidents of Ireland should not be leading trade delegations abroad," he stoutly declared. "It's not their job and it shouldn't be their job."

In more general terms, he faulted her in her first seven-year term as being too upbeat about the Celtic Tiger, but he acknowledged that she then went on to address controversial issues, notably the "horrible things that were coming out of the woodwork", and as the years went on he increasingly respected her "endurance".

So, too, did Mary O'Rourke, who felt like giving her a rosette for lasting the 14 years. "How could she have done it?" Mary asked in impish astonishment. "The sameness of it all!"

The woman herself insisted that she's enjoyed every minute of it, as did husband Martin, praised by his wife as having "absolutely no ego whatsoever" and as being both "essential and extraordinary" -- a view shared by Mary O'Rourke, who thought it "a huge advantage" for the president "to have Martin continually by her side".

Soon, of course, they'll be gone from the park and Michael McDowell spoke for many in reckoning that they'll be "a hugely difficult act for anyone else to follow". And this led me to wonder whether there was something mischievous in the timing of this celebratory film -- certainly the pious blather and bleatings of McAleese's wannabe successors, to which we're being subjected every minute of the day, seem especially hollow and unpersuasive when set against the professional and personal attributes she brought to the job.

Following on from Richard Curran's film last week about the property debacle, George Lee's Pension Shock: The Future is Now (RTÉ One) continued the unenviable but necessary task of reducing the nation to a state of total despair.

As with the Curran film, it was well made and delivered, though there was little in it that I hadn't known already and long before it ended I was wondering if there weren't less depressing ways of spending my night.

So I switched over to RTÉ Two, specifically to the new season of the Republic of Telly, which used to be presented by Neil Delamare and is now being fronted by someone called Dermot Whelan, who's no more amusing than his predecessor.

Unfortunately he thinks he's a hoot, constantly smirking while he delivers such dismal one-liners as "Simon Cowell has been weaving his magic on the toilet again and has squeezed out X Factor USA" and "If you're one of those kids who love Steps and want to see them again, grow up -- they're shit."

And so is this programme, which makes it the perfect companion for the same night's Baz's Extreme Worlds (also RTÉ Two), in which Baz Ashmawy, whose appeal entirely escapes me, goes where no man has ever gone before, or indeed wished to. This week he was wrestling alligators in Colorado. Do you want to know more? I thought not.

Much more fun was to be had from the same channel's Pan Am, an American series hoping to cash in on the success of Mad Men, with which it shares the same period.

That, though, is about all they have in common because whereas Mad Men had absorbing characters, a brilliant script and real social awareness, this inhabits unabashed soap opera territory, has cardboard cutouts instead of characters and was probably written by a computer.

But it looks good -- like an extended version of the Di Caprio with air stewardesses sequence from Catch Me If You Can -- and has enough teasing plot strands to keep you hooked even while you're deploring this ridiculous waste of your precious time.

Running to a mere 25 minutes, The Big Interview with Mike Murphy (RTÉ One) should be retitled The Small, Shallow and Really Quite Pointless Interview with Mike Murphy. The two I've seen -- with Tommy Tiernan and Marian Finucane -- yielded no revelations or insights, though it was curious to observe how unsmiling and ungiving Marian Finucane was when placed on the other side of the interviewing chair.

She might have been even more unsmiling if Murphy had bothered to press her when she dismissed a query about her massive salary, but that would have been bad form, I suppose.

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