Wednesday 24 May 2017

John Boland: Waiter, I didn't order this re-heated format

masterchef ireland RTé Two the rise and fall of fianna fáil TV3 behind the walls RTé One How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring bbc Two The Jonathan Ross Show ITV

MasterChef Ireland, which began on RTé Two this week, is not, despite the claim of its end titles, "based on a format created by Franc Roddam". Instead, it's a slavish facsimile of the BBC show dreamt up by Roddam and now screened in more than 150 countries.

The only thing in its favour is that it isn't fronted by John Torode and Gregg Wallace, the two obnoxious know-alls who made the BBC original unwatchable by any viewer equipped with a bulls**t-detector.

In their place are two more tolerable know-alls -- ominously civil chef Dylan McGrath (well, ominous to anyone who watched him throwing tantrums on an RTé documentary a couple of years back) and London-born, Dublin-based maitre d' Nick Munier, whose faint smirk suggests a cat that hasn't made up its mind whether to preen or pounce.

Pouncing wasn't the preferred option in Tuesday night's opening show, in which a score or more of wannabe amateurs sought to be granted the coveted MasterChef apron that would allow them to compete further in the contest.

"A very poor attempt," Nick said regretfully of country house manager Joe's lamb concoction. "Very bland," Dylan sighed after tasting Miana's rice. "A bit boring," Nick told the aspirational Alice.

But that was as savage as it got -- and, in truth, "a bit boring" was an apt description of the show itself, which at the outset had teased us with the prospect of withering judgments and emotional meltdowns but never delivered on either.

In their place we got endless shots of contestants foostering around with ingredients (though not so that we could see what they were actually doing), followed by close-ups of the judges as they forked the results into their faces and delivered their somewhat humdrum verdicts.

Starved for something nourishing to watch, I had another look at the first instalment of The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáil (TV3), which I had written about earlier in the week -- or at least about Bertie Ahern's contribution to it.

Presented by Ursula Halligan at her least arch, it was well-shaped and deftly edited, but I'm not sure if it told us anything we didn't already know; though I was mildly diverted by Celia Larkin's line of reasoning when it came to the character of her former lover, assuring us that "if I thought he was corrupt I wouldn't have stayed with him as long as I did".

So that's an end to that allegation, then. And maybe while she's at it, Celia could use her gut instincts to solve the third secret of Fatima.

Elsewhere in the film, Bertie gleefully revealed that, when asked by British foreign secretary Robin Cook how he regarded Oliver Cromwell, his cheeky reply was "I think he was a murdering bastard," while Sean Haughey couldn't repress a chuckle when asked to name his father's flaws, though he only went so far as to instance "the personal lifestyle".

There should be a few more amusing nuggets in the next two programmes of the series.

There were no laughs to be had from the first instalment of Mary Raftery's Behind the Walls (RTé One), a history of mental institutions in Ireland, but quite a few sobering facts -- including the information that in the last couple of centuries, this country has locked up a greater percentage of its people in asylums than anywhere else in the world, even the Soviet Union.

You could be incarcerated for masturbation, jealousy, pride, anger, lust -- indeed, as one of the contributing psychiatrists put it, for "almost any form of human behaviour that could be seen as an affront to society".

Sisters could put brothers away if they threatened to be a hindrance to their marital prospects, fathers and mothers could commit daughters for being wilful or "sinful" or merely troubled, though the film relied too heavily on dramatically reconstructing the case of one such daughter, Hanna Greally, who wrote a book about her mid-20th-Century ordeal.

So have conditions and attitudes improved in our supposedly more enlightened times? Presumably that will be addressed in Monday night's concluding instalment.

How Facebook Changed the World: The Arab Spring (BBC Two) took reporter Mishal Husain to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where she met the people behind the revolutions. It all started in Tunisia last December when a young fruitseller, depressed by the corruption that was making his job impossible, burnt himself to death. This was filmed on a mobile phone and reached the attention of blogger Slim Amamou, who posted it on Facebook, after which it went viral.

When protest rallies were being organised, the presence of police on particular streets was conveyed via Twitter and those streets were thus avoided.

The film left you in no doubt of the power of the new media in fomenting and organising insurgency, but it in its bid to emphasise this it somewhat downplayed the courage of the protesters themselves. Technology may have been the tool, but it was people who actually overthrew dictatorships.

In The Jonathan Ross Show (ITV), his first on the commercial channel since disgracing himself and the BBC with his Andrew Sachs jape, the host began by telling a smutty, and entirely unfunny, joke concerning Alan Sugar's scrotum. "That's right, I've learnt nothing," he said exultantly.

Then he added further insult by choosing as his first guest the mind-bogglingly tedious Sarah Jessica Parker. Goodbye, Jonathan, you had your day.

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