Last night’s TV: Room to Improve
As home improvement shows go, Diarmuid Doyle reckons RTE have produced a show with an excellent finish
Tension, argument, mutual suspicion, sarcasm, and a clash of cultures followed by resolution, reconciliation and a happy ending might seem like the plot of a particularly exciting movie.
In fact, it pretty much sums up last night’s Room To Improve, RTE1’s always watchable home improvement series, in which people hand over their hard-earned money to architect Dermot Bannon, who proceeds to redesign their houses in ways that sometimes appal them.
This isn’t because Bannon is a poor architect – quite the contrary. But he does have an almost religious belief in the wonders of architecture which often clashes with the more mundane expectations that people have for their homes.
He behaves like it’s his money he’s spending and finds it very hard to take no for an answer once he gets an idea in his head.
He does a good line in wounded petulance, as though he has been personally insulted by the lack of enthusiasm for his grand vision. The results can be very funny.
Last night’s big idea was a void – a kind of empty space between ceiling and floor designed to let light in – which Bannon proposed to place in the house he was redesigning in Legan, Co Longford for Elaine Mitchell and Hughie Ballesty. He had a budget of €80,000.
Elaine summed up her expectations. “It’s a simple simple look is what I want and not like all fancy fancy or anything like it, just simple or plain but good quality too”.
Neither she nor Hughie were big fans of the void. “Dermot wants the void and that’s it, and it’s just going to cost too much, and I think it’s going to have to come out”, Hughie said.
Bannon wasn’t having any of it. “There’s no point on doing the project unless we do the void, so the void is not going and that’s it”.
Hughie: “He said it’s not architecture without the void. Sure maybe we’ll leave the architecture out”.
Bannon: “The person who gives the final instruction to the builder is me. The void will be out if I say it’s out. That’s the way it is”.
In the end, they compromised on what was called half a void, which was one of those things I thought was impossible, like being half-pregnant, or half dead. They went on, eventually, to create a beautiful new living space.
The tensions between architect and client were genuine and it was a heavyweight contest in the end. Hughie cracked up on hearing the phrase “creative juices”, as though it was the most nonsensical, high-falutin’ thing anyone had ever said to him.
Bannon by contrast seemed genuinely dumbfounded to be told at a barbecue in Legan that many people in rural visit their neighbours by the always unlocked back door. Architects, it was suggested, should maybe pay more heed to this when they are designing outside Dublin.
Hughie and Elaine’s new home is a compromise between that kind of pragmatism and Dermot Bannon’s creative juices and is all the better for it.
Fresh Meat, Channel 4’s new comedy drama is perfectly timed to coincide with the arrival in university of first year students, free from the shackles of home and parents for the first time, but terrified and lonely and too proud to show it.
It will appeal mainly to those people but also to anyone who has fond memories of their time as a fresher student, or who grew up with the Inbetweeners. (One of the characters, Kingsley, is played by Joe Thomas, of Inbetweeners fame).
It’s very funny, although a lot of the humour comes from the characters, some of whom are very well observed and destined to become heroes for the student set. The jokes don’t really work out of context, and can be quite crude, so steer clear if you’re of a sensitive disposition.
Its title comes from a line from one of the English lecturers, as he meets his students for the first time: “Send in the fresh meat for the grinder”.
He then goes on to announce one of the subjects to be studied: “Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry David Thoreau; Why do they rhyme and why all the names?”
If you think that’s funny, you’ll probably love Fresh Meat. If not, best give it a miss.
Caught On Camera (TV3), one of those cheap and fearful shows designed to make you feel that the country is being drowned in a crime wave, is also best avoided.
Stretched over an hour, it’s at least 30 minutes too long, containing nowhere near enough cctv footage to justify either its length or its title.
Last night’s theme was “drunk and disorderly” and was quickly reduced to grainy shots of teenagers drinking but not bothering anyone.
A student called David Doran gave a harrowing account of being beaten up for no reason by a gang of youths earlier this year, but as his attack hadn’t been caught on camera, it was hard to figure out why he featured in this particular show.
There’s an interesting enough 25-minute programme in Caught On Camera waiting to get out but for the moment, it’s just a random collection of nothing. A kind of void.