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Wednesday 1 October 2014

nice scenery, shame about the show...

Gary and danielle's northern exposure BBC1 Single-handed ITV coast BBC2 a song for dad RTE1 wallander bbc4 WILL ferrell: You're welcome, America Channel 4

Published 08/08/2009 | 00:00

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It's always intriguing and perhaps salutary to see ourselves as others see us. For instance, on Gary and Danielle's Northern Exposure (BBC1), the former English football hero and his fiancée can't find enough superlatives to describe every dog track, theme park and ethnic takeaway in that section of our island formerly best known for its kneecappings, car bombings and tit-for-tat killings.

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Elsewhere, reviewing ITV's screening this week of Single-Handed, that impressive RTE series about an honest cop in a murky Connemara, The Guardian's Sam Wollaston and the Independent's Tom Sutcliffe couldn't contain their surprise that dark doings lurked behind the "stunning scenery" of this Irish "Hoirtbeat". Faith and begorrah, lads, shure we're even in the EU.

Also this week, BBC2's Coast made its way across the channel with a veritable avalanche of ecstatic encomiums from host Neil Oliver, who promised us a coastline "famous for its great ports, harbours and estuaries", not to mention a "cracking" railway journey, the "oldest yacht club on the planet" and "one of the finest natural harbours in the world" -- all of this accompanied by the kind of syrupy musical soundtrack last heard in a 1950s Bord Fáilte promo.

The coastline in question here was the one running from the Old Head of Kinsale, through Cork, Waterford, and Wexford, and up to Dublin, and it was a wondrous sight to behold, not least the Old Head, even if that's now the exclusive territory of the Pringle sweater and ridiculous pants brigade, who are only too happy to pay exorbitant fees for the privilege of playing on a course that, in Neil's excited words, "eats golfballs for breakfast".

Then it was on to Cobh, where the Titanic's tragic tale was poignantly retold by Neil for the benefit of anyone who'd been living on Pluto for the past 97 years, and from there he travelled to Haulbowline, where the Irish Navy took him on a thrilling, guns-at-the-ready raid of a suspect boat. It would have been even more thrilling if, as Neil belatedly and rather lamely revealed, this heroic feat of derring-do hadn't been just an exercise staged entirely for the benefit of the BBC cameras. "There were no bullets in the guns," he said somewhat sheepishly, but he managed to look enthralled, anyway.

After that, through a variety of sub-presenters, we learned more than we cared to know about round towers, the mysteries of the Ogham alphabet and the wonders of Waterford Crystal -- though we didn't learn anything about the difficulties the latter have been going through in recent times because that would have been intruding on a reality the filmmakers had no interest in addressing, or even mentioning.

After a dutiful lecture on the sundry arts of making millstones and flat-bottom boats, there was a rather lovely detour to spy on the geese, curlews and other birds who temporarily inhabit the sloblands of Wexford, "a truly unforgettable experience", as guide Miranda said. But this was followed by some dreary tomfoolery about seismology on Killiney beach, which involved controlled explosions, and I reflected that this edition of Coast had spent so much of its time trying to reconcile the offbeat with the banal that, for all its dogged journeying, it ended up going nowhere.

And it's a moot point where Niall McKay, maker of A Song for Dad (RTE1), thought he was going. The film was essentially a homage by the San Francisco-based Niall to his father Jim, a bassist who'd been a session man in Ireland with many celebrated jazz players but who'd ended up alone in Zurich after the premature death of his second wife. Now he was coming back to Ireland and Niall had travelled to Switzerland to help him home.

Gradually -- too gradually, I felt -- the unhappy story of the family emerged, which crucially concerned the enforced flight of father and son from Jim's violent first wife, who died soon after a final attack on her husband. But the circumstances of her death weren't explained, nor was the startling and bitter anger of Niall's younger brother, Jimmy, who fumed on camera about being sent away to boarding school -- though for what reason we weren't told.

This wasn't the film's only problem. For most of its duration, despite Niall's obvious intention of honouring his long-suffering father, the pervading mood was of a deadening glumness, and it was really only at the end, with Jim attending Niall's marriage to long-term American girlfriend Marissa, that a note of celebration made itself felt.

After the success of BBC2's Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh and based on the celebrated crime novels by Henning Mankel, BBC4 is now showing the versions made a couple of years earlier for Swedish television and the differences are instructive.

Branagh's detective is an obviously tortured man and the actor plays up that aspect of his personality -- indeed, overdoes it for my taste. Krister Henriksson's take on the role is far less showy and all the more convincing -- we can infer Kurt Wallander's angst without having to suffer along with him. And the mood of the Swedish version is matter-of-fact rather than portentous, and not without its light moments, either.

Nor are we constantly distracted by having a cast of English actors plonked down in a Swedish landscape yet all of them speaking English in a determinedly neutral tone. Subtitles, of course, are a distraction, too, but not so damagingly, and not when presented as clearly as here.

Anyway, I think these Swedish versions, beautifully plotted and paced and very well acted, are first-rate, and RTE should think of buying the series. What's the betting, though, that it will opt for the "starrier" Branagh series instead?

Will Ferrell: You're Welcome, America (Channel 4) was a stand-up show in which the film star and comic impersonated George W Bush. It began well enough, with Bush dismissing Barack Obama as "the Tiger Woods guy", while forced to concede the man's oratorical powers: "It's like Shakespeare having sex with a bottle of Courvoisier".

That, alas, was the show's best line, even if you could never imagine Bush uttering it. From there, though, Ferrell's George W became even less imaginable and by the time, 20 minutes in, he began fantasising about gay desires and the joy of sexual foursomes, all connection with the calamitous former president had been lost.

jboland@independent.ie

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