Ooh, aah, miriam season... no ta
freefall BBC2 the street BBC1 monday monday ITV how not to live your life BBC2 you have been watching Channel 4
Following the example of our public representatives, RTE has gone on an extended summer vacation, leaving the viewer with nothing to see and the critic nothing to write about.
To be sure, there are still some home-produced programmes in the schedules, but these are either reruns for those who simply can't get enough of Kathryn Thomas's holiday witterings or of the laugh-free antics from the denizens of Killinaskully, or else they're new seasons of old formats for those whose Saturday nights wouldn't be complete without a smothering of feelgood fluff from Miriam O'Callaghan -- also currently to be heard on a new Saturday morning RTE radio show 'oohing and aahing' over couples who've found contentment with each other.
There's been an attempt at drama, too, in the RTE1 series Father and Son, but there's not much that's Irish about this thriller, and indeed there aren't many thrills in it, either, as a grim-faced cast doggedly act out its relentlessly glum storyline.
So thank God for the BBC, which this week screened two outstanding dramas, one from the pen of the masterly Jimmy McGovern and the other from the equally gifted Dominic Savage, who in Freefall (BBC2) created a film of powerful immediacy and chilling relevance.
This morality tale of the credit crunch and its effect on both perpetrators and victims wasn't of much assistance in explaining the reasons for the recent global financial calamity, but it was terrifically good at conveying the toll it has taken on the lives and livelihoods of those who've been most affected, embodied here in three principal characters.
There was rapacious banker Gus, played with such demonic verve by Aidan Gillen that even as you recoiled from his ego-fuelled amorality, you still couldn't take your eyes off him. Just as monstrous was mortgage seller Dave, played by Dominic Cooper with an eager boyishness that almost concealed a soul of pure titanium. Then there was security guard Jim, hoodwinked, against the better judgment of his wife, into a disastrous house-buying agreement by Dave.
There were echoes throughout of Oliver Stone's Wall Street ("Greed is good") and of Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities ("Masters of the Universe"), but this striking drama was its own man. It was convincingly rooted in the London of today and each of the characters had a real individuality, so that by the end you were almost as concerned with Gus's self-inflicted plight as with that of the guileless Jim.
In fact, Jim's loving marriage turned out to be his salvation, whereas the bewildered Gus, with all of his super-confidence shattered and with no one to confide in, found himself unable to confront a very bleak future. However, it was the conscience-free Dave who, in the final scene, turned out to be the real survivor, blithely moving out of the mortgage racket and using his heartless charm to flog expensive environmental products to gullible housewives.
Savage, who directed as well as wrote, kept everything going at an enthralling pace. This was as good a drama as I've seen in a long time.
Jimmy McGovern's new series of The Street (BBC1) began with a morality tale, too, as Manchester pub owner Paddy Gargan faced the wrath of local heavy Tom Miller after barring his son for smoking on the premises. They'd be back the next afternoon for a drink, Miller told him, and if they weren't served Paddy would rue the consequences.
In a riff on High Noon, Paddy spent the intervening hours trying to enlist back-up from his customers, but to no avail -- Miller was too feared by everyone for resistance to be entertained and anyway he funded the local soccer club, which always had its after-match knees-up in the pub. When Paddy looked to the team for support, arguing that his adversary was mixed up in drugs, he was informed that, as a purveyor of booze, he was just as much a drug dealer as anyone. And so he was left by himself to await his inevitable beating.
That was about it, really, but the writing was so sharp, the direction so taut and the playing by Bob Hoskins, Liam Cunningham and Frances Barber so powerful, that this hour-long film was mesmerising, even though slightly let down by its ending, in which Paddy's revenge didn't quite provide the satisfaction McGovern plainly intended. But I liked it a lot.
I liked, too, the first instalment of ITV's new comedy drama Monday Monday, in which the head office of a supermarket chain was relocated from London to Leeds, much to the unease of some of its executive personnel. Chief among these was Christine (the brilliant Fay Ripley), a lush who had to be revived each morning by her long-suffering assistant Sally, played beguilingly by newcomer Morven Christie.
There was nothing new here, but the writers had gone to the trouble of creating quirky characters rather than stereotypes and of creating quite a few moments that were genuinely funny. I don't know if I'll stay with it for its seven episodes, but with RTE not providing any alternative viewing until the autumn, I just might.
Also quirky was the first instalment of How Not to Live Your Life, a BBC2 sitcom devised by and starring Dan Clark as a disaster-prone singleton who discovers that his recently deceased aunt has left him her house, even though in her will she describes him as a dickhead.
And so he turns out to be, getting fired by his female boss (who still wants to have sex with him) and proving himself not equipped to deal with any of life's humdrum realities. The humour is very hit-and-miss, but some of the gags had me chortling.
On You Have Been Watching (Channel 4), host Charlie Brooker echoed my own sentiments when he described the Michael Jackson memorial concert as "a bullshit Olympics". As for the ludicrously extended live coverage it was afforded by eminent broadcasting organisations, "the news media can't any more tell the difference between a showbiz event and a train crash".