Saturday 10 December 2016

Readers, we need to talk about David

Families in the Wild RTE1
The story of Ireland RTE1
The Secret War on Terror BBC2
Brendan Smyth: Betrayal of Trust BBC1
Celebrity Naked Ambition Channel 4

John Boland

Published 19/03/2011 | 05:00

RTE's commissioning editors are clearly enamoured of David Coleman, the shaven-headed clinical psychologist who's cornered the national broadcasting market in showing us how to relate to each other.

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Already he's fronted Families in Trouble, 21st Century Child and two series of Teens in the Wild, and now he's offering us Families in the Wild (RTE1). I can't wait for Grannies in the Wild.

There are three fractious families in this latest series and David's solution is to whisk them off to "the wilds of Kerry", where he gets them to shimmy up ropes, climb rocks, scramble through gorse and share their various gripes. The bad news is that the viewer is being asked to follow them on their arduous journey.

I'm sure that, deep down, they're all lovely people, but personally I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than spend five minutes in their company, which unfortunately I had to do for the purposes of this review.

"F**k off, will ya?" was the first utterance we heard from 14-year-old Alex, whose mother Stephanie wanted "to be respected" by him. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Shannon was having issues with mum Nathalie -- "She's trying to control me all the time," Shannon moaned -- while in the third family, Sarah observed of her angry son: "When Adam throws a fit, you can't stop him." We watched as Adam threw various fits. "We just don't know what to do," his father said.

But Doc David knew what to do and before you could say "Jesus f**king Christ" (well, just after Adam said it, actually) they were down in Kerry communing with nature and listening to David's earnest spiels, which were all about "coping with the stresses and strains of everyday life", "communicating in positive ways" and "understanding issues and needs".

David is also big into physical activities, which apparently help families "to work together positively" and are "a great way to use up energy".

We watched as the families used up a lot of energy ("I think they're really getting into it," David optimistically ventured), but there was little evidence that it was producing any positivity.

What it definitely produced, though, was a great weariness in the viewer, who not only had to endure the domestic squabbling of people he didn't know and hoped never to meet but also had to put up with David's furrowed concerns and upbeat aphorisms. There are three more weeks of this, though not on my watch.

I was severe about the opening episode of Fergal Keane's The Story of Ireland (RTE1), but the series improved as it went along, aided by the fact that the history being discussed got more interesting as the centuries progressed. Indeed, this week's final instalment managed to cram the last 100 years of our national story into a satisfying 60-minute narrative, closing with the demise of the Celtic Tiger.

The presenter, too, seemed more engaged and he enlisted an impressive array of historians, including Roy Foster and Diarmaid Ferriter, to say interesting things about then and now.

British television journalist Peter Taylor has made many outstanding political documentaries over the years, notably on Northern republicanism and loyalism and on global terrorism. He's returned to the latter subject in the two-part The Secret War on Terror (BBC2), though I found the first instalment less revelatory than Taylor himself seemed to think when interviewed this week on radio by Pat Kenny.

Certainly, I don't think many people will have been shocked to hear US agents admitting their participation in what the CIA dubbed "enhanced interrogation techniques", or overly cheered to hear the former boss of MI5 tut-tutting at how the Americans had concealed what they were up to, or even surprised at the former Pakistan president replying, "To an extent, yes," when asked if desired ends justified brutal interrogative means.

Brendan Smyth: Betrayal of Trust (BBC1) was a two-part drama based on the vile activities of this country's most notorious paedophile priest, the cover-ups by the clerical authorities and the sufferings of his victims. This was a sombre, sometimes harrowing, drama in the mould of The Magdalene Sisters, though lacking that film's artistry or emotional impact.

Where would we be without Channel 4? Celebrity Naked Ambition offered a two-hour countdown of movie stars who were famous for "getting their kit off" on screen.

By means of a rating system I couldn't understand, Halle Berry made it into last place courtesy of her sterling performance in Monster's Ball, while Helen Mirren secured the top spot for her blithe undressings in such various masterpieces as Age of Consent, Savage Messiah and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover.

"Get your pause button ready," the narrator panted before Sharon Stone's uncrossing of legs in Basic Instinct, but as the documentary never lingered on any of its nude scenes, sex-starved viewers must have felt really cheated.

jboland@independent.ie

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