Friday 21 July 2017

The Voice of a generation?

Talent Show Stor UTV The Voice of Ireland RTÉ One Mná an IRA TG4 Hostile Environment RTÉ One

Keen to discover why everyone except myself adores The X Factor and all its myriad variations, I switched on Talent Show Story (UTV), which, in the first of four instalments, purported to explain how such contests have come to dominate the TV schedules.

Here I learned from former New Faces winner Lenny Henry that their addictive appeal resides in those moments when "the whole country is united in saying Wow!" -- an observation upon which Dec of Ant and Dec fame elaborated: "It's goosebumps, it's hairs on the back of the neck."

This being an ITV production, the insights got no more interesting and thus I had to trust that Kathryn Thomas, presenter of RTÉ One's new talent show, The Voice of Ireland, would explain why I should bother watching the contest she was fronting.

Courtesy of her opening spiel, I discovered that this was to be "a singing competition like no other", the reason being that "it puts the voice first". Indeed, as Kathryn solemnly informed me: "On this show only the voice matters."

That, though, was not strictly true given that, as we quickly learned, only the gimmickry mattered -- the gimmick here being that the four judges sat with their backs to the contestants (how rude!) and only swivelled around to face them if they liked what they heard and wanted them on their team.

As it happened, Sharon Corr liked almost everything she heard, though "like" is too pallid a word to convey the orgasmic nature of Sharon's reactions. "Oh, I love you, I'm so happy," she panted to Onya, who had just belted out a power ballad. "You have an amazing voice," she trilled in wonderment to Kate. "I'm really excited now," she gushed to Gary, "I just want you."

Whether or not he succumbed to her overtures or opted for the coaching skills of a rival admiring judge was the show's other gimmick. I wasn't hooked by any of it, but that's irrelevant because this appears to be one of those slickly-made light entertainment series that are entirely critic-proof and that will attract an eager audience already enslaved to the talent show format.

The TG4 series of half-hour documentaries, Mná an IRA, has been attracting a good deal of adverse publicity, notably in last week's Sunday Independent where, writing in a personal capacity, TG4 board member Concubhar O Liathain denounced it as a "stain" on the Irish language channel. If its first programme wasany indication of what was to follow, he wrote, the series would be"nauseating and heartbreaking" for victims of the IRA and their relatives.

Having watched the first programme, I largely agree with his sentiments. This profile of Rose Dugdale, the British-born pro-republican former terrorist/headbanger (take your pick), was remarkable for allowing its subject free rein to express her unrepentant views while featuring no dissenting, sceptical or even detached voices.

That said, only the most credulous or nuttiest of viewers would have accepted anything she said with anything but derision. Indeed, she reminded me of Fr Dougal in her inability to learn anything from her past escapades.

"I still haven't changed my mind at all," she declared at the end, as if that was something for which a 70-year-old should feel pride, though it was comforting to learn that her ongoing efforts "to bring down capitalism" might be accomplished without "having to shoot all round you".

This shoddy programme was especially depressing to watch in the week that marked the premature death of Mary Raftery, whose documentaries -- especially States of Fear and Cardinal Secrets -- were among the most rigorous, responsible, brave and important to have made in this country. She truly did this State some service.

I'm not sure what she would have made of Hostile Environment (RTÉ One), a two-part series on the workings of Irish private security operations abroad. Certainly I'm not sure what I made of its opening instalment, which was presented by actor Liam Cunningham and focused on Cork-born, Riviera-based security consultant Paul Butler.

Butler, a former ranger with the Irish Army, has provided protection for the likes of Patrick Swayze, Kevin Costner and Sylvester Stallone, but the most absorbing part of the film came when Cunningham accompanied him to Liberia, where he aimed to export diamonds.

Cunningham was an arresting presence throughout, convincingly perturbed by the volatile environment in which he found himself and persuasively distressed by the conditions and paltry recompense endured by the locals who unearth gemstones that make millions for others.

But I couldn't figure out Butler's motives in allowing Cunningham and a camera crew to tag along with him. "The less you say, the better it is," he declared at one point, which seemed an eminently sensible philosophy for one whose business depended on ensuring privacy and safety. So you'd imagine that the last people he'd want within a thousand-mile radius would be a prying camera operator and a nosy reporter.

Cunningham, alas, didn't enlighten me on that conundrum. Nonetheless, the film was riveting.

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