Darragh McManus: RTÉ's 'Weather Live' a disjointed clatter of ideas jammed into one programme
“High-concept” is the alchemist’s gold of the entertainment business – essentially, any movie, book or TV show that can be summarised for the sluggish-minded masses in one or two short lines.
Par example, you might describe, say, Twilight as “Romeo and Juliet meets Dracula”. Or the recent Riviera could be called “Dallas for a new decade”. Or Oireachtas Report – I always envision that as “Celebrity Deathmatch meets Eurotrash meets Killer Clowns from Outer Space…in slightly rumpled suits.”
They especially love high-concept in producing lifestyle telly, be that Reality TV, light entertainment, fly-on-the-wall documentaries or any of the myriad other sub-genres. You think of that famous scene from Alan Partridge when the man himself throws a list of excruciatingly awful ideas at a weaselly commissioning editor: monkey tennis, hostelling with Chris Eubank, yachting disasters – some funny, some tragic.
Tonight we saw the first of three successive episodes of Weather Live, a very high-concept show on RTÉ One. I’ve seen it described as “Big Week on the Farm…but for the weather”, which is about as high-concept as it gets – mainly because Big Week on the Farm itself was hardly a programme at all, more a high-concept somehow stretched out over five evenings.
The likeable Kathryn Thomas presented this show, from the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin and before a live audience, which set out to – the bump says – “explore Ireland’s favourite obsession: the weather”.
We do have a bit of an obsession with the climate, alright; the recent Storm Ophelia, for instance, turned from a scary eruption of vengeful Mother Nature into a kind of countrywide party-game. (I laughed when someone sent a WhatsApp about “having a great hurricane so far”.)
However, we don’t seem to be quite so obsessed with insisting that our TV shows have some sort of cohesion, coherence or point. Weather Live was actually fine, in that some of it was engaging and none of it was terrible. But I did finish the hour’s viewing as I began it: wondering what exactly was the point of any of this.
And I don’t mean that in some pretentious “ooh everything has to be deep and meaningful” way; fluffy entertainment is fine. But as a whole, the show seemed disjointed, not fully formed; a clatter of ideas, some good and some bad, which had been jammed together into one programme.
Does that make sense? I don’t care, that’s how I felt.
Having said all that, I did quite enjoy the following (in chronological order of appearance):
1. The Gerald Fleming interview (it’s Gerald Fleming for God’s sake; there’s something weird and immoral about not liking the guy)
2. Finding out that Germany has an “Adopt a Vortex” scheme, where you can pay to have your name put on a storm
3. Meteorologist Joanna Donnelly meeting the young Cork girl, Olivia O’Driscoll, who had written her a thank-you letter for “keeping Dad and Grandad safe” – very sweet
4. The visit to Valentia Weather Station, which has a really cool history: here were laid the first telegraph lines between Europe and America; as we heard, “globalisation started in Valentia”
5. Discovering that weatherman Gerry Murphy used to be “Chief Scientist of Valentia Geophysical Observatory”, which sounds like a job from some science-fiction movie
6. Also discovering that Valencia launches a weather ballon twice a day – 30 kilometres high! – to record temperature, air-pressure, humidity and other things. Possibly including the presence of aliens with enormous foreheads and space-blasters that go “zzzzhhhuuurrrmmm” when they fire
7. The surreal footage from a football match in fog-wreathed Bosnia a few years back
8. Hans Wieland of the Irish Cloud Appreciation Society, who was a fascinating guide to a really lovely subject. Cloud-watching, really, is something close to reverie…
9. Finding out that because of global warming/climate change – yeah, it’s a real thing, sceptical morons – spring is basically arriving earlier in Ireland; some plants are now flowering two months earlier than they did 40 years ago. It’s as though “Ireland is moving south by 4km a year”
10. Shay Given presenting the weather, and doing an endearingly terrible job.
PS I still don’t know what the point is/was. But while the floor to high-concept TV is open, I’d like to get in my pitch. “Chile Con Kearney” – rugby star Rob goes to the South American country to play pranks on unsuspecting members of el publico. Gimme a ring-ding-ding, RTÉ…