Sunday 25 February 2018

Jailhouse rocks, but once a week would suffice for me

'Orange Is The New Black'
'Orange Is The New Black'

John Boland

Some people I know have already binged on the entire second season of Orange is the New Black – all 13 episodes of which have been released simultaneously in the usual Netflix manner – but I've never been that slavishly addicted to drama serials, no matter how compelling, and I find one episode a week suits me just fine.

Indeed, there have been some series, such as the recent Fargo, that provided such a pleasure of anticipation each week that I haven't wanted them to end at all. Orange is the New Black isn't in that exalted category, but the storyline by creator Jenji Kohan has been so inventive, the serio-comic tone so well judged and the characters such an intriguingly diverse bunch that it remains engrossing.

That's partly because, although Taylor Schilling, as incarcerated socialite Piper, continues to be the emotional lynchpin of the series, her jailmates and their various backstories have proven to be just as interesting. I'll certainly go on watching, though in my preferred weekly doses.

I might keep faith, too, with TV3's new Australian import, Wentworth Prison, which is also set in a women's jail, though it has a more derivative feel to it than Orange is the New Black – perhaps because it's a contemporary reworking of the old Aussie serial Prisoner: Cell Block H, which viewers who were around in the early 1980s may recall either as daringly innovative for its time or just crudely rough-and-tumble.

Many of the same characters reappear here, notably the newly-incarcerated Bea, locked up for trying to kill her violently abusive husband. She's played by Danielle Cormack with the right blend of fearfulness and stubbornness, while the other dominant performers in this week's opening episode invested their somewhat stereotyped characters with a bracing sense of conviction – as in Jackie Holt's malevolent turn as Queen Bee of the jailbirds and Kate Atkinson's suggestive portrayal of a warden who may prove to be not be as kindly as she seems.

This first episode had lots of raucous energy and enough intriguing subplots to warrant giving it another look, though I'm glad I only had to look once at My Boyfriend Murdered Me (BBC3), which was based on a true story about domestic violence. Affectingly played by Georgina Campbell, Ashley was a naive 17-year-old who fell for smooth-talking Reece, had a baby with him but also had to contend with his increasingly violent jealous rages, which culminated in him beating her to death.

This led off a series of BBC3 programmes on domestic violence, which is commendable, though I always find such programmes extremely difficult to watch, and this depressing and distressing drama was no exception.

In the second (and mercifully final) instalment of How to be Happy (RTE1), psychologist Maureen Gaffney continued on her mission to blind us with science and bamboozle us with sweeping assertions. "In order to be really happy," she insisted to her enraptured lecture-hall followers, "you have to keep setting and achieving goals for yourself" – which immediately made me think of the scene in Jackie Brown when Samuel L Jackson warns surfer girlfriend Bridget Fonda that getting high and watching TV all day will rob her of ambition. "Not", she nonchalantly replies, "if your ambition is to get high and watch TV."

That seems to me a reasonable point of view, though Maureen would probably deem it heretical, insisting once again on her basic mantra: "Setting goals is vital to your happiness." So, apparently, is smiling and also body posture – seemingly, if you stand with your legs apart and your hands on your hips, you'll feel instantly more confident and relaxed, as you also will if you loll back in a chair with your hands behind your head and your feet on a desk or table.

Someone, of course, could well think you a tosser for doing the former and yell at you for doing the latter, especially if it happened to be their desk or table, but, apparently, the happiness-yielding benefits of such actions are "scientifically" and "medically" proven. Don't get me wrong. In this vale of tears that we call life on Earth, I'm all for people being as happy as they can and as often as they can, but Maureen's sign-up-and-learn-it system of achieving happiness struck me as tendentious tosh.

And, anyway, if Maureen did somehow manage to coerce the whole world into achieving an ongoing state of happiness, what would happen to artistic endeavour? Happiness, as Henri de Montherlant famously noted, "writes white", but I suppose that by then we'd all be in such a state of bliss we wouldn't need the consolations of art, literature or music.

Two new factual series provided a Sunday teatime viewing clash. The four-part Ireland's Ocean (RTE1) began with a programme on dolphins that provided lots of interesting information and was arrestingly filmed by series director Ken O'Sullivan.

Over on TV3, there was Tales of Irish Castles, in which presenter Simon Delaney promised "dramatic sieges, bloody battles, lavish lifestyles, ghostly presences, warring families and feudal lords". I'll report back on both in the weeks to come.

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