Friday 18 October 2019

John Boland’s week in TV: Take it from Eva – whatever you do, don’t get old

Age is just a number: Eva Orsmond’s latest TV series sees her in confessional mode
Age is just a number: Eva Orsmond’s latest TV series sees her in confessional mode

John Boland

‘You don’t have to look angry,” boxing coach Mick Dowling chuckled as Eva Orsmond furiously pummeled a punchbag during the first instalment of How to Live Better for Longer (RTÉ1).

Angry, though, maybe wasn’t quite the word for the steely determination with which she approaches all of her television tasks. Indeed, she’s more like a rather cross head girl at school who can’t understand why the other pupils insist on larking about.

That’s been her shtick anyway over countless series in which she’s sternly lectured us about our lax attitudes to health and lifestyle. In this new series, though, she was in more confessional mode, revealing that she was only a toddler in Finland when her parents divorced and thanking her grandmother for her excellent genes and her mother for breastfeeding her.

Armed with these blessings, she now wants to stay as young as any middle-aged person can be, and to this end she’s been using botox for more than a decade both because “I’ve tried to delay the ageing process as much as I could”, and because “looking well makes you feel better about yourself”.

Well, to each their own, though Eva’s anxiety about ageing was striking. “I really don’t like thinking about growing old at all,” she confided, while defiantly asserting that “today in my fifties I don’t feel any different from what I felt in my twenties”. And so she was more than chuffed when a scientific test revealed that her biological age was 26: “I’m so happy! That’s fantastic!”

Elsewhere, this opening instalment roamed all over the place. I learned from a University of Limerick age expert that a sedentary lifestyle was not to be recommended because “when you’re sitting, you’re not using much energy”. Who’d have known?

I learned, too, of  the perils of falls and of how “it’s never too late” to get active, along with many other statements of the extremely obvious. And throughout the programme Eva kept telling us of the joy of looking and feeling young, even if it necessitates 10 years of botox.

The new Russell T Davies drama series, Years and Years (BBC1), began arrestingly. Davies, who famously created the groundbreaking Queer as Folk in the late 1990s and who last year came up with the truly excellent A Very English Scandal, has an exuberant approach to storytelling, and from the outset of Years and Years he had viewers hooked all over again.

Indeed, within the opening minutes he had introduced his Manchester family so expertly that you felt you knew them all.

There was financial adviser and loving husband Stephen (Rory Kinnear); there was gay sibling Daniel (Russell Tovey), who was about to marry boyfriend Ralph; there was their sister Rosie (Ruth Madeley), a single mother with spina bifida; there was political activist sister Edith (Jessica Hynes), away in Vietnam; and there was granny Muriel (Anne Reid), the centre of all family occasions.

And in the TV sets of their living rooms, there was populist politician Vivienne Rook (Emma Thompson), spouting rabble-rousing rhetoric to the nation. So here you had Britain today, except that the series doesn’t stay with today, and so we discover that English cities have become overburdened with refugees and asylum seekers, and that Donald Trump has been re-elected as president and has become even more hateful and war-mongering.

So not quite the world as we know it, but certainly as we fear it, and while there’s a tad more liberal speechifying from Stephen and Daniel than I would have liked, I was already so invested I forgave the soapbox bits.

Indeed, the whole episode was handled with such gusto and the acting was so persuasive (not least Emma Thompson’s bravura turn) that I can’t wait to see what happens next week.

And speaking of Davies, I thought it a shame that A Very English Scandal missed out on the main prizes at this week British Academy Television Awards (BBC1). Ben Whishaw was deservedly rewarded for his supporting turn as the hapless Norman Scott, but the whole drama was the best thing I saw on the BBC last year, while Hugh Grant’s terrific portrayal of Jeremy Thorpe was ignored in favour of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Patrick Melrose.

I’d have given prizes, too, to Lesley Manville and Peter Mullan as the tentative elderly lovers in Mum. Happily, though, a new (though final) season of that wonderfully wistful suburban sitcom began on BBC2 this week.

Elsewhere, as you know, Killing Eve swept the boards at this week’s BAFTAs, rightly so in the case of Jodie Comer, though I’ve become somewhat weary of this drama’s second season, currently on RTÉ2, where Comer is now the main, if not only, reason for sticking with the repetitive storyline and setpieces.

On The Tommy Tiernan Show (RTÉ1), the host seemed overawed by Adam Clayton and the interview with U2’s bass player began somewhat pretentiously as both men grappled with the “mystical” nature of music  that “allows the spirit to soar”.

Things became much better when Tiernan got his guest on to more personal matters, with Clayton reflecting on the demons that fame and wealth brought in their wake.  “I drank and drugged and got myself in tabloid newspapers...and embarrassed everyone I knew and myself.”

He was admirably candid and forthright and without any rock-star airs or excuses, either.

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