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John Boland's week on TV: Nice try as Tommy vows to get the nation back in business



Good sport: Tommy Bowe arrives at Government Buildings to meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Good sport: Tommy Bowe arrives at Government Buildings to meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Good sport: Tommy Bowe arrives at Government Buildings to meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and so this week we had former rugby international Tommy Bowe on a valiant mission to get businesses and communities "back on track" during the pandemic.

This took the form of a documentary called Ireland's New Normal with Tommy Bowe (Virgin One), and it saw the amiable erstwhile winger traversing the length and breadth of the country to see what was going wrong in various Irish towns and what could be put right.

To this end, he fetched up in Kinsale, where everyone seemed to be pulling together admirably, unlike Clifden, where community spirit appeared to be so lacking that Tommy had to gather various business people together on the main street's footpath and see what could be done to boost togetherness.

Then it was on to Letterkenny and Cahir (where an elderly, sports-loving lady excitedly recognised him behind his mask) and finally to Dublin, where he was due to meet Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and demand some answers about why small businesses were in such a state of chassis.

This, however, didn't go too well, Tommy not at all happy with Leo's failure to provide an instant solution to the country's woes, even if he didn't say that to his face. But he ended up with a rousing assertion that he would continue fighting the good fight on behalf of communities in distress, though whether in a follow-up programme or not remained unclear. Anyway, good man, Tommy.

Elsewhere, Big Week in September, a documentary about the difficulties of returning to school, was scheduled as Monday night's main RTÉ1 offering, and was to be followed by Claire Byrne Live, but the latter took precedence after the Government rejected Nphet's Level 5 advice, and the former was relegated to some unspecified "later date".

So why not show it just after the Claire Byrne show? Instead, it was replaced by an episode of The Great Irish House Revival that had already been shown two years ago and that didn't merit rewatching by anyone other than fans of "design legend" Hugh Wallace, who also pops up every Sunday night in reruns of Home of the Year.

But if A Big Week in September went missing, there was always Big Year in Big School (Virgin One), a winning fly-on-the-wall documentary series about a junior infants class in the Aston Village Educate Together school in Drogheda.

The spotlight is firmly, and rightly, on the children themselves, and this week they had quirky takes on Covid-19, of whose arrival in their lives they had just become aware.

In the Face of Terror (BBC2) is a three-part series about the victims of terrorist abductions, and this week's frightening opener focused on aid workers and journalists abducted by Islamic State in Syria.

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French journalist Pierre Torres was a charismatic witness as he recalled being tortured by three psychopathic abductors whom he and his fellow prisoners dubbed The Beatles because of their English accents.

He was finally released and was able to tell his terrifying tale, unlike the American photojournalist James Foley, who was beheaded by the infamous Jihadi John while kneeling in the sand. Thankfully, we were spared the footage, though not the agony of parents Diane and John back home in New Hampshire.

On a happier note, Michael Palin: Travels of a Lifetime (BBC2) is a four-part series in which the genial 77-year-old ex-Python looks back at his mid-life move into programmes that saw him traversing the globe.

The first of these was the 1989 series Around the World in 80 Days, and Palin fondly recalled the people he had met, especially the crew of a dhow with whom he had spent a week sailing to India. It was a pivotal moment for him, he said, in which assumptions about wealth, class, race and religion became irrelevant as they all laboured and laughed together.

Joanna Lumley was on hand to describe the Palin series as "game-changing", while admiring contributions also came from David Attenborough and Simon Reeve.

Playing serial killer Dennis Nielsen in Des (Virgin One), David Tennant embodied the banality of evil as he revealed the extent of his crimes to his police interrogators. There are two more parts to this drama, but this week's opening episode was enough for me.

And I can't see myself staying with Adult Material (Channel 4), in which Hayley Squires plays a mum-of-three in her thirties who also happens to be a porn star.

There was an offputtingly jaunty tone to the first part of the opening episode and this was heightened by the appearance of Rupert Everett, all flowing blond locks and multicoloured dressing gown, as a porn producer.

Then the mood got darker, ending with the rape of a teenage performer, but even before that I'd been wondering why I was being asked to watch a lot of dreadful people doing dreadful things in a dreadful industry.

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