Sunday 26 May 2019

Television review: No improvement needed here

  • Room To Improve (RTE1)

Ireland's favourite architect Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Lisa O'Brien
Ireland's favourite architect Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Lisa O'Brien
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

The final programme in the latest series of Room To Improve was episode 11 of series seven. Which suggests, at first glance, that one of the reasons for its great success is that Dermot Bannon has now renovated most of the homes of Ireland, and so we are expecting him round to ours, some day soon.

At some stage on this project they found the motherlode, they found a way to make one of those TV series that everyone complains about, for whatever reason they can find, knowing deep down that they wouldn't have it any other way. So that viewers may be complaining about Dermot starting the same sort of argument every week with his clients, and perhaps even building the same house every week too, and yet if he didn't do it that way, they would be lost and they would become deeply unhappy.

Imagine for a moment that in episode 11 of series 26, Dermot meets the nice couple and they agree on the broad parameters of the work to be undertaken, at which point they all shake hands on it, and the building starts to take shape in the manner envisaged, more or less on schedule and perhaps even under budget.

From time to time the clients might drop in to have a look, whilst acknowledging that these things are perhaps best left to the professionals, an arrangement accompanied by a lot of mutual agreement and even some high-fiving at how well everything is going.

In life, such a state of affairs would be regarded as an unqualified triumph. On television, it would be a shambles.

It's not that we don't want things to end well, it's just that we want them to go badly for a while too, and then to end well. And in that process we will accept almost anything, as long as we've seen it many times before.

Dermot is always looking for light, for example, it's all light with him, he seeks the light with obsessive zeal. One thinks of the poem Light by the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore: "Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!"

That great Indian poet and mystic didn't know it, but he was writing the script for Room To Improve right there.

Yet it might be argued that in order for the light to be truly brilliant, there needs to be some darkness too - and so a viewer will make this point on Twitter, and then someone else will tweet that Room To Improve is one of these shows that works very well on Twitter, and then some joker will add that a television show might work well on Twitter, but on the whole they'd prefer if it worked well on television.

And so you've got our old friend "traction", you've got the kind of show that will run for ever, as long as Dermot doesn't make the catastrophic error of getting it into his head one day that he's getting bored with the light, and now he wants to embrace the darkness. He wants everything to look like those gloomy old book-lined smoking rooms with leather armchairs that you find in gentleman's clubs, ideally smoke-filled. With nooks and crannies and so forth.

Indeed some of us might prefer that style of decor, but for Room To Improve as a TV phenomenon it would be curtains. We have become accustomed to the endless quest for the light, we have become accustomed to saying that those "extensions" are more like an entirely new house, we have become accustomed to complaining that most of them look the same in the end - yet we would complain far more bitterly if they looked much different.

And why, incidentally, do none of these Dermot-type houses ever get on the other RTE programme about houses, Home of The Year? Has anyone seriously sat down and asked themselves this very interesting question? You can take that one to Twitter, and see how it goes.

But then I guess you're getting more than just a nice house with Dermot, you're getting a story, with everything changing and everything staying the same.

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