Saturday 16 December 2017

Television review: Shrewdies, big beasts, vultures

* Prime Time (RTE1)
* Spotlight (BBC1)
* Tonight with Mick Clifford (TV3)
* Comhrialtas: The Price of Power (RTE1)

Illustration Jim Cogan.
Illustration Jim Cogan.
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I really thought they'd give it a rest on Tuesday night. Completely banjoed after the long, long election weekend, RTE had a chance to break out of it with Prime Time. It was a chance presented to them on the previous night by BBC Northern Ireland, with its excellent Spotlight investigation into Nama, but RTE wouldn't have any hard feelings on that score. They're better than that.

Yet it seemed that they just couldn't do it. They couldn't stop talking about the election even for the few minutes it would take to acknowledge the possibility of a massive scandal involving the alleged waste of billions.

Though the formation of the next government had been talked about all day on the radio and on the TV news, and all day the day before, and the day before that, still they couldn't let it go.

And so for the full 45 minutes of Prime Time it was like looking at a bunch of people in what we used to call a "lock-in", with shades of a Eugene O'Neill play in which the characters are destined to dwell in some strange saloon for all time, at once enjoying their isolation from the outside world and yet languishing in a kind of hell of their own creation.

Now it had all descended into some labyrinthine and fantastically false conversation about what Fine Gael might need from Fianna Fail, and what Fianna Fail might need from Fine Gael, with contributions from the usual officially approved "shrewdies" and "big beasts", and nothing about the vultures screwing poor Paddy.

There seemed to be an unnatural interest in something called "Dail reform" and other issues about which Paddy does not gives a damn.

What we give a damn about, broadly speaking, is organising things in such a way that our rulers, whoever they may be, through badness or just stupidity, don't actually lose all our money in a proverbial game of cards, or just give it away in phenomenal quantities to the sort of fellows who were secretly filmed in Spotlight.

That would be nice, for a change. Indeed, most of the things we give a damn about were covered in that BBC programme, while all the other things were still being ventilated on Prime Time.

And then it became one of those odd nights on which TV3 becomes the public service broadcaster, with Tonight With Mick Clifford going full Nama, featuring Mick Wallace telling this story of billions - billions, I tell you - that seem to have been inadvertently or otherwise flushed down the toilet.

Acutely aware himself of commercial realities, Wallace was sporting what I believe is the Wexford Youths 'away' strip, heralding the new League of Ireland season with a touch of product placement.

But we'll give him that one, in exchange for his noticing the billions going down the tubes - there's not many like him, who can spot things like that.

They're too busy enjoying themselves, talking about Dail reform. Too busy enjoying themselves, to notice, in the words of Matt Taibbi writing in Rolling Stone magazine about Trump, that "it turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it, could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds in the first go".

They had even been enjoying themselves in anticipation of the result, with Comhrialtas: The Price of Power, a documentary screened on Monday night which looked back at the history of Irish coalitions. And during this old-fashioned slab of political light entertainment, we heard again the legend of how Seamus Brennan had told the Greens that they were playing "senior hurling" now.

Brennan, as I recall, was a clever politician who probably said a fair few clever things in his time, but the man himself would probably be astonished to learn that his very ordinary quip about "senior hurling" was still being quoted in 2016 as if Oscar Wilde was in the house.

But if much was ephemeral in this never-ending story, the presence of Sinn Fein strategist Eoin O Broin in the RTE election studios left a deep impression. You got the feeling that he knows how all this is going to work out. That he has known it all his life. And that it will not be good.

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