Saturday 24 February 2018

TV review: Dermot the TV oligarchitect

  • Dermot Bannon's New York Homes  (RTE1)
'Dermot Bannon's New York Homes' is an instant classic of billionaire TV where he looks around $18 apartments
'Dermot Bannon's New York Homes' is an instant classic of billionaire TV where he looks around $18 apartments
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

We have noted in this column the arrival of a genre of TV programmes which gives the viewer a gawk at the lifestyles of very rich people. It is not entirely a new genre - Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous got there a long time ago, giving us little tours of the mansions of the rich, and indeed the famous.

But it has all been cranked up a few notches, so that it is no longer good enough to be rich, you have to be absurdly rich, a billionaire at least. And nobody seems to care any more if you're famous, they reckon that if you've got $25m worth of a yacht down in Monte Carlo, you probably don't really have that burning need to be well-known.

Moreover, for the programme maker you will not just be a billionaire, ideally you will be a Russian billionaire, perhaps an oligarch living in London and determined to take on board all the grand traditions of the British aristocracy - or at least to buy them and then to take them on board. I have seen so many of these characters now, on various documentary series, I feel that I know them personally. They have that vital lack of discretion which allows them to be filmed in the first place, just living their great lives. And from this flows many a successful TV programme, a veritable industry.

Not only do you have the ones that merely show you the super-rich in an uncritical light, you have the ones which use these scenes of astonishing opulence to analyse the forces which now dominate our way of life. Which decree that the global economic model which we all must accept as normal, is one whereby the multitudes are struggling horribly just to stay afloat, while about 50 people seem to have somehow acquired all the money in the world.

So this TV genre does not come out of nowhere, and in some ways it provides the most accurate portrayal of the ideology which has prevailed in our time, which has driven this vast re-distribution of wealth from the basement to the penthouse suite.

Yet in chronicling this phenomenon, I had seen very little of the Irish until last Sunday night, nor did I anticipate what a crucial contribution we would be making.

Dermot Bannon's New York Homes is an instant classic of billionaire TV, in that it comes up with its own ingenious hook in the person of Dermot, who is of course an architect.

That's it, that's the ball game right there - you have Dermot enthusing massively as he tours this Tribeca apartment which is on the market for $17.75m, with stupendous views of Manhattan. But while he is enthusing primarily as a mere human being, there is also the part of him that is forever a professional architect, that will try to learn something from the experience.

As if there is a moral to the story.

"If I can take one lesson away with me…" he muses about another crazily magnificent home, "to make good architecture, you don't always have to colour inside the lines." Dermot is trying to extract some architectural meaning from all this, even to bring some philosophical dimension to the gawking game - colouring outside the lines, indeed.

In terms of his own upward mobility, Dermot who presented Room To Improve has become like the football manager who has "taken the team as far as it can go" and is now ready for one of the big jobs.

After this, he can never go back to converting some outhouse in Mulhuddart into a charming light-filled home, haggling over an extra two grand in the budget.

And such was the level of his elation as he savoured his few hours in the world of these oligarchs in New York, Dermot was looking like he could break America here, by taking this much-loved genre and adding to it.

Indeed if I may colour outside the lines here, this TV architect is now a kind of TV oligarchitect. Hard to see him getting excited any more, about an attic conversion in Moate.

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