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TV reviews: It’s not Christmas on TV without some cheap tinsel and fake snow

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Fair City's festive cheer... one measly string of lights

Fair City's festive cheer... one measly string of lights

Fair City's festive cheer... one measly string of lights

Ros Na Rún TG4, Tuesday, 8.30pm

Fair City
RTÉ One, Sunday/Tuesday, 8pm

EastEnders
BBC One, Monday, 8pm

Neven’s Kylemore Christmas 2021
RTÉ One, Tuesday, 8.30pm

You Don’t Know Me
BBC One, Sunday, 9pm

Colmcille - An Naomh Dána
TG4, Tuesday, 9.30pm

There are only two weeks left to go until Christmas. Everyone on TV should be knee-deep in cheap tinsel by now.

Instead, there’s still not a flake of fake snow to be seen anywhere in Ros Na Rún, and, aside from Uncle Anto and Aunty Sharon’s curtains, the gaudiest thing viewers have been treated to on Fair City is one poxy string of lights.

It’s as if no one has even noticed it’s nearly Yuletide.

The most exciting news in Carrigstown was the visit of Andre from Amsterdam. “He’s giving a talk on human rights and health care,” said Patrick cheerily.

I bet the locals can hardly wait.

Ros na Rún went one better with the arrival of a whole “busload of Germans” – and vegetarians at that. They didn’t even wear masks. Don’t tell Tony Holohan.

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Baby Harry also has symptoms of a cold, but no one mentions Covid, a reminder that soap operas, like humankind, as the poet TS Eliot wisely observed, “cannot bear very much reality”.

Of course, nowhere does a miserable, melodramatic Christmas better than Albert Square.

Every house in EastEnders is bursting with deceptively jolly seasonal bling, and Walford
Market is festooned with novelty reindeer jumpers, while “simply having a Wonderful Christmastime” plays with heavy irony over the loud speakers.

Kim has found out that, not only was her missing husband murdered a few years ago, but her own sister Denise knew about it and has been covering up for bad boy Phil Mitchell, who was, naturally, involved in the whole business, and with whom Denise, God love her, has now had a baby.

It turns out that “Phil ain’t all bad” is not the thing to say to soothe your loved one’s wrath in such awkward circumstances.

Kim subsequently discovered that the killing had been ordered by Aidan Maguire, leading her to do her level best to help out viewers who might have forgotten that bit of past plot by asking with a puzzled frown: “The Irish guy with a walking stick?”

Yup, that’s the one.

Yer man who runs the funeral parlour, meanwhile, has just been told that he has cancer.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. 

One of the few actual festive programmes so far was Neven’s Kylemore Christmas 2021, in which Neven Maguire (no relation to Aidan) visited the famous abbey in Galway to cook up such traditional wintry Irish dishes as, er, grilled salmon with avocado and sundried tomato salsa.

Notions, some might say.

Not me. I’d happily watch Neven cooking all day, even if marinating beef for two weeks in salt water and brown sugar does sound like an awful faff for one meal, Christmas or not.

I mainly found myself wondering when the show was recorded. Kylemore’s head chef, John O’Toole, was standing outside in short sleeves, whereas Neven had the big coat on him, scarf and all.

But he also wore it inside when he went to see the abbey’s now famous chocolates being made, so maybe he just feels the cold.

Those truffles proved it either way. Christmas is officially here.

 

You Don’t Know Me occupies the benighted Sunday 9pm slot on BBC One, which, Line of Duty aside, has been cursed recently by a string of turkeys. In the event, it was genuinely gripping.

Hero – yes, sorry, that does seem to be his name – is on trial for the murder of a drug dealer, Jamil. CCTV and phone records place him at the scene, while traces of the victim’s blood were found under his fingernails, gunpowder residue on his skin, and the murder weapon in his flat.

Let’s just say his odds of being found not guilty don’t look great. But Hero – played with vulnerable intensity by rising star Samuel Adewunmi – insists he didn’t do it, and takes the chance to tell his story directly to the jury.

Through flashbacks, we get to see what really happened. Inevitably, it all begins with a woman.

There were some worrying hints near the end of this first episode that the narrative might yet spin out of control, but so far it’s tightly plotted, and the acting, from the main parts down to the most minor, is flawless. It’s tempting fate, but BBC drama may have saved the best of 2021 till last.

 

Colmcille – An Naomh Dána was another high-quality production from TG4, this time focusing on the famous sixth century ‘bold saint’ from his early life in Donegal into exile in Scotland – where he established what would become a celebrated monastery on Iona that acted as a “centre for the arts, science, politics, literature”, and, crucially, Old Irish writing.

Historians and commentators retold and deconstructed the legends ably. The landscapes, shot by those now ubiquitous drones, were sumptuous. Intriguingly, the whole thing was co-funded by, and shown simultaneously on, TG4 and BBC Alba in Scotland, a promising model for the future.

The only quibble was the dramatised segments where actors dressed up in period costume and stomped about, looking suspiciously clean for the Dark Ages.

This trend towards dressing up is an increasing part of TV documentaries these days, and always gives a slight ‘school Nativity play’ feel to proceedings.

At one point, the guy playing Colmcille even had to mime magically opening some tightly shut doors like Gandalf at the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings.

History is compelling enough in its own right to sustain interest without these distractions.


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