Wednesday 13 December 2017

An intriguing series about women, but is it for real?


Life’s a soap: The reality stars of Connected.
Life’s a soap: The reality stars of Connected.

John Boland

Adapted from an Israeli format which has already proved successful in other European countries, Connected (RTÉ2) gave video cameras to six women and asked them to record six months of their lives. The results from what I've so far seen are intriguing, though decidedly strange.

To begin with, only five women were featured in the first three instalments of what we're told will be a 20-episode series, the sixth woman finally popping up in Thursday night's fourth episode (from now on it will be two episodes a week).

Maybe, as an account-juggling advertising strategist ("This is the shit that pays"), Anna was simply too busy to turn up for initial filming, but if I was making a series that aimed to involve an audience in the lives of my participants, I'd give each of them five minutes in the opening half-hour, just so viewers would know who they all were and could form some impression of them.

And for the same reason, having introduced 26-year-old rapper Elayne in the opening episode, I wouldn't have omitted her from the next two, as if I'd forgotten all about her, though it helped that I recalled her from an RTÉ1 documentary about Irish rappers that was screened a couple of years back.

In more general terms, I would seriously question the filmmakers' opening assertion that what we were about to see was "not reality, it's real" - as if all of these women hadn't been carefully selected in advance for the life stories they might reveal and as if hundreds of hours of video footage hadn't then been edited down and shaped for maximum dramatic impact.

Why, otherwise, would the opening shots in the first episode show 20-year-old Nicole clad in vest and knickers and hugging her breasts while her boyfriend scoffed at her "big f**king nipples hanging out"? Is that really how Nicole wished to be introduced to the viewer? And at the outset of the second episode, 35-year-old Ohio-born but Cork-dwelling Kate was similarly introduced cavorting around in her underwear.

And I was uneasy with the presence of 20-year-old Alanna, whose mother died when she was 11 and whose father's recent suicide had left her distraught. "I need him here with me," she sobbed, "and I need someone to be my father". But did she need the exposure to which she was now subjecting herself?

Time will tell, as it will about Kate, who began as a pole dancer and stripper before subsequently describing herself as a "working girl" with "clients"; and about 40-year-old radio producer and mother-of-three Venetia, who was encountering economic and marital stresses after husband Martin's event management business went wallop. "Grumpy" is how she described Martin and from the footage I saw of him, I saw no reason to disagree.

So, yes, there are intriguing situations in a series that's clearly aimed at women viewers and that should find them, too, along with a goodly number of interested males like myself - even if the end result turns out to be not quite as "real" as the filmmakers would wish us to believe. But then I suppose everyone's life is a soap opera, or can be turned into one.

However, Darndale: Edge of Town (TV3) seemed all too real and none the better for it. The voiceover had assured us at the outset that in this first of a two-parter we'd witness "the drama of everyday life unfold", though I paid more heed to a resident who advised that "if you have to live here, go in and shut the front door".

Out and about, though, was former criminal and drug addict Stephen, known as Clinchy, who had spent almost 20 years in prison ("just armed robberies and such") before finding local fame, if not fortune, as a bit player in Love/Hate. Then there was Noel, seeking entry to a drug rehab scheme while babysitting the three children he'd had with his ex-partner. "I wanna try and change me life," Noel said optimistically.

We also met 19-year-old single mother Gemma, who thought her social welfare entitlement so paltry that "it's not even worth going over to the post office for". And we also encountered single mother Angelique, who doled out snacks to her sons from a metal bath crammed with junk food and who had some women friends over for a "clits and tits" evening featuring naughty lingerie and dildos.

I had no idea what I was supposed to make of all this, but I vowed to be otherwise engaged for next week's instalment.

And I hadn't the foggiest what I was meant to take from Drunk (RTÉ2), beyond the fact that when people get pissed out of their skulls they tend to become obnoxious, aggressive, occasionally violent and invariably stupid. Oh, and stupendously boring, too.

In this "science-based" programme, presenter Eoghan McDermott subjected some volunteers to "drink-related tests and challenges", but all I gleaned from the boozing session that followed was that while getting drunk may often be fun, watching people getting drunk is incredibly tedious.

Downton Abbey returned for a fifth season (UTV on Sunday night, though oddly not until the following Wednesday on TV3), and it was chock-a-block with dramatic incident - most thrillingly when Lady Mary returned from an afternoon in the village and announced to her father and mother "I'm going upstairs to take off my hat". I'd like to think scriptwriter Julian Fellowes was winding us up, though probably not.

Meanwhile, the Earl was in a righteous fury about Ramsay MacDonald's new Labour government and its commitment to "the destruction of people like us and everything we stand for". Oh, where will it all end? Not to mention when.

In the first episode of three-parter The Driver (BBC1), David Morrissey's put-upon cabbie Vince accepted a dubious chauffeuring offer from local crime kingpin Horse, played with thuggish relish by Colm Meaney.

A terrific car chase at the very start grabbed the attention, which was maintained by Morrissey's brooding playing and by well-scripted scenes between Vince and his preoccupied wife and scornful teenage daughter. I fancy, though, that it's all going to end rather badly for our main man.

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