Wednesday 22 January 2020

Can't Cope Won't Cope review: If needy Aisling continues to be this tiresome, viewers won't cope

Spiralling towards alienation: Aisling (Seána Kerslake) in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope
Spiralling towards alienation: Aisling (Seána Kerslake) in Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope
Empathy: Baz Ashmawy

John Boland

In the first season of Can't Cope, Won't Cope, which premiered on RTÉ2 in September 2016 and is now available on Netflix, screwed-up millennial Aisling embarked on a downward spiral of booze, drugs and casual sex that threatened both her career and her friendships.

Promoted as a comedy, Stefanie Preissner's series became increasingly darker as it progressed - an Irish version, if you like, of Phoebe Waller-Bridge's Fleabag on the BBC, and with Seána Kerslake just as riveting as that performer in the lead role.

Now, 20 months later, she's back in the second season of Can't Cope, Won't Cope (RTÉ2), just as feckless and self-destructive as before, though this time around you may find yourself less inclined to indulge either her narcissism or her behaviour towards everyone around her.

This week's opening episode began with former best pal Danielle, who has fled to Vancouver, telling her not to call "until you've got your shit together or you're a completely different fucking person", and the viewer could only agree as she handed over baby-minding duties to a dodgy outsider back home in Mallow so that she could take the train to Dublin in pursuit of lodgings, drink, dancing and a sexual encounter that ended with her stealing the guy's coat.

Empathy: Baz Ashmawy
Empathy: Baz Ashmawy

None of this was either amusing or endearing. Instead, Aisling merely registered as tiresomely self-absorbed and it will be interesting to see whether, and by what means, Preissner can reinstate her in our affections. Certainly some dawning sense of self-awareness seems required if the character isn't merely going to alienate everyone, not least the viewer.

Solipsism was also a feature of two of this week's documentaries, though in Ireland's Deep Atlantic (RTÉ1), presenter Ken O'Sullivan's frequent references to himself could at least be put down to overenthusiasm rather than narcissism.

O'Sullivan is an underwater cameraman from Kerry, and in this series he's intent on showing what lies off our coastline - a vast expanse given that Ireland's sea territory is 10 times the size of its land mass.We heard a lot in Sunday night's opening programme about the presenter's own feelings, which were mainly of amazement. His heart "leaps from my chest" when he spots some basking sharks, while he confesses himself "terrified" in the presence of humpback whales and "can hardly believe it" when he comes across some bluefin tuna.

But the footage he and his crew get of the deep ocean and its inhabitants is extraordinary, up there with anything to be seen in The Blue Planet or any other outstanding nature documentaries, and O'Sullivan's passion for his subject is both evident and admirable.

In All Bets Are Off (RTÉ1), Baz Ashmawy also seemed engrossed as he recounted the perils of gambling addiction, but I didn't really need the endless shots of him looking either pensive or aghast at what he was being told. And I'm not sure why we needed to know that, as an "addictive personality", he himself recently gave up drinking alcohol in order to become "the best version of me".

Here the best version of him came in interviews with current and former addicts, where he evinced some real empathy and elicited some hair-raising stories. There were good soundbites, too - journalist Declan Lynch telling him that gambling was "the easiest way to destroy your life in the quickest amount of time" and former addict Tony O'Reilly noting that while "you don't feel you can drink yourself out of a drinking problem, you feel you can gamble your way out of a gambling problem".

But I could have done without the presenter's closing homily, in which he informed us that "God is dead", that "the new religion is money and things", that there are "a lot of weak and vulnerable people out there" but that "we could beat the odds on this, we really could".

Immediately after this documentary ended, Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1) led off with, you've guessed it, an item on gambling addiction. This has become a regular feature of this current affairs show - piggybacking on programmes that have just been aired, as if there aren't enough other stories out there that demand discussion.

Here she interviewed former Armagh footballer Oisín McConville, who was once a gambling addict and who now counsels on addiction. "People will have heard your story before," she said, as indeed we had, while she also conceded that "Baz Ashmawy said it loud and clear in his documentary just before we came on air". So why did we need to have said it again, and no louder or clearer?

The latest adaptation of Wilkie Collins' Victorian mystery story, The Woman in White (BBC1), began with Marian Halcombe angrily asking "How is it that men crush women time and time again and go unpunished? If men were held accountable, they'd hang every hour of the day, every day of the year?"

I don't know if that's a direct quote from the book because I never got past the first few pages, but foregrounding it in this TV version was certainly a nod to the #MeToo movement and an indication of intent. But I found this opening episode so convoluted as to be almost baffling, so I'm not sure if I'll stick with it.

I might have better luck with The Split (BBC1), which concerns a family of London divorce lawyers, including a matriarch who runs one firm and an eldest daughter who has defected to another.

It's all sleekly done, with a snappy script by Abi Morgan, but most of the characters are just awful in that peculiarly English middle-class kind of way, so I may bow out.

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