Friday 20 September 2019

Damian Corless: Yes to the Stress as RTÉ makes mountains from molehills

Ads on the Frontline (BBC1)

Stressed (RTE 1)

Say Yes to the Dress (RTE 1)

Missing You (RTE 1)

Put through the wringer: Bride-to-be Ingrid Boresia with her entourage and helpers Franc and Janice in Say Yes to the Dress Ireland
Put through the wringer: Bride-to-be Ingrid Boresia with her entourage and helpers Franc and Janice in Say Yes to the Dress Ireland

Damian Corless

Ads on the Frontline (BBC1) yanked narrator Eamonn Holmes out of his cuddly comfort zone for a chilling flashback to troubled times. The documentary, narrated by Holmes, traced the inception and evolution of a series of adverts for the North's Confidential Telephone Line to the security forces. It began by shifting us back to 'The Future', the first promo aired in 1988 which shocked viewers with its graphic staged knee-capping and stitched-in footage of the IRA's Enniskillen atrocity.

If there is such thing as anti-nostalgia, this was it. Individuals immersed in The Troubles and those not yet born then were moved to tears, indignation, condemnation, the whole gamut, as the short shockers planted them forcibly back into the moment. One reported being overcome with "post-traumatic stress", and she may have hit on something.

Discouragingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, many responses still fitted neatly into the tribal sectarian boxes of 30 years back. But the really positive message to emerge from this must-see TV was the cross-community determination that the people of the North will never, ever go back to that terrible entrapment.

And so from the post-traumatic stress of the week's best turn-up, to the repetitive strain of its biggest let-down, Stressed (RTÉ1). Given the big build-up as a prime-time scientific exploration of Ireland's plunge into stress-related ill health, the show was skating on thin ice inside mere minutes. Much of the pre-publicity revolved around the fact that Stressed would be revealing the results of the How Are You Ireland? mental health survey. As it transpired, the survey drew its results from the input of a self-selecting cohort of app-users who subjectively gauged their own stress levels. And what 'stress' actually meant to each individual was never made clear.

Anyway, having crunched the numbers the show highlighted that two-in-three of us "sometimes, often or always felt some amount of anxiety, irritability or depression in the previous seven days". This is stuff you simply won't find in The Lancet.

In case you've just returned from 50 years in a Buddhist mountaintop monastery, other popular causes of stress in today's Ireland include going out to work, raising kids, poor sleep, too much time in traffic and uncertainty about your future. Did we really need two one-hour shows, aired back-to-back, to be given long-winded lessons in what Basil Fawlty memorably termed "the bleeding obvious"?

Stressed could have filled one or two undemanding half-hours in the station's mid-evening slot between Nationwide and Fair City. Instead, it's yet another case of RTÉ making a broadcasting mountain out of a molehill, like it memorably did with the oversold Bypassed a couple of years back. (I use the term 'memorably' advisedly). Anyhow, if there's one valuable lesson the people at Montrose could take from the experts at Stressed, it's that making molehills into mountains is a major cause of stress and reducing it will make everything look better.

For a far more disturbing exploration of stress in modern Irish life, there was Say Yes to the Dress Ireland (RTÉ2). The premise is familiar enough - going to the shops and buying something, in this case a wedding gown. The twist with Say Yes... is that everyone involved appears to be always on the verge of losing their mind. Everyone involved, for our purposes, are the bride-to-be, her best friends (described by one of this week's contestants rather grandly as her "entourage"), and host Franc who combines the easy guidance of a style guru with the steely resolve of a hostage negotiator. Say Yes to the Dress Ireland packs into a single half-hour episode more worry, weeping and gnashing of teeth than a box set of EastEnders Christmas specials, as the brides-to-be-in-a-tizzy put themselves, their entourages and the viewers through the wringer. A better title would be The Bride Wore Us Out.

Say Yes does have one worthwhile lesson to impart. The show's lone merit is to debunk the ancient convention that forbids the groom from glimpsing the wedding dress before the church. It turns out it's not that seeing the intended in her dress will bring bad luck. It's that if any groom were to witness the gruesome fitting room shenanigans involved, he'd be out the door before you could say "can I try on the first one again?", fleeing home in terror to his mother.

This is no idle speculation. Hasn't anyone else noticed that the current social headache of young adult males refusing to move out of their parents' home has trended in direct response to the rise of wedding shows like Say Yes to the Dress? But why would the makers of a show to promote weddings divulge a truth that has the power to destroy the very institute of marriage itself?

That's like asking what exactly is Missing You (RTÉ1) supposed to be? It taps in on 'private' conversations between far-flung families as they shoot the breeze by video link, but what's the payoff supposed to be for that majority of the viewing public who aren't members of those families? Plus, is it supposed to be a celebration of our globetrotting, or our multiculturalism, or just that we've got to grips with Skype and FaceTime?

Newsflash! People have Skype and Facetime and old-fashioned landlines and if they want to engage in tittle-tattle with family and friends, they can do it with no drain on the licence fee and, more importantly, with people they actually know and care about. Honestly RTÉ, sometimes...

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