Sunday 22 April 2018

In the brick of it: 'Ireland's Property Crisis' was nightmare viewing

The Sadlier family who appeared on Ireland's Property Crisis - image RTE
The Sadlier family who appeared on Ireland's Property Crisis - image RTE
Final curtain: Catastrophe cast Sharon Horgan, Rob Delaney and the late Carrie Fisher, who appeared in her last screen role
Ed Power

Ed Power

This country's dysfunctional relationship with home ownership was laid frustratingly bare in Ireland's Property Crisis (RTÉ One, Monday). In one unnerving scene, a scampish young auctioneer welcomed prospective buyers to a tiny apartment. More than 50 had turned up - a desperate deluge determined to get a foot "on the ladder".

There was also a computer programmer who had lost his job and his flat. On most nights he managed to secure accommodation at a homeless shelter. Plan B was bunkering down at the 24-hour Starbucks on St Stephen's Green. The staff were pleasant. So long as you didn't nod off - in which case security was called.

On and on the heartbreaking stories came. We met Maurice and Ceire Sadlier, with two kids and decent jobs. But because they were contract workers - as more and more of us are - their bank wouldn't allow them to reconfigure their mortgage and offload their negative equity apartment. "I hate it," complained an exasperated Maurice, "I fucking hate it".

RTÉ-bashing is a national pastime and the broadcaster certainly presents a tempting target. Its rickety web player is barely fit for purpose. The middle-aged man-child persona cultivated by Ryan Tubridy is simultaneously irritating and eerie. There are too many repeats.

But every so often, Montrose rises to its public service remit. Ireland's Property Crisis was one such example. Here was a disquieting snapshot of a nation failing in the basic task of putting a roof over the head of all of its citizens (in February 4,875 adults and 2,546 children required emergency accommodation).

Street-walking IT nerd Colin McSweeney was the most egregious example - but you felt, too, for widow Anna who faced losing her home after her mortgage was acquired by a vulture fund.

Her story, at least, had a happy ending. Hours before the broadcast, she was told she could stay in her house after all.

"That's extraordinary isn't it," commented Claire Byrne on her Monday night discussion show.

"You're part of a television programme and you get the phone call on the day."

Byrne was on straight after Ireland's Property Crisis and welcomed to the studio several of the families profiled. She was in her element, empathising with those on the wrong side of the housing boom without tipping into condescension.

It was a sensitive turn from a presenter still finding her way as the face of RTÉ current affairs. In her exchanges with politicians, Byrne displays a weakness for sub-Paxman hectoring. But she excelled at feeling the pain of the punters. Some of the same lightness of touch when tackling the great and the good would not go amiss.

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Final curtain: Catastrophe cast Sharon Horgan, Rob Delaney and the late Carrie Fisher, who appeared in her last screen role

Season three of Sharon Horgan's Catastrophe (Channel 4, Tuesday) ended in a literal crash, bang, wallop as secret alcoholic Rob (Rob Delaney) drove in front of an oncoming car. He and Horgan, who plays his acerbic wife Sharon, hugged as they awaited the ambulance. Both characters were thoroughly sozzled - she in order to numb the grief she felt for her recently passed father, he because he was an addict fallen off the wagon.

That it was one of the episode's more uplifting scenes says something about Catastrophe's nihilistic plunge this year. Earlier at her father's funeral back in Ireland, Sharon had wondered why she couldn't cry. Meanwhile, Rob was in denial about his boozing and wrestling with the bombshell that alcoholism had led his father to beat up his mother decades previously. Mommy Mia was played by Carrie Fisher in her last screen role.

She was at her crotchety finest as an addled American with a potty mouth. In Ireland for the funeral, she proclaimed herself delighted to be in the home of Riverdance and suggested to Sharon's mother that a sympathising neighbour had in fact wanted to get into her pants. It was masterfully cranky farewell - a grace note on which Fisher would surely have been happy to exit.

Whether Catastrophe itself has a future is harder to predict. Critics swoon over Horgan's short-sharp-shock writing. Yet she and Delaney have never convinced as flailing participants in marriage - you are at all times aware you are watching two talented comedians play-acting. For a comedy shooting for messy authenticity that's more than a quibble - it's an existential flaw.

One relationship almost certainly coming to a close is that between audiences and zombie caper The Walking Dead (Fox, Monday). A brain-chomping sensation through its early seasons, TWD has struggled with collapsing ratings lately and the series seven finale made it obvious why. After weeks of set-up, we were promised a climactic struggle between Rick 'Ricktator' Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and post-apocalyptic nemesis Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Yet this was revealed to be merely an elaborate tease on the part of showrunner Scott Gimple. Rick was betrayed by the Mad Max-style "garbage people" while his sidekick Sasha tried to kill Negan by arranging to be turned into an undead 'walker'. Yet though this sounds exciting on paper, the execution was muddled and half-hearted, with both Rick and Negan surviving until next year - and another battle to the death.

Tellingly, the undead walkers barely featured. When a zombie fright-fest can't be troubled to put any actual zombies in, something is amiss. The Walking Dead still has moments of sublime gross-out horror. But unless it rediscovers the art of coherent storytelling, it has at least one foot in the grave.

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