Saturday 20 January 2018

John Boland on TV: Dermot gets all glassy-eyed while Eva rails against pill-popping

Scary statistics: Dr Eva Orsmond with Shane Kenny on Medication Nation
Scary statistics: Dr Eva Orsmond with Shane Kenny on Medication Nation

John Boland

'It's dingy, it's smelly, it's damp, it's cold." Yes, architect Dermot Bannon has returned with yet another season of Room to Improve (RTÉ1), this time starting in Malahide, where Julie and Robbie were intent on turning a dilapidated cottage into the Taj Mahal.

Dermot started off with the above verdict, subsequently declaring himself "amazed" that Julie hadn't even seen inside the wreck when she and Robbie paid €420,000 for it. In fact, he was so amazed that he voiced his amazement four times in three minutes.

Happily, Robbie was a window cleaner by profession because Dermot was intent on devising an edifice with lots and lots of glass, that being Dermot's solution to every design challenge he has ever encountered.

First, though, there was a budgetary problem, with Julie and Robbie only having €180,000 to spare for their dream dwelling. "It's tight," Dermot grimaced, but then it's always tight on Room to Improve, with Dermot having to find ways of surmounting such obstacles, mainly through the use of glass.

"I'm gutted, I really am," said Julie on learning that her Taj Mahal plans would have to be somewhat modified, at which point I left them at it - safe in the knowledge that despite all the petty arguments and manufactured tension between Dermot and his clients, everything would be well in the end, with both Julie and Robbie marvelling at Dermot's ingenuity with surplus glass.

For myself, I can't help marvelling that this show is now in its 10th season, with Dermot fronting it from the outset. Surely the man deserves a rest, or maybe that's just the viewer.

Speaking of which, the ubiquitous Eva Orsmond narrowly escaped being voted off RTÉ1's Dancing with the Stars two Sundays ago, just as narrowly avoiding the same fate again last Sunday evening. But you can't keep a determined doctor down, or at least RTÉ can't, and last Monday night the Finnish bossyboots with the basilisk glare was to be found commandeering the schedules.

First up was Medication Nation (RTÉ1), in which the crusading medic (she's even billed as "Dr" in Dancing with the Stars) argued that the Irish are "consuming more and more pills to solve all of life's ills" and that this addiction to pharmaceuticals, whether prescribed or over the pharmacy counter, is at "a big cost to our physical and mental health".

The programme was quite engrossing, featuring scary statistics and equally scary stories, most strikingly from former government press secretary Shane Kenny, who told how the side effects from taking prescribed benzodiazepines for an inner-ear ailment "utterly destroyed my life".

But I didn't need to hear him again on the Claire Byrne Live show (RTÉ1) that immediately followed Medication Nation, and nor did I need to hear again from the Cork GP who had just featured in that programme, nor indeed from Orsmond herself, who was given pride of place in the half-hour devoted to the topic by Byrne.

And while I understand that with matters of crucial national interest - revelations of clerical abuse, say, or maltreatment in care homes - an immediate follow-up on shows such of this can be important, I couldn't see why Orsmond's film merited, or indeed needed, such instant analysis, especially when nothing new got said.

As for the final segment of Claire Byrne Live, which was devoted to Hughie Maughan's experience of racism against Travellers, would this have featured if the previously unknown Maughan hadn't just acquired a lot of publicity for his brief stint on Dancing with the Stars? Can't the Claire Byrne team come up with ideas of their own?

In I Am Irish (RTÉ2), journalist Una Mullally interviewed young people about what it means to be a citizen of this country, while others contributed their experiences and views in video footage.

She herself had quite a lot to say, too, declaring near the outset that "we're a generation actively thinking about the meaning of our country, our Irish identity and the global context of our lives" - as if hitherto no one had ever pondered such matters.

Interesting things got said about religion, social justice, diversity, sexual equality and other topics, but it was all a bit smugly right-on, with no recognition that lots of people from an earlier generation had taken anti-authoritarian and questioning stances when it was more difficult and courageous to do so.

Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (BBC2) was a marvellous film that detailed all the gaudy excesses of the great painter's life while never sidelining the art itself.

Richard Curson Smith's 80-minute profile brilliantly used interviews with the man himself along with the reminiscences of those who knew him, including Terence Stamp, Marianne Faithfull, art critic John Richardson and old friends Michael Peppiatt and Nadine Haim.

There were fascinating stories here, not least about former RAF pilot Peter Lacy, a violent lover who regularly beat Bacon up and who was described by Richardson as "one of the most sadistic people I've ever come across". Subsequent lover George Dyer was a thuggish pal of the Kray twins and his sudden death in a Paris hotel room was concealed for two days - with the connivance of Bacon, who feared the scandal would affect the opening of a major retrospective of his work in the Grand Palais.

Oddly, there was no mention of Lucian Freud, another habitué of louche nights in Soho pubs and clubs, but the film was crammed with terrific anecdotes, along with telling insights into the creation of his masterly and unsettling paintings.

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