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John Boland's week in TV: Brendan Grace shines in dementia doc, but two more hours seems a stretch



Poignant: Brendan Grace in RTÉ’s Thanks for the Memory

Poignant: Brendan Grace in RTÉ’s Thanks for the Memory

Poignant: Brendan Grace in RTÉ’s Thanks for the Memory

Brendan Grace died less than three months ago at the age of 68. He was widely mourned, not least by people (myself included) who suddenly realised that they'd always taken his benign brand of comedy for granted.

He'd been such a constant presence down through the decades on RTÉ's light entertainment shows that it was easy to do so, and if some of us didn't share the general enthusiasm for his Bottler persona, his turn as a malevolent cleric in an episode of Father Ted came as a wicked and memorable surprise.

And he always seemed like a decent skin, too - a quality that came through in the first episode of the three-part Brendan Grace: Thanks for the Memories (RTÉ1), though it began with the distressing sight of its subject in a hospital bed, with tubes up his nose, confessing that he was "not as well as I usually am".

That was last July and three days later he died. But the film tracked back to nine months earlier when he was busily planning a concert by the Forget-Me-Nots, a choir made up of dementia and Alzheimer's sufferers and their families, with an evening in the Olympia scheduled for this September just gone.

We got to meet quite a few of these people and we were there, too, as Grace inveigled such old pals as Foster and Allen, Sandy Kelly and Lisa Lambe to take part in the concert.

It was all very heartwarming and occasionally quite poignant, too, not least when we noted the physical decline of Grace himself, even as he determinedly maintained his good cheer and bonhomie.

But at the end of the hour, which had told us so much about this admirable venture, I was left wondering how producer-director Brian Reddin would get two more hours out of it. Well, we'll see.

Still, the makers of Raised by the Village (RTÉ1) managed to get a whole hour out of its chosen topic, though not without a cost to the viewer. After a laboured pilot series a couple of years back, this again took two troubled and troublesome teenagers and transplanted them for a week in rural Ireland, where they were to learn about family values, responsibility and the virtue of mucking in.

This posited the dubious notion that crawling out of bed at dawn, milking cows, cutting trees and digging up turf is somehow more wholesome and life-enhancing than having to negotiate the perils and stresses of urban living, and it ignores the plain fact that all the vices and vicissitudes of city life, not to mention pesky smartphones and video games, are just as embedded these days in rural communities as anywhere else.

This week's Dublin guinea pigs were 13-year-old Warren from Lucan and 16-year-old Jordan from Darndale, and you could have written the script yourself about the week they spent with their caring new families in Ballintubber, Co Mayo: sulks and moans and groans and grouses about their enforced change of surroundings followed by a grudging recognition of its life-enhancing qualities. It may have been a long week for them, and I wish them well, but it seemed just as long to the viewer.

World on Fire (BBC1) is an ambitious seven-part drama about how a disparate group of people in Manchester, Warsaw, Berlin and Paris got through World War II, and it began arrestingly as its various characters braced themselves in 1939 for the horrors to come.

We met Mancunian bus conductor Douglas (Sean Bean), a shell-shocked pacifist from the previous war, and his fierily anti-fascist daughter Lois (Julia Brown), who was in love with idealistic Foreign Office translator Harry (Jonah Hauer King). Harry, though, was summarily dispatched to Warsaw, where he fell for Polish waitress Kasia, whose father and brother went off to Danzig to save it from the invading Nazis.

At the same time fearless American journalist Nancy (Helen Hunt) was in Berlin trying to warn everyone of the Nazi threat, while back in Manchester, Harry's obnoxious mother (Lesley Manville) was telling lower-class Lois to forget all about her beloved son.

The somewhat soapy plot lines were expertly juggled and the shoot-out in Danzig was an arresting set piece, and it all looks set to be a winning addition to the BBC Sunday night schedules.

Otherwise, you can binge-watch the 10-episode The Politician (Netflix), though I found its opening episode too pleased with itself to warrant further investigation. As with the overpraised Succession on Sky Atlantic, there's no one to root for in this cautionary tale of a wealthy family's adopted son as he bids to become president of his school's student body - his ultimate goal being the US presidency.

His lust for power is accompanied by lies, venality and whatever else it takes, and it's all very artfully framed and shot, but I couldn't care less about any of these people.

But I'm much taken with Unbelievable (Netflix), even though I've only so far watched two of its eight episodes. This story about the pursuit of a serial rapist in California could have been lurid or tacky, but instead it's commendably thoughtful and spends almost all its time on the victims and their struggle to be believed.

Kaitlyn Dever gives a remarkable performance, subtle and almost interior, as Marie, a student whose account of being raped is so queried by the middle-aged male investigators that she withdraws her charge.

Equally fine is the playing of Merritt Wever, who plays the detective investigating another rape case but finding a link between the two young women's stories. Do watch it.

Indo Review