Thursday 14 November 2019

John Boland’s week in TV: New season of RTÉ's Ireland's Fittest Family sees fit to test our endurance

 

Burn out: host Mairead Ronan (centre) with coaches Derval O'Rourke, Donncha O'Callaghan, Anna Geary and Davy Fitzgerald.
Burn out: host Mairead Ronan (centre) with coaches Derval O'Rourke, Donncha O'Callaghan, Anna Geary and Davy Fitzgerald.

John Boland

Introducing the seventh season of Ireland's Fittest Family (RTÉ1), presenter Mairead Ronan told us of how "extreme challenges" and "intense competition" lay ahead for "15 brand-new families" who were "ready to battle it out" for the main prize.

But first she introduced us to the four professional coaches, who apparently had "their reputations on the line" and thus were "desperate to win". And to prove she wasn't kidding, Davy Fitzgerald, Donncha O'Callaghan, Derval O'Rourke and Anna Geary assured us of their burning ambition to succeed and to get one over their rivals.

Indeed, such was the desire of these pros to compete that, a mere 10 minutes into the show, I was already knackered - and I hadn't even got to meet any of the actual contestants.

These duly arrived and were set the task of racing in rafts, lifting barrels, crawling under ropes and burrowing through tunnels on "the biggest ramp ever seen in the history of Ireland's Fittest Family".

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But why was I being asked to watch it, and over an interminable 90 minutes? It's not as if I got to know anything about the 60 contestants, and it's not as if I've any wish to imitate any of their feats of physical endurance. But RTÉ is clearly of the opinion that this kind of reality filler stuff is not only inherently fascinating but worthy of our licence fee.

And perhaps for some viewers it is, though I can't help feeling they're probably either related to or acquainted with one of the families in competition. And there's seven more weeks of this to come.

Not that Who Are You Calling Fat? (BBC2) was much more riveting, though it had the saving grace of confining itself to a two-parter and raised some interesting questions about body image, health and the cost of obesity to the NHS - estimated, according to the programme, at £6bn a year.

The format was the familiar one of getting nine people who defined themselves as fat, plus size or obese to spend a week together and discuss their various issues. But unfortunately it was dominated by the smug and overbearing Victoria, who described herself as a "body acceptance coach" and who kept banging on about "body positivity" and how it was "okay to be fat".

Indeed, she was such a pain that I gave the second instalment a miss, though the series was a model of intelligence, sensitivity and taste compared with The British Tribe Next Door (Channel 4), in which the Moffatt family from the same channel's Gogglebox series move in beside an indigenous community who live in the Namibian desert.

To achieve the necessary culture-class scenario, the makers have seen fit to replicate the Moffatt's terraced Durham house in the Namibian village, along with electricity, TVs and all the paraphernalia of the family's day-to-day life in England, which the African villagers inspect with bemusement. Why, they don't even know about mirrors!

But the show isn't really about these people, it's about the Moffatts, and specifically about daughter Scarlett, who's become something of a celebrity since Gogglebox and who's all about me, me, me. So when she looks at the bare-breasted Namibian women, it's mainly a matter of whether she'd dare to appear like that or whether it would be all too much for her.

The series is tacky and crass and offensive and whatever other negative adjectives you can think of.

Meanwhile, I learned from episodes five and six of Dublin Murders (RTÉ1/BBC1) that when a young girl is slain in the woods, there's no national media frenzy, just one reporter and one photographer from the local paper.

I learned, too, that when chief detective Rob assures his superior that Adam (Rob in an earlier life) was killed in a New Zealand car crash, neither his superior nor his garda colleagues bothered to check this out - despite the aforementioned newspaper carrying a front-page headline asking "Where Is Adam?" and despite an anonymous caller telling the gardaí "You should be looking for Adam".

But then again, either the plot is more full of holes than a colander or I'm too thick to follow it: don't ask me why Cassie has gone undercover in a country house with a bunch of weird undergraduates.

None of this would matter too much if the series exerted any grip (this week's episode of Mr Mercedes was ferociously good), but Dublin Murders takes itself so seriously and is so ponderous that it's no fun at all. Still, I'll be watching next week's final two episodes, if only to find out if it made any sense at all.

The first season of The Kominsky Method (Netflix), created and written by Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men/The Big Bang Theory) was a delight, with winning performances by Michael Douglas as acting teacher Sandy and Alan Arkin as his grumpy Hollywood agent friend Norman.

Now it's back for a second season and is just as engaging as ever, with the 75-year-old Douglas and the 85-year-old Arkin clearly having a ball as they contemplate age, infirmity, time passing and all that jazz. And the 68-year-old Jane Seymour is good value as Norman's long-lost love. You'll want to binge-watch it all.

I'm less enamoured of Living with Yourself (Netflix), which has the likeable Paul Rudd playing both a harassed advertising executive and his more dynamic clone. The premise is good but it could be a lot more inventive and funny. However, Aisling Bea, who plays wife Kate, confirms the comedic and acting chops she showed a few months back in This Way Up.

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