Wednesday 13 November 2019

John Boland's week in TV: 'Testimony from volunteers on Claire Byrne Live made me ashamed to be Irish'


RTE's Claire Byrne. Picture: Fergal Phillips
RTE's Claire Byrne. Picture: Fergal Phillips

John Boland

In Francis Brennan: All Hands on Deck (RTÉ1), the flamboyant Irish hotelier was working on a cruise ship.

But of course he was. Where else would he get to dress up in a sailor's costume - all natty whites and gold epaulettes - while capering around with tourists doggedly intent on having a good time?

That's been the format, too, of his various safari shows, whether to Vietnam or South Africa, where he waves his little flag and emits his mirthless cackle to an entourage of signed-up holidaymakers who clearly adore him more than this viewer can find it in his heart to do.

It's a theatricality that Brennan has honed and developed through the years. You could see this becoming more pronounced in recent seasons of At Your Service, the long-running RTÉ1 show he has hosted with his brother John, where laboured larks and dressing-up codology took precedence over sage advice to hoteliers and B&B owners.

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In this new three-part series, however, he's in a less attention-seeking role - well, nominally anyway, and mainly during the sequence when he was being given tutelage by the liner's entertainment director Martyn, who looked somewhat bemused by the irrepressible antics of his new assistant but who let him at it anyway.

And Brennan was soon in his element on this Baltic cruise, whether conducting quizzes, leading line-dancing evenings or taking a group of giggling and clearly smitten women on a day trip around St Petersburg.

Francis Brennan with entertainment director Martyn Moss on All Hands on Deck
Francis Brennan with entertainment director Martyn Moss on All Hands on Deck

As to what it was all about, I haven't a clue - beyond providing a 50-minute plug for the cruise company and furthering RTÉ's ongoing mission to persuade us of Brennan's status as a national treasure, alongside Dermot Bannon and Marty Morrissey.

And after this week's two episodes of Dublin Murders (RTÉ1/BBC1), I hadn't a clue what was going on there, either. Yes, it was full of moody atmosphere and, yes, I kept wanting to know more, but it was getting so labyrinthine that I didn't know whether I was coming or going.

Anyway, I still couldn't get over the question that had been posed by detective-with-a-past Rob at the end of last week's second episode when he defended his presence at the murder scene by rhetorically asking colleague Cassie "Who's going to make the association between little Irish Adam and English Rob?"

Seemingly no one, even though he kept running into former friends and neighbours who'd known him as teenage Adam 20 years earlier. So why has nobody looked at him and asked "Don't I remember you? Weren't you Adam once?" Or are they that unobservant down in Wicklow? Come to that, why isn't the series called Wicklow Murders, given that nearly all of the action takes place there? Oh, I'm probably nitpicking, but a truly convincing series shouldn't invite these questions.

I'd nothing to carp about in the first episode of Night and Day (Channel 4), a Catalan thriller that involves deceit, corruption and murder in high places and that was riveting from the outset.

I missed the first season of this crime drama, whose main character is a forensic pathologist with a messy private life. She didn't appear until the last shot of this second-season opener, when she looked at a cadaver and asked "Shall we begin?", but there'd been enough tension in the preceding 50 minutes to make me eager to take up her offer.

You should do the same, and you'll find all the episodes, along with the first season, on All 4.

Meanwhile, Darklands (Virgin One) continued on its dogged path through gangland crime in Bray. Some of the acting remained ropey (perhaps too much of the budget was spent on aerial shots of the coastline and mountains), but the star-crossed teenage lovers are affectingly played and provide respite from the scumbags who seem set on ruining their lives.

However, with four episodes gone, Spiral (BBC4) remains a really class act, as does the third season of Mr Mercedes (RTÉ2), which had a stand-out court appearance from the terrified but eloquent Holly and more gruesome goings-on from the loathsome villains, played with relish by Kate Mulgrew and Gabriel Ebert. Life being short, I avoided the second instalment of the awful Pulling with My Parents (RTÉ2) and watched instead Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1), which had an arresting interview with John McCartin, a director of Quinn Industrial Holdings and colleague of Kevin Lunney, who had been grotesquely tortured a few weeks earlier.

Under the host's sensitive questioning, McCartin spoke frankly and courageously about the ongoing physical threats to himself and other colleagues.

Claire Byrne, of course, has always been a fine interviewer, but she has real empathy, too, and this came through forcefully in a pre-recorded sequence on the streets of central Dublin at night, where she witnessed families who live in emergency accommodation being fed by volunteers who were, she said, "the very best of Ireland".

When she observed five- and six-year-olds, "just like my children, just like your children, picking up hot food from volunteers on the street, you wonder where we are in Ireland and what we are doing".

And the studio discussion that followed merely reinforced her dismay, with distressing testimony from some of these volunteers about what's happening to the less fortunate among us. It made me ashamed to be Irish.

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