Monday 19 August 2019

John Boland's week in TV: The kids aren't alright in frank new US teen drama Euphoria


Causing outrage: Jules and Rue in Euphoria
Causing outrage: Jules and Rue in Euphoria

John Boland

The Kids are Alright was the title of a rockumentary about The Who on tour in the 1970s and it was the name of a recent short-lived American sitcom that was also set in the 1970s.

A halcyon decade in which to be young, or so rose-tinted memory would have it (remember The Wonder Years?), but here we are in 2019 and the kids in Euphoria (Sky Atlantic) are so far from alright that parents' groups in the US have expressed outrage at the show's frank depictions of drug use, porn addiction and casual sex.

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The storyline, adapted from an Israeli original, is narrated by middle-class high school student Rue who, when we first meet her, is fresh out of drug rehab but intent on resuming her former lifestyle.

"I had no intention of staying clean," the alienated Rue confides, and one of the show's strengths is its refusal to moralise, letting viewers make up their own minds about the characters, their choices and the pressures that dictate their teenage lives.

Hunter Schafer (left) and Zendaya in Euphoria

That's not to say it either endorses their behaviour or discourages the viewer's dismay at some of what's being shown - there's a brutally explicit sex scene in the pilot episode when Rue's trans friend Jules submits to a much older guy she's encountered online as 'Dominant Daddy'. And the fact that she chooses to submit makes it all the more chilling.

The pilot episode (the only one I've yet seen, though you can binge-watch the series) is brilliantly filmed and edited, and brilliantly played, too, by its young cast, especially by former Disney star Zendaya as Rue and by Hunter Schafer as Jules.

These are young people with complicated lives and you'll find them anywhere, though perhaps not in Blarney, where everyone seems to be pulling together for the greater good of the community, not least its local tourist industry, which is largely in the hands of the Colthurst family.

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Blarney - A Year on the Estate

Or so I gleaned from Blarney: A Year on the Estate (RTÉ1), an hour-long documentary that had the feel of a corporate promotional video - its awestruck narrator telling us that "the world's biggest cruise ships" were constantly disgorging "thousands of excited tourists ready to fulfil the ambition of a lifetime" by kissing the Blarney stone.

Then we met Sir Charles Colthurst, owner of "one of the most elegant and gracious of the great houses of Ireland", who, when he opens the main house to tourists during the summer months, retreats with second wife Caroline to their adjacent farmhouse, where they can be "far from the madding crowd".

The forelock-tugging tone persisted as we learned more about the castle, the estate and the nearby village green, which was also owned by Charles and was "a magnet for residents and visitors alike".

And at the very end we were assured that, no matter how many of these excited visitors come and go, "Blarney Castle, the great house and the surrounding 300-acre demesne will still be here whatever the future may bring".

I'll say no more.

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Michael and Davy chat before the speech

Michael O'Brien certainly livened up last Christmas's Late Late Toy Show when the visually-impaired 11-year-old reviewed Braille editions of children's books and met his hero, Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald, who invited him to give a pep talk to the team.

That formed the basis of this week's When Michael Met Davy (RTÉ1), where we saw Michael preparing for his motivational task and then delivering it, with such exhortations to the players as "Dream big", "Work and believe" and "Show Tipperary what Wexford hurling is".

Both Michael and Davy came winningly out of the film, though in truth, a half-hour rather than an hour would have been enough to cover it all.

And two hours proved something of an ordeal while watching live coverage of Mary From Dungloe (TG4).

This was a cut-price version of The Rose of Tralee, with Daniel O'Donnell as Donegal's answer to Dáithí Ó Sé. His interviewing manner was so arch that Dáithí needn't worry, and for some reason I kept thinking of the 'Lovely Girls' episode from Father Ted.

Paris was this week's location for Remarkable Places to Eat (BBC2), but out of the thousands of bistros, brasseries and upmarket restaurants in the French capital, all Fred Sirieix and Michel Roux Jr could come up with was La Tour d'Argent and La Coupole.

The former is so expensive, I've never even considered dining there (though a friend recently treated us to the similarly Michelin-starred Lasserre), while the Montparnasse-based latter is a brasserie whose glittering reputation is a thing of the distant past and is now mainly a tourist trap, with indifferent food and anonymous service. Splendid room, though.

Manifest (Sky One) began with an intriguing premise: passengers on a five-hour flight from Jamaica find that when they land in New York, it's five years later.

And so Michaela's boyfriend, presuming her dead, has married her best friend, while brother Ben's wife has also moved on. Oh, and their mother has died of cancer and, along with the other flight passengers, they keep hearing music in their heads.

So what's going on? Search me, but there are echoes here of Lost, which began with teasing mysteries but then didn't seem to know what to do with them and gradually vanished up itself. I'll stick with it for another week.

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