Saturday 21 September 2019

John Boland’s week in TV: With Roses at 60 and Daithi at 10, that must be empowering


Limerick Rose: Sinéad Flanagan wins the 2019 International Rose of Tralee. Photo by Steve Humphreys
Limerick Rose: Sinéad Flanagan wins the 2019 International Rose of Tralee. Photo by Steve Humphreys

John Boland

This week marked the 60th anniversary of The Rose of Tralee (RTÉ1) and host Dáithí Ó Sé had been coming under fire from a Newstalk presenter for suggesting that the show was "empowering" for women.

By Monday night's opening, though, Dáithí had reverted to commending "all of our beautiful Roses", not to mention "our beautiful Rosebuds, too" and praising the chairperson of the judging panel, "the very beautiful Mary Kennedy". Seemingly the guys providing the music weren't so beautiful as they didn't merit the epithet.

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Ah, shure, it's only a bit of fun, isn't it, even if the contestants have to be under 30 to qualify, and unmarried, and garbed in ballgowns from the 1950s.

Except it really isn't much fun, unless you're enthralled by the prospect of 32 bantering interviews with 32 different women over more than four hours for two consecutive nights. And all this taking place in 2019 with alternative entertainment beckoning from every channel, medium and device at your disposal.

Dáithí, now in his 10th year as presenter, handles it both with charm and a degree of panache and I can't think of anyone else who could do it half as well, but as Jennifer Lopez said to the guy trying to hit on her in Out of Sight: Really, Dave, who gives a...?

And you could say the same about The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4), which is now also in its 10th year, despite remaining a complete mystery to those of us not fascinated either by cake-making or the peculiarly English values this show enshrines. I'd say Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage love it, or at least the notion of it.

This week's opener began with one of those excruciatingly twee scenarios so beloved of this show: a pastiche of The Wizard of Oz, with host Sandi Toksvig cavorting around the Berkshire countryside as the Scarecrow, judge Prue Leith as the Cowardly Lion, fellow judge Paul Hollywood as the Tin Man and resident comedian Noel Fielding decked out as Dorothy. Oh, what larks.

Then it was the turn of the 13 contestants (a baker's dozen, don't you know), tasked with making a fruit cake, but with lots of innuendoes added to the mix. Once upon a time it was all about soggy bottoms and the like; this week it was Hollywood mishearing contestant Helena's references to her "fairy garden" as her "furry garden", which everyone thought was a hoot, even though it wasn't.

Oh, enough already and on instead to the fifth season of Peaky Blinders, now promoted to BBC1 and with its opening two episodes shown over successive nights.

The year is 1929, the murderous Brummies have lost a fortune in the Wall Street Crash and budding fascist Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin) has his gaze fixed on Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy), who has become a fiery socialist member of parliament.

Needless to say, Tommy's past has come back to haunt him and in this week's episodes he came across as a clichéd version of Al Pacino's Michael Corleone, trying to go legit but inexorably reverting to his old ways.

The series is undoubtedly stylish, indeed with too many stylistic tics for its own good, but the characters are really nothing more than violent thugs. And so, with no one to root for, the viewer (this viewer anyway) grew weary of all the snarling and the bloodletting. And what's with those silly haircuts, even when Tommy's in parliament?

Give me Ross Poldark's flowing tresses any day, even if I'm not sorry to see the back of Poldark (BBC1), which ended this week with two episodes over successive nights - though bumped off its usual primetime slot by Peaky Blinders. Over its five seasons, the series had a lot going for it, not least the potent chemistry between Aidan Turner's Ross and Eleanor Tomlinson's Demelza, but the plotlines increasingly became so implausible as to be downright daft.

And was there ever a villain so ridiculously repellent as Jack Farthing's George Warleggan, even if at the very end he saved Ross from certain death? But I liked their final exchange. "I'm indebted to you," Ross said, "which is not a position I relish." And George smirked back: "Whereas I revel in it."

And the final clifftop scene between Ross and Demelza, with Ross vowing to return after his espionage work was completed, couldn't help but be moving, but let that be an end to it.

A Black and White Killing: The Case that Shook America (BBC2) was yet another series that ran over two successive nights, but this time around I didn't stick with it.

Much was made of it from the outset, with British-Pakistani journalist Mobeen Azhar claiming that the 2016 killing in Portland, Oregon, of Larnell Bruce by a white supremacist after a row at a convenience store "sent shock waves across America".

If so, and amid all the high-profile killings of black people in America, I'd never heard of it. But it led to Azhar travelling "deep into the heart of America's far right, into a secret world of white supremacists and extreme violence". And he noted that "everything I am, a brown-skinned Muslim journalist, is everything they hate".

The tone of righteous self-aggrandisement wasn't endearing and though he was to be commended for his bravery, I couldn't help feeling I was watching a cut-price Louis Theroux, with just as many mannered tics but without the insights and revelations that Theroux frequently manages to elicit.

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