Friday 20 July 2018

Lots of room to improve as Dermot swoons over Big Apple bling...

American sojourn: Dermot Bannon at the Flatiron building in New York
American sojourn: Dermot Bannon at the Flatiron building in New York

John Boland

Dermot Bannon's New York Homes (RTÉ1) was a 55-minute orgasm and who wants to witness that?

Normally Dermot is so pleased with his presence on screen that if he was an ice cream he'd lick himself, but here he was in the Big Apple licking everyone else.

Manhattan itself was "an extraordinary place" and "a feast for the eyes" and, in case we hadn't noticed, it was also "a vertical city", while the first edifice he visited not only "takes your breath away" but "absolutely blows you away".

Situated at 56 Leonard Street in lower Manhattan, this was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who also designed the new Tate Modern. "My heroes," Dermot excitedly confessed, though to me this recent addition to the New York skyline just looked silly, with awful sticking-out bits all the way up its 57 storeys.

Dermot himself got off on the 50th floor, along with realtor Liz, who informed him that the Wolf of Wall Street-style apartment in which they stood could be his for less than $18m. He thought it both "stunning" and "amazing" and "almost worth" the asking price. Maybe RTÉ will buy it for him.

Then he rubbed himself against the plaster walls, just to feel their soothing texture, got into a bath with a loofah and finally ventured on to the balcony, where he threw out his arms and yelled "I'm king of the world!" in his best Leonardo DiCaprio impersonation.

After this came a "truly unique home" in the woods outside New Jersey, which consisted of a 19th-century house encased in a vast metal hangar; a 32-room house overlooking Central Park that he could have for $50m; and finally a mansion in the Hamptons, which realtor Gary told him was his for a mere $35m.

"I'm loving it," Dermot raved about this monument to wealth and vulgarity. He especially loved the loo seat that lifted of its own accord when he entered one of the bathrooms. "A toilet that welcomes you," he yelped. "I've never in my life seen that!"

And I've seldom in my life seen such fawning nonsense - certainly not from a professional who's only too happy, on his Room to Improve show, to smirk and condescend when devising houses for cash-strapped couples back in Ireland.

Tomorrow night he ends his American sojourn with a trip to Los Angeles, where you can expect more oohing and aahing over properties none of us can afford and few of us would want to live in.


A week after Gabriel Byrne's absorbing film about George Bernard Shaw, Anjelica Huston fronted James Joyce: A Shout in the Street (RTÉ1), which wasn't nearly as engrossing - somewhat surprising given the central role she had played in her father's great movie adaptation of The Dead.

The documentary began with her watching a scene from that film in a small cinema, from where she narrated this chronicle of the author's life and career. It was very basic stuff, useful perhaps to someone who knew nothing about Joyce or his work but far too rudimentary for anyone even superficially acquainted with the life and books.

Some of the interviewees, though, were amusing, especially John Banville, who seemed to be talking about himself when affirming that, "like many great artists", Joyce was "entirely self-absorbed". And Joyce's sometimes shameless use of others in furtherance of his art led Banville to declare: "That's what we do. We sit in our rooms and we manipulate language, we manipulate our families and friends. We're cannibals essentially."

I loved that "we" and there were diversionary observations, too, from Edna O'Brien, Colm Tóibín and Fintan O'Toole. Indeed, the only thing missing was ubiquitous historian Diarmaid Ferriter pronouncing on social conditions in turn-of-the-century Dublin. He must have been out of town when the film was being made.

Another great writer was the subject of this week's Passions series (Sky Arts), which previously had featured a moving profile of Philip Larkin by former poet laureate Andrew Motion. Journalist Giles Coren was this week's presenter and 'I Hate Jane Austen' was the programme's title, though this should really have read 'I'm pretending to Hate Jane Austen so that I Can Make This Film'.

But it was good fun as Coren recalled being forced to read Austen as a schoolboy and pouring scorn on the souvenir industry that now threatens to suffocate her literary achievement. He also chatted to genuine lovers of Austen, including novelist Joanna Trollope (a withering interviewee) and comedian David Baddiel, whose passion for Austen's novels was accompanied by interesting insights.

At the end, Coren hailed the writer's "six extraordinary masterpieces", which only went to prove that he'd been pulling our legs all along.

Devised and scripted by Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan, Motherland was both fresh and very funny when its pilot episode was shown last year, but this season's follow-up episodes haven't contained nearly as many laughs. Maybe that's just me but I've found Anna Maxwell Martin's playing of central character Julia more mannered and grating with each episode.

The show's saviour has been Diane Morgan's turn as sardonic fellow-mum Liz, who this week delivered a bracing tirade to her awful ex.

Meanwhile, Nowhere Fast (RTÉ2), which began promisingly, has become so bereft of ideas that it's stopped making any kind of sense.

However, the second season of The Crown (Netflix) is the real deal as creator Peter Morgan takes the gloves off in speculating how the royals might have behaved behind closed doors.

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