Sunday 22 July 2018

Marty's Eurovision antics had viewers needing a lie-down, too

Guitar hero: Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s qualification for tonight’s Eurovision grand final in Lisbon brought out the quirky in Marty Whelan. Photo: Andres Poveda
Guitar hero: Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s qualification for tonight’s Eurovision grand final in Lisbon brought out the quirky in Marty Whelan. Photo: Andres Poveda

John Bolan

At the end of Tuesday night's Eurovision Song Contest semi-final (RTÉ2), Ryan O'Shaughnessy was clearly thrilled to have won through to tonight's final, though not as thrilled as Marty Whelan.

For the previous two hours the RTÉ host had been fretting about this "semi-final of death", and as nine of the ten finalists were announced from the Lisbon stage you could hear the doom in his voice. How would the nation manage to survive a fifth year of such ignominy? And would Marty require post-traumatic stress therapy?

Then came the magic word, declaimed in unison by two of the four female presenters: "Ireland!". And at once there was no containing Marty. "Thank God for that", he gasped. "I'm not the better of that. My God almighty. I'm like a child here I'm so happy. Oh, I'm so thrilled, I'm only fit to lie down in a darkened room".

Well, you can never say of Marty that he doesn't take his job seriously but you'd worry about him all the same: all that unrestrainable emotion and all for what? I just hope he makes it through tonight's final without having a meltdown.

Still, it was more arresting than the previous night's Good Evening Europe Agus Anois an Eurovision (RTÉ1), in which six female Irish presenters of the contest down through the years reminisced about their experiences.

The problem was that none of them had anything interesting to say, unless your definition of interesting includes Cynthia Ní Mhurchú's recollection of being lowered on a platform from the ceiling of the Point, which she likened to "the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven". If you say so, Cynthia.

Mary Kennedy recalled having to walk down a thirteen-step staircase without falling, while others had fond memories of their outfits - Doireann Ní Bhriain declaring: "I wore a beautiful dress, I must say", and Bernadette Ní Ghallchóir raving, "Oh, the dress, it truly was a beautiful dress".

But there were no revelatory titbits here, no amusing observations or any sense of what it had been like to be hosting a show for an international audience of millions.

We've had Room to Improve and Home of the Year and Celebrity Home of the Year and now RTÉ's obsession with edifices continues with The Great House Revival (RTÉ1), a six-part series in which architect Hugh Wallace gets to employ the superlatives he hasn't already used up in two of those previous shows.

Wallace may not be quite the "legend" that RTÉ deems him to be in its publicity, but he's certainly an enthusiast (hence all those superlatives) and he was a congenial host in this week's opening instalment, which focused on Ballinafad House in Co Mayo, a decaying 1820s mansion that had been used as a seminary and school by the Society of African Missions until they abandoned it some decades ago.

Featuring 110 rooms with 344 windows, the place was bought in 2013 for a mere €80,000 by Australian architect and cabinet-maker Bede Tannock, whose Perth-based girlfriend Sandra thought he was insane but who has spent the last five years turning some of it into a wedding venue - we saw the nuptials of two gay friends being celebrated there.

When he wasn't exclaiming "Astonishing!" and "Amazing!", Wallace proved to be an engagingly unfussy and inquiring host, while Tannock was an intriguing interviewee, cool almost to the point of detachment but clearly absorbed in his mammoth task. The programme itself was absorbing, too.

Unfussy is not a word you'd use about Francis Brennan, who in this week's At Your Service (RTÉ1) was also in a large building, a 43-bedroom Carrickmacross hotel that had been closed since 2009 until bought by Eileen and Keith, who had a budget of €1 million with which to transform it.

There were the usual setbacks common to this series and the customary racing against deadlines, though of course everything eventually got done. What we're never told, though, in this long-running show is how these enterprises have fared in the weeks or months after fussy Francis has given them his seal of approval. Are some of them even still in business?

Twenty years after its first screening, ITV brought back Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (TV3), though this time with Chris Tarrant replaced by Jeremy Clarkson, who immediately put his stamp on proceedings by showing his contempt for competitor Tom.

Tom, who seemed a nice young man, dithered over which English county housed the Blackpool tower, only to be told that "there are people in Arizona who'd know the answer to that". Clarkson also informed him that if he didn't win at least £1,000 "you're going to be mocked by the friends you don't have", and when Tom said he'd love to visit either Australia or New Zealand, Clarkson snorted, "Well, they're not the same, you know".

Fans of Clarkson would probably argue that he was giving this old format an appropriately abrasive edge, but as I can't stand his bombastic lad-mag persona anyway, I just thought him crass.

I watched the first instalment of the nine-episode Rain (Netflix) but didn't feel inclined to investigate further. This Danish apocalyptic drama began arrestingly with a man rushing his family to the safety of an underground bunker before a toxic rainfall did for them all, but it quickly got implausible when the teenage daughter ignored the instruction to keep the door closed, thus causing her mother's immediate demise.

Maybe it will all become interesting again, but life is short and there are too many series out there to be explored.

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