'Norah's Traveller Academy' review - 'On paper it read like The Apprentice minus the boardroom, but it wasn't quite as advertised'
Norah Casey's first foray into reality television since Dragon's Den was a curious affair. Ostensibly, the magazine proprietor-turned-celebrity guru was sharing her hard-nosed acumen with members of the travelling community as they sought to get business ideas off the ground (and were stymied by anti-traveller prejudice).
On paper it read like The Apprentice minus the circus of the boardroom eliminations and Alan Sugar's tiresome East Ender bluster.You looked forward to thrills, spills and self-parodying verbiage just this side of David Brent.
However, the first episode wasn't quite as advertised. We met Tracie Joyce, a settled traveller from Athlone who dreamed of breaking into the national media. Enter Casey, a blur of can-do bustle and earnest asides to camera. She seized on Joyce's journalistic ambitions, explaining that, as a magazine maven, she was perfectly positions to make her protege's dreams come true.
But what, exactly were those dreams? Nobody seemed sure. Joyce had vague aspirations to become a freelance journalist – which is hardly unlocking the gates to the promised land, is it? (let me assure you, it is not). Casey, for her part, had it in mind to revamp Voice of the Traveller, the magazine where Joyce worked as cub reporter. It was, as Casey pointed out as tactfully as possible,a homespun affair that got lost on busy newsstands on account of its bland design (specifically, a shocking lack of pink lettering).
From here, Traveller Academy segued into an endlessly heartfelt rumination on the struggles facing Joyce and her community. In a video to accompany the relaunched mag, travellers lined up to explain how marginalised and humiliated they felt when slurred as k****ers. Their hurt was real and moving (even the battle-hardened Casey dabbed a tear). Still, you had to wonder what this had to do with the advertised premise of empowering aspiring businesswomen from the 'wrong' side of the tracks?
Worse yet was the lack of drama. A feel-good glow suffused every frame, as Joyce solemnly took on board Casey's advice and we watched a revamped Voice of the Traveller come together. The only hint of tension was a face-off at Casey's office after several key stories had gone awol. This sort of thing happens in magazines all the time - at least those where this writer has worked – and it is hard to picture the audience inching towards the edge of their seats as Casey frantically waving her 'flat plan' of missing articles.
There was much to praise here. After the vile and reductive likes of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a programme that went out of its way to depict travellers as actual human beings needs to be lauded. However, as the show's driving force Casey simply didn't bring enough bite – Norah's Traveller Academy was likeable enough but never in danger of becoming compelling viewing.