Wednesday 21 March 2018

Television: Airy-fairy antics in Ireland's B&Bs dominate the RTÉ schedules

Feel-good: Francis Brennan and Finola Foley on At Your Service
Feel-good: Francis Brennan and Finola Foley on At Your Service

John Boland

In At Your Service (RTÉ1), holistic healer Finola wanted to run a B&B in her Fethard-on-Sea house but had no cooking skills. She was also averse to setting up a website for the enterprise.

"I have no interest being on the internet", she blithely informed hotelier adviser John, the more steely of the Brennan brothers. "You're wrong not to be online," he sagely informed her, but she wasn't listening.

So would she consider putting her holistics on hold while she sorted out all the washing and ironing and cooking that's involved in running a B&B? "I wouldn't dream of it", she replied.

"She's a little bit airy-fairy", said Francis Brennan, and he should know, though in the end everything did get sorted. That's always the way on this amiable show, even if I'd be keen to see a follow-up series in which the brothers returned to these ventures a year later to see how they're getting on, or even if they're still there.

That, of course, might put a dent in the show's feel-good factor. On the other hand, it might divert Francis from taking yet another of his manic RTÉ trips to exotic climes in his guise as frantic tour guide leader.

And continuing to look on the bright side, I note that Daniel and Majella's B&B Road Trip (RTÉ1) came to an end this week, though I wouldn't bet against this laboured, sycophantic nonsense returning in the autumn for another run.

Away from RTÉ, this week's schedules had a few programmes of real substance, not least Hunting the KGB Killers (Channel 4). This was a forensic retelling of the 2006 London poisoning of former KGB operative agent Alexander Litvinenko and of the subsequent dogged investigation by Scotland Yard's counter-terrorism unit - which led to last year's High Court judgment that the KGB (now the FSB) had probably directed the killing and that Russian president Vladimir Putin had probably approved it.

At the outset a voiceover noted that the story "reads like a Cold War crime thriller", though even John le Carré might have thought twice about some of the skulduggery revealed here, with traces of deadly polonium discovered in London hotel rooms where the perpetrators had stayed and sushi bars in which they'd met their victim.

Litvinenko's widow Marina was a striking interviewee, as were the Scotland Yard officers who had conducted the investigation and who clearly had real feelings about Litvinenko and what had happened to him.

Theresa May, in her former role as home secretary, had ruled out a public inquiry that might damage UK-Russian relations, but some form of justice was finally achieved in last year's judgment, though it's unlikely that Putin gives a hoot.

And for decades, no one seemed to give a hoot about the 100,000 people who "disappeared" in Colombia or about the seven million people driven from their homes during that country's violent turbulence.

I learned these figures from Colombia with Simon Reeve (BBC2), in which the boyish presenter observed that the seven million were "refugees in their own country" and that there were more displaced people in this South American country than anywhere else in the world.

He chatted to tour guide Lina in Cartagena, who told him that she had fallen in love with a FARC fighter who suddenly vanished after he tried to leave that guerrilla organisation. And in Bogota, he met a group of women who had been raped and thrown off their lands, and who now roamed the city streets literally singing for their suppers.

The cocaine trade has always been at the root of Colombia's ills, whether in the hands of murderous drug cartels or FARC, though now the latter has come to a fragile peace deal with the authorities. However, the intrepid Reeve had a jungle encounter with a FARC commander rumoured to be responsible for many atrocities but unable to recall anything bad he had done.

Are all these horrors now in the past? Well, the upbeat mayor of Medellín seemed to think so as he showed Reeve around his rejuvenated city, but the presenter retained a commendably sceptical tone throughout. An arresting film.

The first episode of Inside the Freemasons (Sky One) featured lots of aprons, sashes, chains, rosettes, ribbons, white gloves and rolled-up trouser legs. These constituted the preferred attire of the 200,000 British masons who, in celebration of their 300th anniversary, had allowed cameras to cast some light on their hitherto secret shenanigans.

The entire absence of women was obvious, if not noted, though the viewer was informed that "we hold our ladies in high regard".

But this has always been a boys' club, even if nearly all the boys are either middle-aged or elderly.

Oh, let them at it as they seek to assure the world that there's nothing sinister about Freemasonry and that they're really all about brotherhood and decency and doing the right thing and whatever you're having yourself. But, jeepers, it all looked incredibly dull.

In the fourth instalment of Line of Duty (BBC1), murderously shifty cop Roz (Thandie Newton) turned the tables on her anti-corruption interrogators. It was brilliantly done, though not as brilliantly as the fast-food restaurant scene in this week's Better Call Saul (Netflix).

Here Jimmy McGill unknowingly encountered Gus Fring, whom he later will meet as one of Breaking Bad's most memorable villains, but here assuming the identity of a pleasantly helpful café cleaner. Terrific.

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