Tuesday 15 October 2019

Television: Bertie knows who he is and Ivan likes himself, too


Family tree: Bertie Ahern on Who Do You Think You Are?
Family tree: Bertie Ahern on Who Do You Think You Are?

John Boland

Bertie Ahern needn't have bothered doing Who Do You Think You Are? (RTÉ1) because from the outset our former taoiseach knew exactly who he was.

"I am an Irish republican," he declared defiantly, as if someone was going to fight him about it. "I passionately believe in a 32-county Ireland. I got that from my parents."

This was after we saw him surrounded by his five young grandchildren, on whose behalf he was undertaking this research into family roots. As for what might be discovered, he chuckled in that mirthless Bertie manner with which we're all familiar: "As long as none of the relations are too close to the royal family, I'll be happy enough".

Not all viewers, though, will have been happy with a film in which tired old tropes were trotted out about his father ("very much an active republican") and about his mother ("she hated the Brits" and was "an even stronger republican" than her husband), and in which nothing interesting was revealed about the man himself.

That was to be expected from this most guarded of politicians, who must have been happy to spend a television hour in which nobody was going to ask him about his personal finances or his party's role in the calamitous collapse of the Celtic Tiger.

And at the end, despite disclosures about family members taking opposing sides in the Civil War, he was able to feel vindicated in his lifelong beliefs. "I certainly see where I got my republicanism and my love of our nearest neighbour."

Presumably the latter part of the sentence was meant as a joke, but it was hard to see its point in 2018. Put it down to knee-jerk republicanism.

Ivan Yates, who's a former politician of a somewhat different hue, was to be found Livin' With Lucy (Virgin One), and the result was not so much a meeting of minds as of egos - the presenter constantly making her presence felt, as if this show is really all about herself (which, of course, it is) and Yates clearly relishing the company of another extrovert motormouth.

But Yates himself is so companionable that the encounter proved highly entertaining, while his wife Deirdre, despite her insistence that she preferred "anonymity", was an engaging presence, too, as was his mother - the grand Enniscorthy house being in her name lest the bankrupt Ivan lose it.

"The reason I'm working my nuts off", the broadcaster revealed, "is to get my home back."

The first instalment of Revolting Ireland (Virgin One) was all over the place, as Simon Delaney took a scattergun approach to the history of protest in this country. Not too distant history, though, as that might bore us all.

Instead we got a bit about suffragettes in 1912 who went on hunger strike, then a bit about the 1913 lockout and police attacks on strikers, then another bit about marches on the Dáil in the 1950s by unemployed protesters, followed by bits about student radicals in the 1960s, outrage at Richard Nixon's visit in 1970, anti-apartheid marches against the Springboks in the same year, not to mention various housing protests and civil rights marches.

Some of the archive footage was intriguing, while there were reminiscences of varying interest from such old leftie campaigners as Máirín de Burca and Eamonn McCann, along with recollections from such not-so-lefty contributors as Bob Geldof, Marian Finucane, Ruairi Quinn and Charlie Bird.

And, of course, there was ubiquitous historian Diarmaid Ferriter, without whose solemn ruminations no self-respecting series about social issues would be complete. Bono has yet to appear in this four-part series, but that can only be a matter of time.

"Oh, my God!" exclaimed presenter Liz Bonnin right at the start of Drowning in Plastic (BBC1). "Oh, my good Lord!" she exclaimed a couple of minutes later, with variants of the same phrases recurring throughout the programme's 90 minutes and with viewers echoing the same horrified feelings.

Taking up where David Attenborough ended in the final episode of Blue Planet 2 (also BBC1), the Paris-born, Dublin-raised biologist was exploring what plastic was doing to marine life, beginning in the remote Lord Howe Island off Australia, where she found that a typical shearwater chick was ingesting up to 200 bits of plastic.

From there she went to Indonesia, where tons of plastic are being dumped into its main river each day. Indeed, all over the world, more than eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year.

Can anything be done about it? Local initiatives rather than global resolve can't do much, though anyone watching this frightening film will surely have resolved to avoid using plastic whenever possible.

Killing Eve, which began so brilliantly, petered out inconclusively in its final two episodes, which RTÉ2 ran back-to-back on Monday night.

This blackest of comedy thrillers, which had begun so mischievously, fell victim to a self-regarding silliness that drained it of much of its tension, though it was intriguing to note how Jodie Comer's bravura turn as the villainous Villanelle gradually relegated Sandra Oh's nerdish Eve almost to the status of bit player.

There have been no false notes, though, in the fourth season of Better Call Saul (Netflix) which, with just one episode to come, has maintained both its uniquely unhurried manner and its insights into the behaviour of its variously fascinating characters.

And if you missed the first episode of The Cry (BBC1), try to catch up with it, as this four-part thriller about a stressed young woman whose baby vanishes from the family car in an Australian town began rivetingly.

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