Saturday 21 September 2019

Television: Better off abroad? Well, it does beat staying at home

Stresses and strains: Shauna likes a party but not life on dole
Stresses and strains: Shauna likes a party but not life on dole

John Boland

Someone in RTÉ's scheduling department has a perverse sense of humour. Last Sunday night at 9.30pm, RTÉ1 screened the second instalment of George Lee's documentary series, Better Off Abroad, while at the exact same time RTÉ2 was starting Dole Life, which was about how young Irish people are certainly not better off at home.

We were told at the outset of this RTÉ2 series that over 20pc of 18 to 25-year-olds are now unemployed in Ireland and we got to meet five of them as they outlined their economic plight.

Mind you, it was hard not to get impatient with 21-year-old Shauna, a likeable, punky young woman from Bettystown who loved to party in Dublin with her pals because "everything else is just a stress", and anyway "I'm so lazy". This last failing meant that when she managed to get a job in a city-centre shop, she turned up late four mornings in a row and was fired.

She cut a genuinely poignant figure - her mother having departed for New Zealand, she confessed to feeling "really angry because I'm so alone" - and so did James from the North Strand, who had been mostly homeless since the age of 18 and who had only succeeded in getting occasional part-time work.

Then there was Lloyd, who had graduated from Trinity and who had imagined that "when you left college you were automatically guaranteed this great adult life, but that wasn't the reality". Instead, he started making soup and selling it, with moderate success, to various food outlets.

The quintet was completed by single mother-of-two Kelly from Athy and by 26-year-old Avril, who had spent six years looking for a job before volunteering to join the yes campaign in the run-up to the equality referendum - which she deemed better than "sitting on my hole watching the Kardashians".

Those viewers who didn't find the film profoundly depressing can follow these young people's progress, or lack of it, over the coming weeks, or perhaps they can emigrate to California's Silicon Valley where, as George Lee enthused, "dreams become reality and success can make you very rich".

An engaging presenter and a good interviewer, George had marvelled last week at the lifestyles of the Irish in Dubai and he was in marvelling mode here, too. "In all my life", he said as a private plane took him on a tour of the hi-tech valley, "I don't think I have ever flown over so much money".

Back on the ground, he met some of the Irish who were availing themselves of this largesse, though he had the good grace to fret a bit about the quality-of-life dangers that can ensue from the relentless pursuit of material success, even if his admiration of the go-getters he encountered remained mostly undimmed.

Indeed, if push came to shove, I'd rather be driving along a sun-drenched California highway than enduring a rain-soaked weekend in Co Leitrim, which is where the first instalment of Stetsons and Stilettos (RTÉ1) took place.

This six-part series aims to celebrate the resurgence of country music in rural Ireland, which, according to narrator Hector Ó hEochagáin, has never been so popular among young people - to the extent that it's become "the new clubbing".

Personally, I wouldn't know and after watching the faithful hordes wading through mud at the Cowboys and Heroes festival in the Drumcoura City Lake Resort and Equestrian Centre, I've no wish to correct my ignorance. No doubt it was all great fun, but Hector's frantically upbeat narration did nothing to make me a convert.

David Attenborough, however, has long converted us all to the wonders of natural history programmes and at the age of 89 (honestly) he's still the real deal, even if he's no longer in the veldt or the steppes and is confining his contributions to voice-over for already filmed material.

But what material: in the first instalment of The Hunt (BBC1), we watched as leopards stalked impalas, orcas chased down whale calves and chameleons lapped up insects. Most of such hunts end in failure, David assured us at the outset, though that didn't lessen the tension of an astonishing sequence in which a pack of wild dogs pursued a herd of wildebeests, finally isolating one of them as its companions watched fearfully from a distance.

In the first instalment of Simply Nigella (BBC2), there was no mention of Charles Saatchi or throat grabbing or divorce or any other distasteful matters, but the pouting celebrity cook did inform us that "I've settled into my new kitchen and where I am in my life right now". She also showed us a picture of her tousled mane during a recent trip to Thailand, defiantly declaring that "happiness trumps good hair".

Then it was on to her simply divine breakfast recipe for avocados on toast (I'll stick with the cornflakes), followed by her equally divine recipe for lambs' ribs, about which "my enthusiasm is evangelical".

There were fewer shots of the lasciviously finger-licking Nigella that some men seem to fancy, but there were lots of full-body sightings as she flounced around her culinary domain, which had been conspicuously absent from her last series.

It must be all that happiness.

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