Sunday 21 January 2018

Television: Enda is coming... but not soon enough for Kenny TV profile

In the running: Fine Gael TDs John Donnellan (left) and future Taoiseach Enda Kenny, during the filming of RTÉ Television's 'The Superstars' competition in 1979
In the running: Fine Gael TDs John Donnellan (left) and future Taoiseach Enda Kenny, during the filming of RTÉ Television's 'The Superstars' competition in 1979

John Boland

At the very end of Enda (RTÉ1), which was screened over two nights, presenter Pat Leahy informed us that the current Taoiseach's backbenchers were "restive, wondering when he will depart", but there had been no indications of impatience from the Fine Gael colleagues who'd been interviewed over the previous two hours.

That, of course, is the problem facing profiles of political leaders who are still in office - no Fine Gaeler was going to say anything that might rock the party boat or scupper their own ambitions. And so we had Michael Noonan assuring us that Kenny had "a great record of achievement", while Leo Varadkar's only cheeky moment came when he noted that his boss was not "a champion debater".

Even colleagues from other parties came to praise rather than bury, former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte recalling that "when we were at our lowest ebb, a man came along with an irrepressible optimism that we could make things better". Enda, then, as a latter-day Gary Cooper.

The profile was at its most interesting when detailing the early career of a man who had risen without trace. "The life and soul of the party", former colleague Ivan Yates remembered of the young Enda - and not just the political party, either, with Maurice Manning recalling a fondness for nightclubs and other high jinks.

How exactly he came to rule Fine Gael was never made clear, though his determination to hang on to the job became apparent when he brushed off Richard Bruton's cack-handed heave against him in 2010. "I saw the steel in him that morning," colleague Michael Ring admiringly recalled.

There were a few intriguing soundbites, including former Labour leader Joan Burton's assertion that "he absolutely adored the ground Alan Shatter walked on", while independent TD Stephen Donnelly paid tribute to the 2011 anti-Vatican tirade about the "rape and torture of children", which had revealed an aspect of the man no one had hitherto envisaged and was all the more powerful for that.

But, overall, this trawl through recent history and current affairs came up with nothing that was either new or arresting, while the presenter's final observation that for Kenny "the end is coming, sooner or later" was either gnomic or simply banal.

Neither was there anything new about the Reality Bites documentary Asking for It? (RTÉ2), in which Louise O'Neill, who has written a bestselling novel of the same name aimed at young readers, explored Irish attitudes to sexual assault and to what constitutes consent. Other Irish programmes have already tackled these vexing matters, most recently Pixie's Sex Clinic on the same channel last April, but O'Neill approached it all with the ardour of a pioneering advocate, adamant that we "need to talk" about living in a society which "doesn't want to know about sexual violence".

Is that really true? Well, not of the people I know anyway, but the presenter seemed intent on sweeping statements, as in her insistence that women in contemporary culture are portrayed as "either madonnas or whores" - seemingly unaware that this particular linguistic formulation had been so repeatedly made by an earlier generation of feminists that it's now a cliché.

There were thought-provoking interviews with psychologists and young people in sex-awareness workshops, and with a senior female lawyer who argued that decisions on rape cases were sometimes more complicated and problematic than observers might imagine, but the presenter was not to be deflected from her missionary zeal.

Given this, is it permissible to wonder what point she thought she was making by turning up for an interview with two young male journalists while wearing a shoulderless party dress with a plungingly revealing neckline? Was she asserting that what women wore was entirely up to them and was not to be construed as anything else?

She didn't say, though the outfit seemed incongruous to the daytime occasion and indeed was not worn when she was talking to any of her female interviewees. Perhaps I'm harping on about a distraction, but I found it a bit curious.

Last weekend, The Fall (RTÉ1/BBC1) came to an end that some found riveting but that I thought daft.

So Paul Spector violently assaults Stella Gibson, then even more violently attacks the Danish psychiatrist before strangling a fellow inmate and asphyxiating himself with a plastic bag.

What was the point in all that? And is security in Belfast institutions really that lax, especially when it comes to psychopathic murderers? Come to that, what happened to Spector's wife and daughter? And why was Gibson's bearded boss so distraught at the outcome? Was there a back story there that the screenwriter hadn't bothered exploring or even mentioning? It was all too silly for words.

Still, in the five preceding episodes it was more engrossing than the new season of Humans (Channel 4) looks set to be. Last year's opening season was the most-watched Channel 4 drama since The Camomile Lawn in 1992, and it was certainly intriguing, with a star turn from Gemma Chan as eerily beautiful robot Anita, who became more human as the drama progressed.

Now more and more of the robots are discovering their humanity, downing tools in a Bolivian slave mine or walking off public buses they're driving in Germany, but with Westworld currently wowing Sky Atlantic audiences, it's all a bit tame and listless.

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