Friday 19 January 2018

Television: Impartial or not, Matt trumps it over Jeremy's arched eyebrows

In defence of the 'illegals’': Taoiseach Enda Kenny presents US President Donald Trump with the traditional bowl of shamrock in the White House for St Patrick's Day. Photo: Gerry Mooney
In defence of the 'illegals’': Taoiseach Enda Kenny presents US President Donald Trump with the traditional bowl of shamrock in the White House for St Patrick's Day. Photo: Gerry Mooney

John Boland

Just in case we might have mistaken him for an impartial reporter, Matt Cooper began Trump V Ireland (TV3) by asking "How did the Americans elect this guy?"

Not only that, the US president was an "egomaniac", his behaviour towards women was "highly objectionable" and his attitude towards migrants was "despicable".

Personally, I've no problem with any of these opinions, but then I'm not the presenter of a two-part documentary in which a more balanced approach mightn't have gone amiss. Indeed, even Jeremy Paxman, who fronted Trump's First 100 Days over on BBC1, wasn't so forthright, confining himself to wondering "What makes him tick?" and to such non-verbal signifiers as those familiar arched eyebrows and that trademark curl of the lip.

Yet Cooper's film yielded a good deal more than that of the former Newsnight anchorman (which told us nothing we didn't already know about the first three months of the Trump presidency), though I could have done without an awkwardly staged opening encounter in which Cooper supposedly just bumped into right-wing journalist Mary Ellen Synon at Dublin Airport and the two of them bickered about the stance he'd be taking on his American trip.

But when he got to the States he met people with interesting things to say, not least journalist and academic Dave Hannigan, who pointed out that Trump supporters included a lot of right-wing Irish immigrants who shared his views on undocumented "illegals", even though Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken in defence of such immigrants during his recent St Patrick's Day visit to the White House.

Orla Kennedy of the Irish Centre in New York spoke of the "anxiety" of many US-based Irish people who now feared for their status in America, while novelist Colum McCann felt "we should be ashamed" about the dominance in the Trump administration of figures with an Irish background.

Cooper seemed especially, indeed inordinately, smitten by Labour's Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who had decried Trump as a "fascist" in the Seanad and who went on to help organise an Irish-based event in a Manhattan church, though time was also given to Trump-friendly voices, too.

The documentary was at its best in the first instalment, the second adding little to what had been covered the night before. At at the very end, Cooper met up again with Mary Ellen Synon, confessing to her that his opinion of Trump had "changed a bit" and that now he viewed him as a "wuss" who was "not quite as scary as we might have thought".

Really? Well, he still scares the rest of us.

With much advance hype by TV3, The ­McCanns and the Conman turned out to be something of a con job itself. Misleadingly billed in the schedules as 'Madeleine McCann: 10 Years Missing', the film had little to do with the little girl who'd been abducted from an ­Algarve resort 10 years ago next week, or with the ongoing investigation into her disappearance.

Instead it was all about Irish-born fraudster Kevin Halligen, who described himself as a global security consultant and who persuaded the desperate McCanns to part with £1m on the assurance that he'd solve the mystery of their daughter's fate.

Convicted of fraud in the US, jailed for almost four years and then deported, the conman made for a shifty interviewee. The story was not uninteresting, but end credits informed us that the film had been made for Channel 5 in 2014. Nothing new then, so why was TV3 intent on passing it off as new? In the pilot episode of Genius (National Geographic), the ageing Albert Einstein's young assistant, with whom he'd just been having exuberant sex, gave him a lecture: "For a man who's an expert on the universe, you don't know the first thing about people."

The clunky dialogue continued as the action veered back and forth from the early life of the great scientist to his later world renown, but Geoffrey Rush brought persuasive life to the later Albert, while Johnny Flynn gave an engaging turn as his former self, and director Ron Howard kept it all running smoothly. Whether it will retain viewers remains to be seen.

Line of Duty (RTÉ1) is certainly holding on to its audience, and although the plot twists have become increasingly outlandish, not many viewers will want to miss tomorrow night's final episode, if only to discover whether Thandie Newton's villainous cop gets her comeuppance.

Meanwhile, Better Call Saul (Netflix) continues on its coolly masterful way. In this week's episode, the laconic Mike came face to face with Breaking Bad's Gus Fring on a desert highway, while Jimmy found himself in jail courtesy of his scheming brother. It's all getting gradually darker as we await Jimmy's transformation into Saul Goodman.

And where will that leave the lovely Kim, who didn't feature in Breaking Bad? I do hope that Vince Gilligan, who created both shows, affords her the dignity she deserves.

In The Peter Mark VIP Style Awards (TV3), a lot of bright young things, and a few older ones too, gathered outside Dublin's Marker Hotel to be interviewed by Glenda Gilson.

"This is the highlight of my year!" trilled Rory Cowan from Mrs Brown's Boys. He should really think about getting a life. RTÉ's Kathryn Thomas was interviewed twice, using both occasions to puff the designer of her frock, while among the other glitterati were Rosanna Davison, Twink, Baz Ashmawy and half the cast of Dancing with the Stars.

There were also scores of others whose names and faces were unfamiliar to me, even though some of them won prizes. I must be mixing in the wrong circles.

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