Saturday 18 November 2017

Television: No need for cold feet about revival of zeitgeist drama

Manchester re-united: Adam (James Nesbitt) hooks up with Pete (John Thomson)
Manchester re-united: Adam (James Nesbitt) hooks up with Pete (John Thomson)

John Boland

Ever wondered what happened to the Cold Feet gang? Me neither. Like This Life before it, Cold Feet was a zeigeist series, and when that particular zeitgeist ended the trials and tribulations of its Mancunian 30-somethings suddenly seemed very old hat.

The defining moment of this romcom drama, which ran from 1997 to 2003, was of Adam (James Nesbitt) proposing to Rachel (Helen Baxendale) while standing naked in the street with a carnation protruding from his bum. How we laughed then and how cringe-making it seems now.

That was 13 years ago, though, and there are no naked bums (thank you) in the new Cold Feet (UTV Ireland), with the characters now all heading towards 50 - well, all except Rachel, whose sudden death in a car crash had brought the original series to a memorably dramatic close.

But if you'd thought you'd had enough of cheeky-chappie Adam, posh David, working-class Pete and their fluctuating sexual relationships, do you know what, this reboot isn't half bad - Mike Bullen's script is still sharp and witty and the actors slip into their old roles with easy familiarity.

Adam is now the parent of a troubled teenage schoolboy (a lovely performance from Cel Spellman) and is about to marry Angela, who's much younger and richer, her father being a Singapore billionaire. David has remarried, though his new wife plainly doesn't like him and he doesn't much like her, either. And Pete, hit by the recession, is juggling two menial jobs.

There was some good comedy in this week's opening episode and there was enough drama to hold your interest for at least another instalment, though whether it will attract the same loyal fanbase as the original remains to be seen.

So can we now expect a reboot of Bachelor's Walk, which was RTÉ's answer to Cold Feet way back when? Well, it might be better than some of the cack-handed attempts at drama that have recently been foisted on us by the Montrose mandarins.

The week's other big drama offering was the return of Poldark (BBC1), in which our dashing, smouldering hero (Aidan Turner) seemed destined for the noose, or at least a lengthy spell in some rat-infested jail. But not before he got his kit off. Last season's Poldark was famous for its scene of topless scything, and here we had topless mining, with every muscle of Ross's splendid torso rippling. Jeepers, I fancy him myself.

I also have the hots for the flame-haired Demelza (Eleanor Tomlinson), who'll do anything to rescue her beloved from doom, even demean herself by chatting up languid landowner Penvenen, played by John Nettles of Bergerac fame (forget Midsomer Murders, that was rubbish).

Whether or not Penvenen turns out to be a dastardly villain remains to be seen, though there are enough of them already to keep your hissing talents up to scratch - not least the loathsome George Warleggan, played with gleeful relish by Jack Farthing.

Then there's drippy Elizabeth, who clearly still has a thing for Ross, and her pathetically weak husband Francis, who by the end of last Sunday night's opening episode was making an irreversible exit from his woes. Poor old Francis.

Did I mention that it's all tremendous fun, that the Cornish landscapes are sensational and that I'll be glued to tomorrow night's second episode?

Segueing from the saintly if stubborn Ross Poldark to the saintly if stubborn Peter McVerry may be a bit of a stretch, though the hour-long Peter McVerry: A View from the Basement (RTÉ1) focused as much on the man as on his tireless and mostly thankless role as "voice for the vulnerable and advocate for the abandoned".

We learned of the Jesuit's middle-class upbringing in Newry, his boarding-school days at Clongowes (where he captained the cricket team) and his Jesuit training before becoming a teacher at Belvedere College and getting involved with a young club that introduced him to inner-city deprivation.

We also met some of the people he has helped, including Paddy Fay, whom he had first encountered sleeping rough as a nine-year-old and who, decades later, still declares: "He's the only person I have in the world. When he dies, what am I going to do?"

And we heard, too, from community activists with whom the Jesuit has had contact over the years. His own philosophy is that "we can't judge anybody", though he laments that the advent of hard drugs "changed everything" as families were "wiped out and community spirit broke down".

Kim Bartley's commendable profile stopped short of sanctifying the man, leaving the viewer to marvel at what was being told - while also wondering how he has kept faith with a task that would seem impossibly unattainable to the rest of us.

In the second episode of Keeping Ireland Alive: The Health Service in a Day (RTÉ1), there were more stories from the frontline, this week involving a man with motor neurone disease, a woman with severe burns, a man who had become paralysed, and a woman donating a kidney to her brother.

The stories were all engrossing (though I couldn't watch the surgical scenes) and the medics who were interviewed were caringly professional, but I still got little sense of the inadequacies in the system.

Motherland (BBC2) was a comedy pilot scripted by Graham and Helen Linehan, Sharon Horgan and Holly Walsh, and it was so savagely good about the trials and tribulations of thirty-something parents that it merits a series. Meanwhile, the same channel's Fleabag continues to be brilliant.

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