Television review: There's more to Al than innuendo and outdated dating shows...
Watching Al Porter as he hosted Blind Date (TV3) the other night, I couldn't help wondering if he's destined to become Ireland's answer to Larry Grayson or Julian Clary, or even Dale Winton. Dale who? Precisely.
I hope not because Porter is better than that, not just as a cheeky-chappie comedian but as an articulate and personable pundit on chat shows - he was full of sensible insights in the initial series of Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge (which has made a welcome return) and also recently as a panellist on TV3's The Tonight Show with Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper.
On the Irish version of Blind Date, though, he reverts to amiable gay stereotype, seasoned with a sprinkling of mumsy Cilla Black, who hosted this show on ITV for the best part of 20 years.
The sexual innuendo, though, is more upfront than it was in her heyday, the host opting for Julian Clary mode when telling a former beauty contestant "I entered Mr Ireland. Well, he didn't seem to mind" and flirting with one of the male contestants.
Overall, it was harmless stuff and Porter handled it adroitly, but it's a tired old format and the fact that the lamentable Channel 5 has also chosen to revive it is proof of that. Let's hope Porter goes on to more interesting things. How about Brendan O'Connor making him a regular panellist?
"I'm scared that I'm losing my mind and even more scared that I'm not," said bewildered heroine Sarah in the third episode of Irish-Canadian thriller Acceptable Risk (RTÉ1). For myself, I was just losing the will to live as the script and acting got even ropier than in the fist two episodes.
But Mr Mercedes (RTÉ1) is the real deal and has been getting better as each episode progresses. It's the sign of a really good drama series when even the most minor of characters register vividly as people with a life of their own, and so it is here.
Brendan Gleeson's cranky and tormented ex-cop and Harry Treadaway's disturbed young killer are the main players (and Gleeson has never been better), but you're also intrigued by the subsidiary performers, not least Holland Taylor as neighbour Ida and Breeda Wool as quirky electronics store worker Lou.
The plotting (from Stephen King's novel) and the pacing are superbly handled, and if the series manages to hold its tone and its nerve, it will rank alongside the best seasons of Fargo and Better Call Saul.
Less impressive was the first episode of Snowfall (BBC2), a drugs drama partly written and directed by John Singleton. His 1991 debut film was the marvellous Boyz n the Hood, and here we were again in South Central, LA, this time as the crack cocaine trade of the early 1980s took hold.
But too many storylines and too many characters muddled this pilot episode, which had the somewhat tawdry feel of an upmarket soap. In The Deuce (Sky Atlantic) you really feel you're inhabiting the 1970s world of Times Square hustlers, pimps and prostitutes, but here you felt like detached observers of an uninvolving drama.
By contrast, the opening instalment of Louis Theroux's Dark States (BBC2) brought you up close and personal with its unfortunate people. Subtitled 'Heroin Town', Louis visited Huntington in West Virginia, which has a population of 49,000 and is home to what Theroux called "the most deadly drug epidemic in US history".
Once a thriving town of steel mills and factories, Huntington is full of people who, deprived of prescription painkillers, have succumbed to heroin instead. Theroux, who's come a long way since he made faux-naïf mocking documentaries about Paul Daniels, Christine Hamilton and the like, brought all his bemused earnestness to bear on these addicts, eliciting stories that would be beyond the reach of more conventional interviewers.
"I feel weird watching you do something so dangerous," he remarked to a young woman who was shooting up in the room where they chatted. But she went on to tell of her life and of the abusive boyfriend who hovered nearby. "Where do you see the relationship going?" he asked. "Down the drain," she replied. Yet she needed him to get the heroin for her.
Other stories abounded in a documentary that portrayed a grim America, while also grim was the Tuvan town of doomed alcoholics that we encountered in Russia with Simon Reeve (BBC2).
Meanwhile, in the two-part Irish in Wonderland (RTÉ2), we only met people whose addiction was to wealth, status and bling. "I hate these programmes", Gerry from the Cooley peninsula said on Gogglebox Ireland (TV3), "they just make you realise how crap your own life is," but it was the programme itself that was crap.
Perky presenter Yasmine Akram visited Manhattan, the Hamptons and the Riviera, and was so awestruck by all the money-chasing Irish émigrés she encountered that she never thought to question whether the flaunting of wealthy lifestyles was really a good thing. Insulting stuff.
In the second instalment of Tunes for Tyrants (BBC4), Suzy Klein related how Richard Strauss, Germany's most celebrated composer in the 1930s and the father-in-law of a Jewish woman, accepted an invitation to be president of Reich music, thus giving credibility to a Nazi regime that banned any performances of Mendelssohn and other composers tainted by Judaism.
It wasn't brave, it wasn't moral, Klein said, "but it's what real people do when living in a nightmare".
Then she turned her attention to Shostakovich, so terrified of incurring Stalin's wrath that he "lived with his suitcase packed" in case the Gulag awaited. An absorbing series.