Sunday 18 March 2018

Television: Road deaths and hospital lists make for a grim week on RTÉ

Seeking vengeance: Tom Hardy in Taboo
Seeking vengeance: Tom Hardy in Taboo

John Boland

One hundred and eighty eight people died on Irish roads last year, and After the Crash (RTÉ1) told the stories behind 10 of these deaths.

We were reminded of Colin Vearncombe, the 53-year-old musician who was on his way to Cork airport when black ice caused him to lose control of the car. He died 16 days later. The pilot of the plane on which he was about to travel happened by chance upon the scene and later wrote a touching poem about the coincidence which Colin's wife Camilla read out in the documentary.

In Mayo, 37-year-old Russell Collman's car collided with two trucks, and his widow Sabina told their little son and daughter that "Daddy's car grew wings" and flew up to heaven. He had been a fantastic father, Sabina said, but the toddlers felt that, if he really loved them, he'd surely come back for a visit.

Other stories in Aifric Ní Chianáin's film were similarly wrenching, even if by the end all the viewer could feel was a deep sadness at the futility of it all.

Anger, though, was the only appropriate reaction to RTÉ Investigates: Living on the List (RTÉ1), which put a human face on some of the half-million people waiting indefinitely for crucial, indeed sometimes life-saving, medical treatment in this country.

On Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ1) that immediately followed the film, members of the audience reacted scornfully to the presenter's pre-recorded interview with Health Minister Simon Harris, in which he declared himself "ashamed" and "heartbroken" at the film's content while vowing to work "might and main" to reduce hospital waiting lists.

Indeed, the anger was such that he must have counted himself grateful for whatever commitments prevented him from being in the same studio with victims of a woeful health system.

Comics are having a ball with the Trump presidency, as if scoffing will put manners on either the man or his ghastly recruits. Indeed, while watching The Fake News Show (Channel 4), I was reminded of Peter Cook's observation about the satirical cabaret clubs in the Berlin of the 1930s, "which did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler".

Here we had smug jokes from host Stephen Mangan, Catherine Ryan, Richard Osman and others, not one of which was even remotely amusing.

Even less amusing was Confessions of the Paparazzi (Channel 4), which detailed the extraordinary, and mostly duplicitous, lengths to which snappers will go to get a sellable celebrity shot.

The main culprit here was George Bamby, who boasted at the outset: "I don't just take pictures, I make stories. They mightn't always be true."

One of these involved hiring someone to hand a bottle of wine to Judy Finnegan on the street, then cropping the donor from the picture so that it looked as if Finnegan had a public drink problem.

Bamby couldn't see why anyone, including the celebrity victims, should object. "I get two grand," he said. "They get the publicity. The readers get to read another load of shite. Happy days for everyone."

After half-an-hour of this, I felt like taking a cleansing shower.

Every second person I know has been watching the middle-class thriller Apple Tree Yard (BBC1), which ended this week with episodes on two successive nights. And yes, it was exciting, with unforeseen twists and with terrific playing from Emily Watson and Ben Chaplin as the doomed lovers.

But I found it odd that the Watson character didn't divulge her affair, even to her legal team. Surely she knew it would come up at trial.

More worrying, though, was the underlying notion that if a married woman embarks on a mid-life affair, it's bound to end badly. Indeed, none of the dreadful things that happened here, including rape and accusations of murder, would have occurred if there had been no adulterous relationship.

Still, it had more relationship to real life than BBC1's other current drama, Taboo, which was created by actor Tom Hardy and his father and comes across like a dementedly baleful version of Poldark. Hardy is the man seeking vengeance for murky goings-on perpetrated by the East India Trading Company, embodied here by Jonathan Pryce in splendidly malevolent mode. But he's the only fun to be had in a scenario that's as baffling as it's grim.

You could, of course, try Santa Clarita Diet, a new Netflix original that features Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as married California realtors living the suburban dream until Drew vomits all over a property they're showing to clients - and when I say "vomits", forget Linda Blair in The Exorcist, who just got a bit sick.

Back home after the projectile-puking, Drew starts obsessively eating raw mince, somewhat to the bemusement of hubby and teenage daughter. Oh, and her heart stops beating, though her craving for raw flesh accelerates.

This is billed as a horror comedy and that's probably the safest way to take it, especially when her zombie tendencies become gruesomely yucky. You might find it a hoot.

Andrew Graham-Dixon is the best of all television guides to the visual arts and he brings his customary passion, clarity and fluency to The Art of France (BBC4). In this week's second instalment he focused thrillingly on the French revolution, offering political, historical and aesthetic insights throughout.

I can't wait to hear him on the Impressionists and what came after.

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