Saturday 24 February 2018

Television: Rolling news provides all the week's real drama...

Gloating spectacle: Leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, during a special session of European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday
Gloating spectacle: Leader of Ukip, Nigel Farage, during a special session of European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday

John Boland

'Sensational" was the verdict suggested by Darragh Maloney at the end of the England v Iceland match on Euro 2016 (RTÉ2), but Eamon Dunphy was having none of it. No, he solemnly told Darragh, it wasn't sensational at all, given that Iceland were "a good team" and England were not a good team.

Sensational, though, was the word for other British-related events over the last seven days, as the Brexit calamity kept on coming up with developments that had even the least engaged of viewers glued to the box.

I especially cherished the halting delivery of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove as they bumbled through a post-referendum press conference that was supposed to be a celebration of victory but that had all the sheepish air of people suddenly wondering what exactly they'd done and what they were supposed to do next.

I cherished, too, the barefaced cheek of this duo's phoney tributes to David Cameron, trying their damnedest to look appropriately sad as they cited the many virtues of the man whose political career they had just terminated. And though Cameron had unwittingly started that process himself, at least he bowed out with dignity.

Then there was Jeremy Corbyn, who should have been buoyed by Cameron's resignation but immediately found himself subject to an attempted heave from his own Labour colleagues and trying to hang on against all the odds. Life's just not fair. And let's not forget the spectacle of the gloating Nigel Farage as he snarled in the EU parliament that when he first arrived there 17 years ago, "you all laughed at me" but "you're not laughing now". That was once the punchline to a good Bob Monkhouse joke, but this ghastly Little Englander is no joke, as the British public are likely to realise when he makes his presence felt even more during the next few months.

Here was a week in which television once again proved its unique potency as a news medium. Yes, you could read about all of these constantly evolving political stories in newspapers or hear about them on the radio, but to see them happening before your eyes, and with the main combatants scrutinised by the camera's unforgiving eye, provided an experience that's not to be found anywhere else. It certainly made for a riveting few days.

And there's been much to enthral in the football coverage, too - not least that thoroughly deserved Icelandic victory in a match that further underlined England's disconnect from Europe, but also Italy's superb win over Spain and Ireland's gallant attempt to overcome the French.

As usual, RTÉ have had the best panellists, though Graeme Souness's drily knowledgeable observations on TV3 are always worth hearing, while Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry have been thoughtful and incisive, rising above the insular fanzine approach usually adopted by the BBC.

Philip Cairns: Fresh Evidence (TV3) was a misnomer in that it had nothing new to say about the fate of the 13-year-old schoolboy who vanished in Dublin 30 years ago. However, it did offer some first-hand insights into the personality of Radio Dublin boss Eamon Cooke, who's now regarded as the boy's probable killer.

These came mainly from DJs who'd worked with him in the pirate station and they provided a vivid composite portrait of a very creepy man who, like Jimmy Savile, had hidden in plain sight as he went about sexually abusing his young victims.

But as for the Cairns killing, a former investigating garda confessed here that "it's still a mystery", while at the end, all the narrator could declare was that Cooke's involvement was "very likely".

Ashley Pharoah, creator of The Living and the Dead (BBC1), has described his six-part period drama as "Thomas Hardy with ghosts", which gives a fair indication of its setting and mood.

At the outset, handsome psychologist Nathan has just given up his practice in Vienna and, along with his spirited photographer wife Charlotte, is about to take up the ailing Somerset farm he has inherited from his mother, but in next to no time he's confronted not only by truculent farmworkers resistant to change, but also by the prospect of demonic possession in the form of young neighbour Harriet.

Seemingly, this pre-Raphaelite teenager has been taken over by the spirit of a malevolent local man, which probably accounts for her lapses into Linda Blair-like rantings from The Exorcist. Can Nathan cure her? And will other ghastly manifestations occur?

Other, even more puzzling, questions present themselves. If this is 1894, what's that jet trail doing in the sky? Is it a continuity cock-up or are we in time-travel territory? Come to that, why is that woman who's glimpsed by Nathan at the end of the opening episode wearing clothes from our own time? Oh dear, is this all going to be very post-modern?

On the plus side, the rural landscapes look lovely and there are a few mildly scary moments.

Back on RTÉ1, the Saturday night centrepiece is Play It By Year, an hour-long quiz show hosted by a doggedly jovial Mike Murphy, plundering for its material and much of its footage from such former RTÉ quiz shows as Quicksilver and Where in the World.

This laborious game-show version of Reeling in the Years was first aired at the end of last December. It made no impact then, but that hasn't stopped RTÉ from trundling it out once more.

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