Tuesday 21 November 2017

Television: RTÉ's American hunt for crazies comes up Trumps

Star-spangled banner: A protestor at Republican National convention in Cleveland, Ohio
Star-spangled banner: A protestor at Republican National convention in Cleveland, Ohio

John Boland

In the three-part Kevin McGahern's America (RTÉ2), the Irish presenter is shelving his comic persona in order to "get under the skin" of a United States that's about to choose between Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

But it was curious that throughout this week's first instalment, we met no supporters of the latter, which either meant that none were to be found or that McGahern wasn't looking hard enough. It was certainly odd that in all of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan, the only people he encountered were extremists whose sole reservations about Trump were that he wasn't as right-wing as they would have liked.

The tone was set at the outset, McGahern chatting to a guy on an Ohio street whose T-shirt bore the legend 'Hillary sucks but not like Monica', and with another guy who declared that the Democratic candidate was "responsible for millions of deaths around the world".

Well, if you're in dogged search of crazies, they're undoubtedly there to be discovered, and McGahern's film was in the tradition of all those documentaries in which television frontmen from this side of the pond find their prejudices confirmed in an America teeming with nutters who tell us (as one guy did here) that "if more people carried guns, there'd be less crime".

And so, again in the mould of these programmes, McGahern met with armed civilian militias patrolling the streets of Detroit, took shooting lessons in Florida, visited a gun store in North Carolina and hung out in the Michigan woods with a survivalist militia gang. It was all quite scary and the presenter ingratiated himself unobtrusively into various groups while also asking some good questions, and if what we were being shown was an accurate representation of the contemporary United States, there really is no hope for the place and it's time to leave the planet courtesy of Richard Branson.

But it seemed far too partial to be persuasive. Maybe the next two instalments will give evidence of a more nuanced America, one that's not entirely made up of gun-toting Trump nuts.

Living with Lucy had its debut on RTÉ2 eight years ago and featured Lucy Kennedy as she moved into the homes of such now faded celebs as Samantha Mumba, Jade Goody and Brian McFadden. At the time, I thought its most striking feature was the presenter's self-regard, which is again striking in the current reboot by TV3, who are currently her employers.

This week saw her spending a couple of days in the Surrey home of Kerry Katona, former popstar and wife of McFadden but now mainly known for... well, I'm not sure exactly, except perhaps bankruptcy and a string of unsuccessful relationships, along with five children and two dogs.

"I feel like I've known you all my life", Lucy gushed five minutes after moving in, while a little later Kerry confided: "If I could have a private life, I'd give anything for it". Well, she won't get it by inviting Lucy and a camera crew into her home, though at least she had the self-awareness to add that "unfortunately, my private life makes me money". At this point, though, I opted to respect her privacy by changing channels.

Jimmy Savile lived much of his life in public, too, hiding in plain sight when such prying journalists as Louis Theroux came calling - indeed daring them to discover the truth, as he did in the documentary When Louis Met Jimmy, which was screened in 2000 and which had Savile smirkingly confiding that a declared aversion to children meant that people didn't ask whether or not he was a paedophile.

The truth, though, hadn't registered with Theroux at the time and indeed not with viewers, either, even though Savile had always seemed decidedly creepy to most sensible people. But the presenter's failure "to recognise him for what he was" haunted him when the ghastly revelations emerged after Savile's death, and in Louis Theroux: Savile (BBC2) he replayed segments from that earlier programme and interviewed victims and colleagues of the sexual predator. The stories of the victims were properly horrifying, and when Theroux asked them what they had felt when watching the earlier programme, one of them recalled thinking: "Poor Louis, he's really been hoodwinked here". It was an arresting film, if much too late to be in any way useful.

In the first instalment of Painting the Nation (RTÉ1), we met the seven hopefuls bidding to win the main prize, which is to have their winning work included in the State's art collection.

They seemed a nice bunch and the two judges were pleasant, too, though I'd never heard of either of them, while Pauline McLynn was a cheery host. But the basic idea had been filched from a BBC series that went out a couple of years ago and a Sky Arts series along much the same lines. They should have called this one The Great Irish Paint-Off.

I wasn't especially kind to Can't Cope, Won't Cope (RTÉ2) after its first two episodes, but it's been getting better - and this week's instalment was so raw in its depiction of main character Aisling and her self-inflicted wounds that it had no time, or need, for lame attempts at comedy.

In the second episode of The Fall (RTÉ1/BBC1), serial killer Paul Spector was recuperating in a hospital bed just across the corridor from Rose, one of his intended victims. Is security in Belfast really that daft? Meanwhile, Paul's infatuated teen admirer Katie was wandering through the wards, while nurse Ciara was inadvisedly squeezing Paul's hand. Oh dear, where will it all end?

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