Saturday 24 February 2018

Television: Sex isn't always as much fun as Pixie thinks...

Fun and games: Pixie's Sex Clinic on RTÉ 2.
Fun and games: Pixie's Sex Clinic on RTÉ 2.

John Boland

Anyone for sex? Shure, why not, especially when promised at the outset of Pixie's Sex Clinic (RTÉ2) that we were going to have "loads of fun because sex is fun". Not many people know that.

Mind you, there hadn't been a lot of laughs in Embarrassing Bodies, the Channel 4 series previously fronted by Pixie - whose birth name is Bernadette Anne McKenna, if you want to be formal, though in this new series she's clearly intent on letting it all hang loose, exhorting us right at the start to "strap in for a ride to remember".

Then the Cork-born medic introduced us to her seven young volunteers, all of whom had fascinating things to say. Brandon, for instance, revealed that sex was "something between two people", while Tina thought it "the best part of being alive" and Róisín deemed it "a natural human activity".

I can't recall what Katey said, but the caption described her as a "pansexual", which was fascinating in itself.

Then it all got a bit serious, with lots of nervous laughs from the volunteers as Pixie asked them to name various sexually transmitted infections, though she tried to lighten it with a game of "STI Bingo", which apparently "you won't find your granny playing".

Maybe not, as I found it indecipherable, though I also mused that your granny probably knew more about sex than Pixie gave her credit for. There was lots of giggling, too, from students in a secondary school classroom when Pixie asked them what names they used for penises and vaginas, and the comic mode was continued with a sequence of stand-ups spouting one-liners about sex and with an intergenerational quiz.

There were also jokey vox pops (too many of them) from the public in Pixie's "confessional booth", while even a discussion about what constituted consent was conducted as a game, with differently-coloured floor circles representing differing responses to various questions.

Behind the levity, though, it was all terribly earnest, with Pixie in that familiar role beloved of such programmes - the upbeat head girl intent on looking after everyone's sexual well-being. There are two more instalments, but already I feel as if I've seen it all before.

Elsewhere on RTÉ this week, I actually had seen it all before, with First Dates Ireland (RTÉ2) slavishly following the format it bought from Channel 4 and Toughest Place to Be... (RTÉ1) doing the same copycat exercise with a BBC series of the same name.

Toughest Place to be a Street Sweeper was this week's opener and it accompanied 47-year-old Dublin cleaner Mark Crosbie to Manila, where he mucked in with local sweeper Mel - working, as the voiceover assured us, "under the most stressful and dangerous conditions on the planet".

Or, as Mark said, when contemplating a vast civic landfill: "It's like hell - hell in garbage."

Mark, who came across as a decent skin, also had vivid things to say, as when he described the teeming landfill scavengers as "a human version of working ants", and he bonded movingly with Mel, who was paid €15 a week to sweep filthy alleyways and wade through sewage in search of blocked drains. But programmes like this always make me feel uneasy.

Yes, we're being made aware of how people have to survive in other societies, but people like Mark, no matter how well-intentioned, are only briefly slumming it, and so are the viewers - gazing in temporary wonder at the plight of people thousands of miles away.

Dragon's Den (RTÉ1), yet another bought-in format, began a new season with presenter Richard Curran justifying another outing by insisting that start-up businesses "have played a vital part in Ireland's economic recovery".

A pity, then, that the start-up projects in this opening show met with so little enthusiasm from the five judges, whose familiar aura of smug condescension hasn't been lessened by the inclusion of two new women members.

There was a cringe-making moment in which the five of them self-consciously oohed and aahed at a toddler who'd been brought on to assist in a sales pitch, though the pitcher herself subsequently got short shrift from them for her babycare products.

So, too, did the maker of children's crayons who began by asking the judges to sing happy birthday to her attendant son.

This rendition was just as cringeworthy, but the judges got their own back when each of them finally declared "I'm out". As for me, after this boringly lacklustre opening, I'm out, too.

A Poet's Rising (RTÉ1) featured six Irish poets as they lyrically commemorated the 1916 rebellion - Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin tackling James Connolly, Paul Muldoon reimagining Pádraig Pearse, Thomas McCarthy musing in the Garden of Remembrance, and so on.

They all took themselves very seriously, and it was all very artfully filmed in that terribly solemn way of bad arts programmes.

Though as for the poems themselves, I'd need to see them on the page.

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