Monday 20 November 2017

Television: What's cooking? Well, not a lot to get excited about...

Coast-ing: Rachel Allen catches up with fellow foodie Paul Flynn in Dungarvan
Coast-ing: Rachel Allen catches up with fellow foodie Paul Flynn in Dungarvan

John Boland

In the past seven days, you could have watched 31 hours of European football on RTÉ2 and another 23 hours on TV3. Or, if you didn't follow soccer, RTÉ1 was on hand to provide you with eight hours of cookery programmes, a couple of them new. Apart from that, there was absolutely nothing to watch on the main Irish channels.

So cookery it had to be, though having previously endured Donal Skehan's ecstatic selfies in Budapest ("Wow!) and Istanbul ("Wow!" once more), I declined this week's invitation to follow him to Amsterdam, where no doubt he was wowed all over again.

Instead, in a repeat of Rachel's Coastal Cooking (RTÉ1), I accompanied Rachel Allen to Dungarvan and was immediately introduced to restaurateur Paul Flynn, who pops up on the box even more often than Rachel herself. "How are you?" Rachel asked. "I'm brilliant, thank you," Paul replied.

Then Paul sent Rachel on a lobster expedition with fisherman Colin, Rachel confiding to camera that "it might not look it on TV, but it was really very choppy and I was relieved to be sitting down".

Given the level of tension, so was I, though preferably in my local pub, with the TV turned off.

Anyway, Rachel then proceeded to her home town of Midleton, where she was treated to a "masterclass in whiskey" by local expert Dave, who asked her to keep her nose open to the hint of raisins, plums, prunes, bell pepper, spices, new-mown hay and Christmas cake in the whiskey she was sampling. And as if this wasn't thrilling enough, she then got to assemble a whiskey barrel with cooper Ger.

"This is really enjoyable," a hammer-wielding Rachel assured the viewer as she helped to bash the cask into shape.

Along the way she also got to cook a few dishes, though amid all the excitement I'm afraid I've forgotten what they were.

And if Rachel gets that jittery on a Waterford trawler, I'd advise her not to take a flight to Paro airport in Bhutan, described by presenter Dallas Campbell in City in the Sky (BBC2) as his "scariest landing ever". In fact, only 26 pilots are qualified to make this hair-raising descent through terrifying Himalayan mountains onto a tiny runway that only becomes visible seconds before the wheels touch the ground.

In this final instalment of a three-part series, we were also shown how Atlanta airport manages to cope with the 1,300 planes that land there every day - one every 30 seconds. It's all down to the five parallel runways, apparently, which eliminate the need for criss-crossing aircraft. This was not a programme for nervous flyers, but it was riveting all the same.

Still, it was a relief to get some laughs from Cunk on Shakespeare (BBC2), which was as rude as its title about the bard's achievements. Philomena Cunk, played by Diane Morgan, is the creation of Charlie Brooker and her confrontational cluelessness has enlivened many Brooker weekly review shows.

Here, she set out her stall by declaring that "I've been studying Shakespeare ever since I was asked to do this programme, and it turns out he's more than just a bald man who could write with feathers". But why do we still talk about him, she wondered, given that "we don't talk about Les Dennis anymore, even though he's still alive".

Researching his life, she found, was like taking part in an episode of Who Dost Thou Thinketh Thou Art, though she discovered that education in Shakepeare's day was easier than now "because you didn't have to study Shakespeare". When it came to the plays, she giggled at the "anus" in Coriolanus, while wondering why audiences still laugh at the comedies "even though there are no jokes". And when Simon Russell Beale confessed that he was obliged to memorise all the boring in-between bits as well as the famous soliloquies, she retorted: "You must be f**king joking!" As for Game of Thrones - it was definitely Shakespeare's best play because "it has everything".

Ben Elton's recent sitcom, Upstart Crow, attempted to perform the same comic feat with Shakespeare as his peerless Blackadder had done with the ruling classes of English history, but it just wasn't very funny. Cunk on Shakespeare, though, had more than its share of laugh-out-loud moments.

Orange is the New Black (Netflix) has returned for a fourth season and you can binge-watch all of its episodes, if that's your thing. For myself, I was much taken by the first season of this women's prison drama but felt no urgent compulsion to keep up with its successors and so found myself rather bemused by this season's opening episode. And a degree of silliness seemed to have crept into its plotlines. But don't let me stop you.

Boris Johnson was the best-known participant in Tuesday night's EU Referendum: The Great Debate (BBC1), spouting his usual guff about the perils of immigration. I wonder what he would have made of the Polish drama series, The Border, which went out on Channel 4 just as the debate ended.

The story here concerned the often lethal trafficking of migrants from the Ukraine into Poland and though it began slowly, its story of border guards trying to combat the illegal trafficking made for some tense scenes. Worth a look, though you can only see subsequent episodes online on All 4 and I'm not sure how accessible that is to most viewers. A strange decision by Channel 4.

Boris, though, might quite like the show, which is all about enforcement, even if in this case the hapless migrants aren't actually from the dreaded EU. Foreigners all the same, though.

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