Reality TV has been around for decades, but in the past ten years it has evolved in to a soulless, vacuous monstrosity where nothing has substance. The rise and rise of shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex and so on have meant that the phrase 'reality TV' has come to mean anything but that. Supposedly real lives and authentic experiences documented for the purposes of entertainment have given way for endless set ups, scripted storylines and what basically amounts to non-actors being employed in extremely cheap soap operas.
So then, it's quite a relief that something like Connected has been put together for RTE Two. Six women spent a number of months basically videoing everything they did and everywhere they went. Taking the form of video diaries, it's a fascinating and revealing portrait of real, ordinary people as they go about their not-so-ordinary lives. The first programme introduces Nicole, a 20-year old law student living with her boyfriend who happens to be ten years older than her. Nicole is quite philosophical about the eyebrow-raising situation, wondering aloud whether the breakup of her own parents' relationship when she was very young and the fact that her own mother was quite young when Nicole was born, is the reason she's in a relationship with somebody much older. But then again they love one another and that's just that. And when cracks begin to show in their relationship, we're taken along for the ride and it makes for fascinating but also slightly uncomfortable viewing. Then there's Venetia, a radio producer and presenter who is married with three children. She and her husband live rather hectic lives and are seen struggling to make ends meet since he went out of business during the recession. Finally we meet Elayne. Elayne is 26 and recently moved in to a new apartment after finding herself homeless for over a year. She's a rapper, poet and artist and is seen zipping around Dublin on her BMX meeting friends and getting on with life.
The thing that connects these women and the others that the programme follows is simply that they're living their lives in modern Ireland and reflect the diverse ways of life that are out there. The programme is a refreshingly realistic example of reality TV; nothing is set up, it's not contrived and the openness that they show makes for very compelling viewing. They talk with honesty about relationship problems, marital problems, financial problems, family problems and everything in between.
Season 1 available on Sky On Demand
The 1990s was really a golden age for British sitcoms. Red Dwarf, Game On, Alan Partridge's various outings and many more have really stood the test of time. Absolutely Fabulous is another one and it's worth a little revisit for sure. In case you don't know, Absolutely Fabulous was essentially the boozy misadventures of clueless PR exec Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders, who also wrote it) and her best friend Patsy Stone, played by a flawless Joanna Lumley. The spoiled rotten duo are constantly looked after by Edina's bookish daughter Saffron whose constant care of her irresponsible mother has turned her in to a bitter and cynical young girl. Now is a perfect time to revisit Absolutely Fabulous as Saunders confirmed earlier this year that a film adaptation is definitely in the works. She joked that the film has to happen as she made a £100,000 bet with Dawn French. If that's not a motivator, I don't know what is.
Tuesday 23rd, 9pm, BBC One
This brand new crime drama caught our eye due to the presence of Colm Meaney. Taxi driver Vince (David Morrisey) finds his life taking an unexpected turn when an old friend comes back in to his life after six years in prison. He's got an offer for Vince: become the personal driver for gangland kingpin The Horse (Colm Meaney). It's an exciting prospect at first but as the gang tool up for a major job Vince finds himself in over his head and with nowhere left to turn. The Driver is the story of an ordinary man who, out of frustration and boredom with his own life, makes a decision with dangerous consequences for his family as well as himself. We're not sure about Colm Meaney's cockney accent now, but this three-parter looks as though it could be satisfying and rewarding watch. Sort of like Ryan Gosling's Drive mixed with the grit of British dramas like Luther.
Scotland in a Day
Thursday 18th, 10pm, Channel 4
Scotland has gone to the polls to decide its future, and this Channel 4 mockumentary marks the occasion by turning the spotlight on a country poised on the brink of triumph or disaster. Created, written by and starring Jack Docherty, Scotland in a Day features a range of comic characters captured in a video diary style as they document 'Scotland's Day of Destiny'. There are passionate Yes voters, out and out Unionists, and those who can't help flip-flopping on which way to cast their vote. All Scottish life is here: pensioners, toddlers, deep-thinkers, eejits, landowners, entrepreneurs and party animals - everyone from the passionately political to characters doing their best to avoid the big issues.
Magic in the Moonlight
Colin Firth, Emma Stone
France, 1928. World renowned magician Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is enlisted by an old friend to debunk the mysterious psychic powers of a young American woman (Emma Stone) who has wangled her way in to the fortunes of a wealthy expatriate family. Cynical, dispassionate Crawford relishes the challenge and engages in a battle of wits with the cheeky medium, but finds himself falling for her charms himself and becoming convinced that her powers are genuine. Whether or not their new friendship and Crawford's revitalised zest for life will translate in to romance is another question though.
Writer-director Woody Allen's lifelong commitment to releasing a new film almost every year is an admirable trait, but also can tend to be his downfall. The first hour of Magic in the Moonlight is a delight, with crackling, jazzy dialogue and fine performances from the two leads. But eventually the story runs out of steam and ends up going in circles. The question mark over Emma Stone's psychic abilities is sidelined in favour of a muddled love story. Firth and Stone have undeniable chemistry, but their not inconsiderable age gap stretches credulity somewhat.
Stone once again proves herself to be one of the most natural and charismatic young actresses out there at the moment. She positively shines in her role, with Allen making most of her big eyes and radiant smile. It's a cheeky, fun performance that tells us she has a very bright career ahead of her.
Colin Firth, meanwhile, is as good as he has ever been as the highly strung artist transformed in to a believer, and he carries the film in its second half when the weaknesses of the story begin to expose themselves. His monologues on the nature of belief or a lack thereof are engaging and entertaining, and when he and Emma Stone square off with their verbal jousting the film is a real delight.
All in all, Magic in the Moonlight is a fine addition to Woody Allen's vast catalogue. It's a charming little movie, shot beautifully on the French Riviera with fine period costumes and a dreamy feel. It's far from Allen's best work, and one feels that with a little more time spent on the script, the finished product would have been a lot stronger.
The Riot Club
Max Irons, Sam Claflin, Holliday Granger
In one of the most exclusive universities in the world, there exists an even more exclusive club. With only ten members, all from backgrounds of extraordinary wealth and privilege, The Riot Club is a celebration of excess and the dark heart of British high society. Adapted from Laura Wade's play Posh, The Riot Club is an entertaining if somewhat flawed film. New member Miles is initially charmed and seduced by the club but the fun of it all later gives way to a disturbing undercurrent that culminates in a nauseating act of violence. The film looks great, with its cast that looks like it just walked off the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, and its theatrical roots are exposed in an impressively staged, extremely long dinner sequence at the heart of the film. But it's an unpleasant experience to begin with; we wonder from the start why Miles would want to be a part of this awful club to begin with, but that's kind of the point. Based on the real-life exploits of Oxford's Bullingdon Club - which had David Cameron and Boris Johnson among its members, it's an intriguing watch that lets itself down with a muddled message and rushed ending.
Deirdre O'Kane, Liam Cunningham
Deirdre O'Kane stars in this energetic and moving biopic of Christina Noble, the Irish campaigner who established the world-renowned children's charity in the 1980s.
A Walk Among the Tombstones
Liam Neeson, Brian 'Astro' Bradley
Liam Neeson is in Liam Neeson mode in this so-so thriller about a PI who discovers a disturbing murder plot while investigating a rich woman's disappearance.
A Most Wanted Man
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright
Hoffman is electrifying in this subtle European spy thriller based on the novel by John le Carre.
Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning
Gorgeous stop-motion animation abounds in this children's fantasy about friendly critters living beneath a regal town with a dark secret.