Thursday 19 September 2019

The week in TV: The gags come at a price in Aisling Bea's This Way Up but they’re worth every penny


Waspish one-liners: Aisling Bea, Sorcha Cusack and Sharon Horgan in This Way Up
Waspish one-liners: Aisling Bea, Sorcha Cusack and Sharon Horgan in This Way Up
Frank Coughlan

Frank Coughlan

Sharon Horgan worked out for herself a long time ago that if you want to create a strong female character it is best you write it yourself because the chances are no bloke is going to do it for you.

That is where four memorable series of Catastrophe came from. It would not be a surprise to learn that Phoebe Waller-Bridge, writer and star of wonderful Fleabag, thought something similar. There's a pattern emerging here.

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This Way Up (C4 and streaming on All 4) comes from the pen of Aisling Bea who manages, in much the same way as Horgan, to create female characters making sense of the world on their own terms rather than having it explained for them.

Hardly unique but, in the traditional world of television sitcoms and drama, still rare enough to be intriguing.

Bea plays language tutor Áine, the funny, infuriating and troubled younger sister of Shona (Horgan) who has made a successful, if unfulfilling, life for herself in the City.

A comedy series about two Irish sisters in London could justify itself with a stable of predictable plotlines, but while their Irishness is integral to their characters, it never defines them or the series.

Having recovered from a 'teeny-little nervous breakdown', jokey Áine insulates her days with laughter but only as a means of staving off imminent nervous collapse. Shona's days, in response, seem timetabled to prevent that very thing happening.

The more Áine's life unravels, the funnier This Way Up becomes.

It's a tribute to both the characterisation and script that the unflinching humour in a series built around fragile mental health never strays too close to either the exploitative or maudlin.

In this week's second episode of six, Áine gets the chance to earn some extra money tutoring a young, lonely French boy, Etienne.

This should not be complicated but, of course, it is. So hilarity unfolds at Áine's expense, but often too at that of a world which can't seem to keep up.

Soon her mother (Sorcha Cusack), with whom she has a predictably complex and fractured relationship, will come over from Ireland to visit.

This should harvest some fine waspish one-liners, but don't be surprised if it throws up a few challenging moments too.

The gags come at a price in This Way Up, but they're worth every single penny.

John Creedon's Atlas (RTÉ1, Sunday) takes us on a different sort of journey, back in time through place names and old maps rather than, more predictably, by way of great events or terrible deeds.

Creedon is a familiar, avuncular figure on summer television.

He has become RTÉ's go-to man for the sort of easy-watch, out-doorsy series that takes us to the waters and the wild and down lost boreens in search of the curious and the eccentric.

He does it effortlessly because he's a genuinely nice man and his programmes would be hard to dislike, even if they have often erred on the side of harmless eejitry over anything more substantial.

Probably our best-loved radio broadcaster, you always feel that Creedon would be more comfortable behind the microphone creating the soundtrack for our evenings rather than play-acting for the picture box. His new series, one part down and two to come, sees a deft shift in emphasis though.

This time he seems truly invested in a project and subject that has engaged him since he was an inquisitive young boy growing up in Cork.

Starting in the north-west, and taking in both sides of the border, Creedon sets out to follow in the footsteps of John O'Donovan.

O'Donovan was the man tasked with standardising place names for the extensive ordinance survey of this island begun in 1824.

All elegantly shot, Creedon does his job with that trademark twinkle in his eye, but he also brings a light scholarly touch to his brief.

This is serious, or as serious as John Creedon will allow himself to become. He has a reputation to protect, after all.

José Mourinho doesn't really have one of those anymore and after he was sacked by Manchester United for being rubbish I truly thought we had seen the last of him at Old Trafford.

But the Special One (retired) was back there for the beginning of the new season as a star pundit on Sky Sports' Super Sunday. He looked suave, handsome and, well, rich.

Richer still at the end of the day, Sky having paid him handsomely for saying very little with characteristic nonchalance. Funny old game is right.

Ponte Morandi, the kilometre-long concrete and cable bridge that collapsed over Genoa killing 43 people a year ago this week, was once a symbol of post-war progress, engineering and design.

The gap it left behind is now seen as an apt metaphor for Italy's steady decline.

When Bridges Collapse: the Genoa Disaster (BBC 2) forensically probes the catalogue of failings that lead to this avoidable tragedy.

Not that the rest of us should be too smug: all of Europe is strung together by bridges and fly-overs constructed on similar principles... l know.

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