Saturday 24 March 2018

There was more to this Lotto show than met the viewer's eye...

Titanic dreams: Vincent Keaney, who used his winnings to start a bar and restaurant in Cobh, on RTÉ's We Won the Lotto
Titanic dreams: Vincent Keaney, who used his winnings to start a bar and restaurant in Cobh, on RTÉ's We Won the Lotto
One more to go: Amy Huberman as Tara in Striking Out

John Boland

Raffish and roguish and with a disarmingly louche air about him, Vincent Keaney was the most compelling reason for watching the first instalment of We Won the Lotto, an RTÉ1 two-part series about people who had achieved that lucky distinction.

Vincent, you felt, was a man who could tell you a few stories and indeed a quick Google search after the programme ended revealed that he'd outraged lots of people in 2010 when he posted footage of himself dancing on Charlie Haughey's grave in Sutton. (A YouTube video showed him doing just that). Google also informed me that he'd been in prolonged litigation with a former business partner and that he'd once stood as a Green Party candidate.

But the film told me none of these things, focusing instead on the doomed Titanic-themed bar and restaurant he'd opened in Cobh with his 1996 Lotto winnings and on the imposing house in the town's beautiful Crescent that he had to sell when his Titanic venture sank.

Yet if I learned little about his life or background (where, for instance, did he get that posh accent?), at least he was engaging company in a film that couldn't quite make up its mind whether it was acting as a PR exercise for the National Lottery or engaged in something sociologically more interesting.

One more to go: Amy Huberman as Tara in Striking Out
One more to go: Amy Huberman as Tara in Striking Out

It achieved the latter in its story of former customs officer Billy Comer, who won the equivalent of €1.97m in 1994. "Welcome to the club" one of his billionaire property brothers said at the time, but then Billy spent the bulk of it not on one pub in his native Glenamaddy but on three pubs, all of which went under during the recession. Did the globally successful brothers not tell him it was a mad venture?

"A million pounds is not an awful lot if you do the wrong thing with it", he ruefully reflected, adding that while "the recession took its toll, depression took its toll as well". At the time of his Lotto win, though, he'd been "walking on air", while for Vincent it had been "better than the best sex you ever had in your life". And just as fleeting, too.

In Flatland Empire (BBC2) the ecstasy was religious rather than sexual, as rapturous staff at a new Ikea store in Sheffield were given a tour of the global megafirm's Swedish headquarters. Ikea, they were informed, was a "movement" rather than a business, and there was lots of talk about "culture" and "values" and "togetherness".

But the business end was astonishing, with 203 million Ikea catalogues published last year in 35 languages and with 70 million trees felled each year for the making of its products.

Among the newest of these products was a sofa bed created by maverick British designer Tom Dixon, who kept wearily insisting that it was actually a bed sofa, with the emphasis on bed, and who looked very huffy when his Swedish colleagues kept emphasising the sofa element. Maybe they'll have sorted it out by the end of this three-part series.

In the penultimate episode of Striking Out (RTÉ1), shouty Corinne and bigamous ex-husband Barry were doing battle over money, just as they'd been doing in the first series, which we were expected to remember.

"I want to screw him into the floor," Corinne yelled this time around. "Him and the tart." Then they had a ludicrous face-off in City Hall, after which it suddenly all got settled. "Bloody hell, how did that happen?" barrister Vincent asked Tara. "I don't know," Tara mused, "it's just life." Yes, but not as we know it.

We got the real thing, though, in the concluding episodes of Spiral (BBC4), with lawyer Josephine accused of trying to murder her rapist boss, policewoman Laure fleeing the demands of motherhood and a woebegone Gilou left clutching a giant cuddly toy.

But the mystery at the heart of this sixth season got solved, and very satisfactorily too, with the baddies caught and corrupt cop Jolers blowing his brains out. As for those tantalising loose ends, roll on next year's final season of television's best cop show.

I don't think that Maltese: The Mafia Detective (Channel 4) is going to be in the same league, but the first episode of this Italian eight-parter was certainly arresting. Scripted by some of the writers behind the long-running Gomorrah, this is set in the Sicily of the 1970s and begins with the return from Rome of main cop Dario to his native Trapani for the wedding of a friend. Then the friend is brutally murdered and Dario sets out to discover the reason for his killing.

In its gritty depiction of criminality, this is a long way from Inspector Montalbano, which was also set in Sicily but which opted for whimsicality rather than realism.

Meanwhile, McMafia (BBC1), which ends tomorrow night, has continued to test our patience with a sluggish plotline and a plank-like central performance from James Norton in the central role. He certainly doesn't convince me as any threat to anyone, but if the villainous Vadim deems him to be so, why doesn't he just have him killed?

Eighty-one-year-old great grandmother Evelyn Williams from Tallaght lit up the first edition of Ireland's Got Talent (TV3) with her rendering of Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns', and the show itself was a lively Irish version of a familiar international format.

But the continuing survival of Marty Morrissey and Bernard O'Shea on Dancing with the Stars (RTÉ1) has gone beyond being a bad joke. Unless, of course, the show isn't really about dancing at all, in which case why are we watching?

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