Monday 23 September 2019

TV review: There wasn't much to treasure in navel-gazing history lesson National Treasures

Best left in the shed: Some of the items on John Creedon's National Treasures included a travel bag once belonging to an external affairs minister from the 1960s
Best left in the shed: Some of the items on John Creedon's National Treasures included a travel bag once belonging to an external affairs minister from the 1960s

John Boland

The fourth and final instalment of National Treasures (RTÉ1) took place in Galway, where a man brought along a football jersey for presenter John Creedon and his team of experts to marvel at.

Apparently it had been worn in the 1991 vocational schools final and marked one of the first times that the GAA had allowed a sponsor's name to feature on their playing gear. I could barely contain my excitement.

Other proffered items that set my pulse racing included an Ancient Order of Hibernians badge, a 1960s Aer Lingus travelling bag that had belonged to external affairs minister Frank Aiken and some memorabilia from Ireland's participation in Euro 88

These were among the "everyday objects" mentioned by John Creedon at the outset that apparently reveal to us who we are as a people but that, up to now, had been "stored away in the attics, garden sheds and bottom drawers of Ireland". On the evidence of this tedious series, they should have stayed there.

One of the objects was actually a building, a dance hall visited by one of the programme's experts. It's in Glenfarne, Co Leitrim and it's called The Ballroom of Romance, though bizarrely neither the expert nor the people he interviewed made any reference to William Trevor's great story of the same name or to Pat O'Connor's memorable film version.

Clearly, though, RTÉ feels it has a solemn duty every couple of years to make these navel-gazing dabblings, even though they are of little historical substance and even less viewer interest.

It's inclined, too, to let series run way past their sell-by date. Certainly the latest season of At Your Service (RTÉ1) has been at a low and listless ebb, with Francis Brennan's manic bonhomie seeming increasingly forced and brother John absenting himself from most of the proceedings.

Perhaps they actually did care this week about the café, children's playground and petting zoo being planned by mobile home owners Eleanor and Roy in Co Kerry, but from what was discernible on screen it was hard to feel that they weren't just going through the contractual motions.

And what about the contractual obligations that were enacted by Julie Etchingham and Trevor McDonald in Invitation to a Royal Wedding (ITV3)? What led two esteemed current affairs broadcasters to front such tosh?

The occasion was the upcoming marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (you can binge-watch her in Netflix reruns of Suits), about which Julie and Trevor had absolutely no information to impart, except that it would take place in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

That, though, didn't stop Trevor from assuring us that it would be "an eye-catching spectacle of pageantry" or Julie breathlessly promising to reveal "behind-the-scenes secrets from those in the know".

However, none of these whistleblowers appeared in the programme, though former Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman was on hand to disclose that it had been "utterly thrilling" to get an invitation to Will and Kate's nuptials seven years ago.

That event, according to Trevor, had been watched by almost twice as many people as had lined the streets for Charles and Diana's wedding, and he assured us that the numbers cheering Harry and Meghan were "likely to exceed all records", but that was as factual as this vacuous programme got.

The Handmaid's Tale (RTÉ2) is back for a second season and is even grimmer than before. The first season, which concluded where Margaret Atwood's original novel also ended, had been relentlessly bleak, so much so that even some of its most ardent enthusiasts had begun to feel that enough was enough, but this spin-off looks set to be even more nihilistic.

Indeed, while it is brilliantly directed and acted, especially by Elisabeth Moss in the central role, I've a feeling that it's going to prove too much for some viewers, myself included.

And I won't be taking refuge with The Alienist (Netflix), a 10-episode adaptation of Caleb Carr's 1994 novel about the serial murders and mutilations of children in the New York of the 1890s.

It's not just the explicit grisliness of it all and it's not just the gloom in which it's mostly enveloped, it's also that the opening episode was so sluggish that I felt no wish to continue.

The Woman in White (BBC1), which I dismissed last week after its opening instalment, has proven to be a better bet, with Dougray Scott a properly loathsome villain and Jessie Buckley fascinating in the central role, meekly dowdy at one moment and luminous the next.

And I was entirely won over by the Killarney-born actress's exhuberance on last week's Late Late Show, especially when Ryan Tubridy quoted a Radio Times article, which raved about how her "Irish accent has been transformed, the gawky posture improved and the curls tamed".

Were you gawky and curly, Tubridy asked. Yes, she replied, "but I'm still Irish and I'm still gawky and awkward and curly somewhere". Titters from the audience made her realise what she had just said and she collapsed in laughter.

In this week's second episode of Can't Cope, Won't Cope (RTÉ2), Aisling was still a self-absorbed narcissist. "She hasn't even asked me one single question about myself," Vancouver-based Danielle remarked to a friend, which neatly summed up both Aisling's character and the show's basic problem: how to make an egotist interesting, or at least bearable.

But what is Danielle doing in Vancouver? Those scenes must have cost something. Couldn't they have sent her to Birmingham instead?

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