Wednesday 12 December 2018

TV review: You had to sit through a lot of bull in Alison Spittle's culchie exercise

Country life: Alison and the Tully twins on Alison Spittle's Culchie Club
Country life: Alison and the Tully twins on Alison Spittle's Culchie Club

John Boland

The antagonism that's supposed to exist between culchies and city slickers is as old as the hills, so why revive it now? No answer was forthcoming in Alison Spittle's Culchie Club (RTÉ2), a skittish hour-long inquiry that was built, as its presenter conceded, on "a flimsy premise".

In fact, the basic premise seemed all about providing a platform for Spittle herself, who hadn't been seen on RTÉ since... well, since earlier that same evening when she was the star comedic guest on Big Week on the Farm. And it's not so long ago (last December) since she fronted her own six-part RTÉ sitcom, Nowhere Fast, which was set in the midlands where she grew up.

Clearly our national broadcaster thinks she's the bee's knees, and so do her online followers, so am I the only one who doesn't really get her faux-naïf shtick and who thought that most of the funny moments in Nowhere Fast came from her female sidekicks?

There were occasions in this week's documentary when she seemed to be genuinely engaging with her subject - chatting with Tralee-based fellow-comedian Shane about shared feelings of isolation and depression, or asking Bradley from Ballina what it was like being a drag queen in Mayo, but most of it was silly stuff that didn't contribute any insights into the rural-urban divide that was the film's supposed subject.

And so we had the sight of a bull's erection causing Spittle to yelp "Oh, my God, do you see that? Janey Mac!" and a tractor ride that seemed to have no other purpose than provide the punchline "That's the biggest thing I've ever had between my legs".

At the end of it all, Spittle assured us that "doing this documentary has definitely made me feel more comfortable in my culchie identity", but the viewer couldn't quite see why.

By contrast, Big Week on the Farm (RTÉ1) made me feel entirely comfortable in my urban identity. It wasn't just the sight of Marty Whelan in a three-piece tweed suit, pink shirt and green wellies, though that was enough to frighten the chickens; it was also the bloodletting that was so nonchalantly on display.

Trying to watch a caesarean operation being performed on a pregnant cow made me feel I had stumbled into a Tarantino movie, and so, while I wished Aine Lawlor, Ella McSweeney and the nice Dungarvan farming family well in their week-long endeavours, I decided that Dublin still was heaven, with coffee at 11 and a stroll through Stephen's Green, even if I get mugged there.

The four-part National Treasures (RTÉ1) is like the Antiques Roadshow - minus the thrill of finding out whether the submitted artefacts are worth five shillings or a cool million.

Genial John Creedon (the go-to man for any self-respecting RTÉ roadshow) told us at this week's outset that everyday objects brought along by members of the public would be relating the story of Ireland over the past 100 years and that "a top team of historians" would be telling us of their significance.

Then he introduced us to this top team, none of whom I'd ever heard of, though all of them seemingly expert in their respective disciplines, whether that was in social matters, design or fashion.

There was lots of archive footage to pad out the proceedings and it all had the air of a worthy and somewhat dull exercise, with some of the scrutinised objects more interesting than others. A Hadji Bey Turkish Delight tin, really? Rory Gallagher's guitar plectrum, honestly?

We also got to contemplate Sonia O'Sullivan's runners, a leather strap used by Christian Brothers to beat their pupils, and the Aran sweaters worn by the Clancy Brothers and brought along by two of their widows - "both of them such amazing women", according to one of the team of experts, though they weren't given the time to say very much.

In this week's Room to Improve (RTÉ1), Dermot Bannon looked back on the 11 years in which, as Ireland's only architect, he's been hosting the show. "I cannot believe it's that long", he said. Me neither, Dermot.

It was a journey, he said, "of persuading people to do certain things" or, to put it in other words, of getting his own way when confronted by homeowners with alternative opinions about what their abodes should look like.

But, as we saw from the clips he showed us, he was invariably right. "We're thrilled," said a man from Maynooth. "We couldn't be happier," said his wife. "It's a dream come true," said a woman in Dún Laoghaire, "it's almost too good to be true". A woman in Baldoyle thought Dermot's vision "awesome", another marvelled at "the wonder that has been created", while a woman in Finglas simply declared: "I absolutely love him" - though maybe not as much as he seems to love himself.

At the very end of Come Home (RTÉ1/BBC1), Belfast car mechanic Greg and the wife who'd abandoned him and their children reached some kind of uneasy accommodation, but it had been a rocky journey and with too many melodramatic, indeed implausible, twists to be really satisfying.

But Christopher Eccleston and Paula Malcomson had been outstanding, as had Lola Petticrew in the role of their loving but troubled teenage daughter.

In Lisbon: An Art Lover's Guide (BBC4), Janina Ramirez and Alastair Sooke visited that loveliest of European cities and found it just as cherishable as anyone who's fallen under its spell.

They eschewed the usual touristy approach and in doing so located many interesting places and people, some of which I've jotted down for my next visit there, which can't come too soon.

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