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TV reviews: Curious lack of in-depth profiles of contemporary Irish artists resolved with electric Roger Doyle documentary

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Roger Doyle plays a Moog synthesiser in 'The Curious Works Of Roger Doyle'

Roger Doyle plays a Moog synthesiser in 'The Curious Works Of Roger Doyle'

Roger Doyle plays a Moog synthesiser in 'The Curious Works Of Roger Doyle'

THE CURIOUS WORKS OF ROGER DOYLE RTÉ One, Tuesday, 11pm

THE 8TH
RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm

LEGO MASTERS AUSTRALIA
E4, Sunday, 7.10pm

HOT TUB BRITS 
Channel 5, Sunday, 9pm

WRITE AROUND THE WORLD WITH RICHARD E GRANT
BBC Four, Tuesday, 9pm

The Curious Works of Roger Doyle was a revised version of a feature-length profile of the man sometimes called the “godfather of Irish electronic music”, constructed around the staging of his opera Heresy.

It was an oddly traditional documentary for such an experimental composer who said he’d liked to be remembered as someone “who imagined music differently from anyone else” but it worked because it didn’t rush to impose any grand judgements on its subject, instead allowing the man himself and his friends, family and collaborators to quietly unpick what made him tick.

It’s a shame there aren’t more opportunities on screen for such serious deep dives into the workings of contemporary Irish artists.

There was added poignancy as Doyle played some of the pieces he had written based around recordings left down the years on his answering machine. The disembodied voices of his now dead mother and father, or of the late Sunday Independent journalist Jonathan Philbin Bowman improvising a poem down the phone line at the age of just 20, were scratchy with loss, evoking a Dublin that wasn’t so long ago but already feels impossibly distant.

There was far less nostalgia for the past in The 8th, another first showing on television for a feature-length documentary released in cinemas last year charting the 2018 campaign to repeal the Constitution’s eighth amendment that prohibited abortion.

The viciousness of the decades-long divide on the issue of women’s right to control their own fertility was starkly brought home by archive footage from 1983 when the amendment became law, and this film made no bones about where its heart lay.

It was pro-choice stalwarts such as UCD’s Ailbhe Smyth who took centre stage, and the film faded out pointedly on the face of Savita Halappanavar, the pregnant woman who died of sepsis in a Galway hospital in 2012.

Not all documentaries should be boringly impartial but substituting emotion and heart-tugging music for more hard-headed analysis carries its own risks. The film was also too long, giving it a strangely aimless air. In the end, it felt more like a triumphant aide memoire for Repeal activists rather than the general viewer.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note: when future historians look back and try to figure out where our civilisation went wrong  they could do worse than start with Lego Masters Australia, a show in which teams of two compete  against one another to, well, build structures out of Lego, with the victors each week winning “the golden brick”. 

Everyone does their best to inject some tension into the proceedings (one contestant even declared  he likes “pushing Lego to the next level”), but how much drama can you really get out of a bunch of nice but slightly dull people making pretend Art Deco buildings out of plastic blocks  even if the winning pair did wow the judges by attaching a dragon to the side of theirs?

The answer is: not much. The stakes literally couldn’t be any lower. Yet Lego Masters  is an international affair, with versions on three continents. If ever proof were needed the world no longer makes sense then  there it is.

Viewers who felt their intelligence still hadn’t been sufficiently insulted could have killed off any remaining brain cells by immediately switching channels and watching Hot Tub Brits too.

The title ought to be self-explanatory but, just in case there was any confusion, the cheery narrator helpfully explained the concept in words of no more than two syllables: “There’s a new craze bubbling away as Brits go bonkers for the must-have item of the decade.” A jaunty subtitle (“More Bubbles Please!”) only added to the over all grimness.

Among those featured in his new outdoor tub was celebrity chef Aldo Zilli, appearing here for reasons best known to himself, with former Olympian Fatima Whitbread providing expert analysis, for reasons probably best known to no one at all. I felt more sorry for them than anything else. They have mouths to feed and bills to pay like everyone else.

Before long, one of the tubs had sprung a leak, thus apparently illustrating the “perils and pitfalls” of the hot tub life. Suddenly Lego building didn’t seem quite so bad.

A morsel of faith in TV was restored by Write Around the World with Richard E Grant, a three-parter in which the actor travels to European destinations to explore how they were immortalised in classic novels.

The current mania for shoehorning celebrities into every programme is deeply irritating, but an exception must be made for Grant, who is so charming that even the sight of him living it up at licence-fee payers’ expense in five-star hotels and restaurants, before driving along the Amalfi coast in a convertible, merely provoked fondness rather than fury.

With episodes still to come in France and Spain, Grant started his journey in southern Italy following in the footsteps of writers such as Elena Ferrante, Charles Dickens, Patricia Highsmith and Carlo Levi. It was a sumptuous production, beautifully shot with no expense spared, though it did stray a little towards travelogue rather than literature, making it more suitable for BBC One than the higher-browed BBC Four.

But at a time when we’re all stuck at home for the summer, it’s the closest most of us will surely get to a foreign holiday this year. For that alone it can be forgiven.


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