Friday 15 December 2017

A new era dawns... all hail the ming dynasty


Despite its teasing title, there wasn't much flesh to be found in The Naked Election (RTÉ1), in which a camera crew accompanied six hopefuls during their recent campaign to become TDs.

The film's most obvious problem -- that of having to combat post-election viewer fatigue -- was not of its own making, but this was compounded by a narrative approach that seldom veered from the tried and trite and that relied on (indeed, probably prayed for) unforeseen moments and off-the-cuff comments to arrest the attention.

Matters weren't helped by a voiceover that promised a film "stripped bare of jargon and spin" but then descended immediately into its own form of spin, deeming Leo Varadker to be Fine Gael's "poster boy" and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan to be not only the "maverick mayor" of Roscommon but a member of "the Ming dynasty". Gosh, aren't these voiceover people clever?

Nor was our commentator afraid of other clichés, telling us about "the battle for hearts and minds" and the "glare of the national media", while also assuring us that "the nation was gripped by election fever" and that viewers "were glued" to the final leaders' debate.

However, I did learn a few things. In the person of Fianna Fáil Co Clare candidate John Hillery, I learned that hope sprang eternal, even when a constituent was telling him that "you've ruined the f***king country altogether" and when the candidate himself recalled that "the last butcher shop I went into I was threatened with a cleaver."

I learned, too, that Leo Varadkar dislikes door-to-door campaigning. "I suppose I'm not a natural people person," he confessed, confiding later -- as he chose between competing takeaway dinners in his fridge -- that "it's nice to come home to nobody every now and then".

And I learned from the Greens' Paul Gogarty that not alone was he expecting to lose his seat from the outset but that he was "worn down by two years of abuse from people" -- this from the man who had hurled four-letter abuse at Emmet Stagg in the Dáil. In the event, he was the first to concede defeat, instead declaring his ambition to write a book and record an album. Haven't the Greens done enough to us?

There was only one woman candidate, Sinn Féin's Kathleen Funchion, in the film's line-up, and she was treated cursorily, much more attention being given to Ming, who had nearly all the good lines, but that's clearly because he's a sharp cookie, even when that cookie has been laced with cannabis. Indeed, he vowed that if he got elected he'd celebrate with a "small joint" and a beer. "I'm certainly not going to change my ways," he added, as if we somehow thought he would.

Mind you, he didn't sound high as a kite on his first day in the Dáil last Wednesday (RTÉ1 News Special). In fact, his speech was pretty nifty, if outshone in eloquence -- visually, at any rate -- by the flowing peroxide tresses, blue earring and vividly pink open-neck shirt (rolled-up sleeves and all) sported by new Wexford TD Mick Wallace. And to think they once used to fume over a tie-less Tony Gregory. O brave new world.

On The Meaning of Life (RTÉ1), Gay Byrne quizzed Michael Parkinson about his religious beliefs, which were non-existent.

"I never bought into the idea of there being a divinity," Parkinson said at the outset, though he was forced to restate his agnosticism later when his host kept harping on about faith, as if unwilling to accept the fact that there are people out there who don't believe in the deity that was worshipped by the Christian Brothers in Synge Street all those decades ago.

The encounter, though, was interesting, not least when host and interviewee reminisced about working together in Granada television in the old days, though Parkinson seemed at pains to distance himself somewhat from this shared memory, as if reminders of such intimacy somehow belittled him. "You're a year younger than I am," his interviewer said at one stage, to be met with the cool response "Is that right?"

I can't quite define it, and maybe I'm wrong, but I sensed a slight uneasiness and edge to Parkinson's responses. Funny that, because, despite what the Yorkshire man might think, Byrne has always been much the finer television interviewer, less straitjacketed by the clichés of showbiz chat and much more revealing of his subjects.

Cloch le Carn, RTÉ1's strange little series profiling recently deceased eminences, paid tribute to Irish rugby forward Moss Keane, who died last October at the age of 62. "Maybe the most popular Irish sportsman in history," said former teammate Ollie Campbell. "The crowd adored Mossie and we adored him," said fellow outhalf Tony Ward.

Indeed, adoration was the keyword throughout a half-hour that was long on obvious affection for a man who was "the life and soul of the party" (Tony Ward again) but short on the kind of judicious assessment that might have measured his contribution to Irish rugby for those too young to have been there.

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