Wednesday 13 December 2017

All hot air and no fire – it's time Dragons were put to the sword

John Boland

Is it just me or does anyone else think Dragons' Den should have been buried along with the Celtic Tiger, on the mangy tail of which it initially rode? Maybe, as presenter Richard Curran argued at the outset of the show's fifth season on RTÉ One, now is the time "when new businesses need it most", but if so, it should at least soften its Masters of the Universe triumphalist tone, which was flaunted right from the start with Curran's introduction of the panel.

Ramona Nicholas, we were told, had not only "outfoxed the recession with a booming chain of pharmacies" but was also head of "a multimillion-euro group of companies". Barry O'Sullivan, for his part, was "a major Silicon Valley player" who had "multibillion-dollar" businesses, while "technological pioneer" Seán O'Sullivan had "invested millions" in start-up companies.

Nicholas and O'Sullivan were among the show's three new panellists, which made me wonder what had happened the previous three. Were they still multi-millionaires, were they currently on the dole or had they simply got bored with dispensing plaudits and putdowns to budding entrepreneurs? We weren't told.

However, this led me to another question about the much-vaunted dragons. In the last four years, had their business instincts been any good? How many of the ventures in which they'd invested had succeeded and how many had gone to the wall?

This is something I've also wondered about the shops, hotels and B&Bs visited by the preening Brennan brothers in RTÉ One's At Your Service, but such information is never forthcoming and the viewer is left to take on trust the unerring genius of its know-it-all advisers.

For these reasons, I'm afraid I came to the latest Dragons' Den with a low tolerance of its panellists, and this was accentuated when one of them dismissively shot down the aspirations of the first contestant, while another chortled loudly when the young man disclosed that his waking-up time was 8am – by which time, of course, real entrepreneurs would have devoured 10 such wimps for breakfast. Oh, enough already.

"I don't think anyone over 30 has any idea what it must be like to be a teenager today." That was the view of behavioural psychologist Bryan Roche, one of a gaggle of experts enlisted by Reality Bites: Generation Sex (RTÉ One) to offer their tuppenceworth on the physical relationships of young Irish people.

Presented engagingly and without fuss by psychologist Deborah Mulvany, the film was notable for the almost offhand candour with which its teens and 20-somethings spoke about their sexual habits, preferences, dislikes and hang-ups in the age of instantly accessible online porn.

There were a few startling revelations, notably concerning porn, where the common wisdom – whether feminist or reactionary – has always been that it's almost entirely a man's preserve which is deeply alienating to the vast majority of women.

That may have been true for an era in which porn mags, if available at all, were confined to the top shelves of shops, but in a decade in which explicit sexual acts are only a mouse-click away it appears to have become more acceptable to women – one 21-year-old in the programme declaring she frequently watched porn with her boyfriend and another finding most of it "healthy and normal".

The film didn't really reach any conclusions beyond Deborah's insistence that healthy sexual relationships depend on "open discussion and honest communication", but the various chats that led up to this somewhat pious platitude were both disarming and engrossing – and made that same point anyway.

I'm not sure what point was being made by Communion Day (RTÉ One), a melange of sociological vignettes that had no obvious connection with each other beyond the fact that they all centred on a child's first communion – though the focus might just as well have been on birthday parties, trips to the seaside or first days at school.

Communion Day, of course, is a traditional feature in the calendar of Irish lives, but there was little that was typical about the children featured in the film. Indeed, in this first of two parts the makers went out of their way to select communicants who were far from the norm – a Traveller boy, a wheelchair-bound girl and the daughter of immigrant black parents who were seeking citizenship.

Each of these stories was intriguing in its own way, but the film failed to locate any real unifying pulse to what was being presented, and so it was difficult for the viewer to become fully engaged.

The modest comedy-drama series Scup (TG4) has begun brightly, with winning turns from Don Wycherly as the maverick journalist roped in by an ailing Irish-language weekly paper, and by Denis Conway as its sardonic proprietor. Both actors were very fine in a previous TG4 drama, The Running Mate, and are worth watching even if Scup declines in invention, which I hope it won't.

Meanwhile, across the water, various dramas were competing with each other. BBC One ran Mayday over five nights, though at time of writing I hadn't discovered which of the country town's psychos had done away with the teenage girl. Another psycho is on the loose in ITV's Broadchurch, starring David Tennant and Olivia Colman as brooding cops wondering who murdered a teenage boy, and running for seven more weeks. And also on ITV there's the genuinely spooky Lightfields, which is worth a look.

Irish Independent

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