Tuesday 23 October 2018

If only paul had piped down a bit

Paul Williams investigates: The Battle for the gas field TV3 traffic blues RTE1 outbreak TG4 SCANNAL! RTE1 Having a Laugh: Great Irish TV Comedy Moments TV3 THE BEAST RTE2

John Boland

From Marian Finucane's radio interview with him last weekend, I knew in advance the position reporter Paul Williams would be adopting in his TV3 documentary about the Corrib gas line controversy, but I had expected his hostility towards the protesters to be supported by some damning facts about their activities.

However, instead of providing an exposé he contented himself with innuendo and abuse, some of it so vehement that the viewer almost felt sympathy for the die-hard fanatics and professional agitators who've latched on to this bitter campaign.

I said "almost" because the protesters who featured on Paul Williams Investigates: The Battle for the Gas Field were a deeply unlikeable lot. Still, I would have preferred to make up my own mind about them, though Williams wasn't about to let me do that. At the outset, he disingenuously asked if these "vocal underdogs" were national heroes or "villains" standing in the way of national progress, but he himself had no doubt about the answer, his attitude announcing itself in the language he used.

Dubliner Niall Harnett was "one of the ringleaders" and "a full-time eco warrior", while retired local schoolteacher Maura Harrington was the "diva" of the protest and the "pin-up girl of every sect of the republican movement". Apologists for the Real IRA, he confided, "are among her biggest fans". Harrington and her "vociferous comrades", he told us later, "run a slick propaganda machine", while in general the protest has attracted "every shade of red and green".

On the other hand, "popular retired teacher" Paraic O Coscara is "a champion" of the Shell project, which is "transforming north Mayo" by giving workers "good money to spend" in an area that's now "booming". But if the "battalions of agitators" have their way, "billions of euro will be washed away".

Williams hardly needed to bother himself with such invective because the protesters proved expert at condemning themselves. Workers, according to a scowling Harnett, "are not entitled to work on an illegitimate site", while Harrington declared that even if everyone else in the country supported the Shell project, she and her fellow believers "don't care" and will do "what it takes" to scupper it. Ah, democracy.

Nonetheless, even if these people give me the creeps, I would have liked a few hard facts about them and what they've actually done to merit Williams's vituperation. These, alas, weren't forthcoming, and so I ended up in much the same frame of mind as at the beginning -- my gut instinct telling me that if such glowering fanatics are against something, I'm consequentially for it. Anyway, I drove through a bleakly depopulated north Mayo a while back and reckoned that it could do with an economic boost, even if it's brought about, in Harrington's charming words, by "shits in suits".

RTE1, meanwhile, came up with two new series, though neither of them was compulsive viewing. Traffic Blues is yet another of our national broadcaster's slavishly uncritical public relations exercises in support of An Garda Siochana, this time telling us what marvellous work the force does in keeping our roads safe.

There was footage of a crash on the M50 and of a man being detained for drink-driving and of the high-speed chase of a guy who was clocking 160kph on a motorway. In all the incidents, the gardai were portrayed as considerate and caring, not least when they detained a youth in a rickety car with a speeding record and let him go with a mild lecture. No doubt the camera's presence had nothing to do with their benign attitude.

I might have found Outbreak a little more engrossing if TG4 hadn't already screened a lengthier and more comprehensive film on the subject -- the 1918 flu epidemic that claimed the lives of 50 million people throughout the world -- 20,000 in Ireland. Still, it was interesting to hear the recollections of a 101-year-old woman and two 95-year-old men whose families were affected.

Scannal! (also RTE1) covered familiar ground, too, in its account of how John Carthy was killed by gardai in the siege of Abbeylara. Nothing new emerged in this latest retelling of the circumstances surrounding the death of this disturbed young man, but the story remains shocking in its central story of garda ineptitude.

Just in case we haven't endured enough with RTE1's A Little Bit Funny, the familiar sound of Irish comedians patting themselves on the back came through louder than ever on Having a Laugh: Great Irish TV Comedy Moments (TV3), in which a variety of practitioners explained why the Irish are funnier than anyone else.

"We're a lot more rebellious and a lot more cheeky," Tommy Tiernan asserted. "What we do, which is go on stage and tell stories, we do very, very well," Dara O Briain stated. "We have a better sense of the ridiculous," David Kelly thought. "Dublin wit is second to none," Katherine Lynch felt. And Twink noted that "we're a spontaneously witty race of people", while assuring us that "comedy is a very serious business". That's when I lunged for the off-button.

RTE2 screened the first episode of The Beast, an American import featuring Patrick Swayze as a ruthless FBI undercover agent. "How's your partner treating you?" his young protege was asked. "He's a real prick," the rookie replied. That's a compliment in a crime series such as this.

Other clichés soon followed. "Does that scare you?" Patrick snarled. "Because it should." Or there was Patrick saying "You still don't get it, do you?" Or the bemused rookie declaring "I don't have a choice", to which Patrick sagely replied "Everyone has a choice."

My choice is whether I'll ever revisit this preposterous tosh (which can't make up its mind whether it's imitating Michael Mann's Heat or The Shield), and though there's an undeniable fascination about watching Swayze growl his way through the leaden script, I'm afraid my answer is in the negative.

jboland@independent.ie

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