Friday 24 November 2017

John Boland: Lie back and think of Europe? Quick, pass me that remote...

Party time! What a barrel of laughs this lot were discussing the upcoming EU referendum on TV3
Party time! What a barrel of laughs this lot were discussing the upcoming EU referendum on TV3

At the outset of The Europe Debate with Vincent Browne (TV3), the four speakers were given a minute each to make their respective cases, Fine Gael's Simon Coveney using his 60 seconds to assure me that I should vote Yes in the upcoming referendum because the new EU fiscal treaty would be "good for Ireland".

And Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin was equally mindful of my welfare as an Irish citizen, pointing out that the treaty would mean access to cheaper EU funding -- an outcome, I gathered, at which we should all be excited, even if Micheál didn't sound overly excited himself.

Not at all excited was socialist Joe Higgins, who sternly warned me that the treaty would "destroy an economy already deeply damaged by austerity", while Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald simply couldn't countenance allowing the Government to behave "in such an inept manner".

By now the debate was only four minutes old but already my problem was that I couldn't imagine four speakers whose views I less wanted to hear -- the platitudes of bland Simon and mournful Micheál are always guaranteed to send me into a coma, while the daily prospect of being harangued on radio and television by Joe and Mary Lou invariably has me lunging for the remote.

So why would I want to hear them drivelling on yet again about the treaty referendum? The short answer is I wouldn't and, indeed, didn't. Perhaps when I switched off they all started cracking jokes, playing charades, spinning the bottle or sharing a spliff, but I somehow doubted it.

Instead, I watched Will and Kate: The First Year, which I'd recorded an hour earlier on the same channel and which would probably earn me an automatic jail sentence if Mary Lou's party ever got into power.

This ITV production (and screened at the same time on that channel) was even better -- by which I mean jaw-droppingly awful -- than I'd hoped, having wagered with myself about how soon it would take for the word "fairytale" to be used. In the event, it took all of 20 seconds into a documentary that purported to tell "the inside story of how Will and Kate stole the nation's heart".

Not just the nation, the entire world -- various royal commentators informing us that, from Timbuktu to Termonfeckin, the planet was agog at the couple's style, charm and empathy with the plebs in the street. The commentators themselves were agog at Kate's ability to walk in a straight line without falling over and her facility at uttering comprehensible sentences when required to do so.

But what really set their pulses racing was the couple's apparent physical ease with each other -- understandable, I suppose, given the monarchy's usual habit of breeding uptight twits who regard displays of affection as something best left to the commoners.

Here I especially liked the insights of body-language expert Elizabeth Kunke, who revealed that "those two are not afraid to touch each other -- in fact, they're always touching each other. It's cute to watch -- they're very sexy."

Elizabeth herself sounded a bit touched as she breathlessly delivered these adoring observations in a programme that was filmed and narrated from a kneeling position.

News stories and detailed analysis have highlighted the revelations contained in Darragh MacIntyre's This World exposé, The Shame of the Catholic Church (BBC Two, so I'll say no more than that it made for riveting, if deeply uncomfortable, viewing, with MacIntyre an impassioned though admirably unfussy conduit for the horror stories that were being related.

I'm not sure what I was meant to take from Births of the Nation (RTÉ One), which hung its account of four pregnancies on the fact that Ireland is currently producing more babies than at any time since the early 1980s. In fact, almost 75,000 babies were born here in 2009, leaving father-to-be Rory to observe: "They've nothing else to do, there's no money to do anything else."

He'll certainly be fully occupied with the triplets his wife produced before the programme's end, and we also saw happy outcomes for three other women, though I'm not sure what I was supposed to glean from the film's chronicle of the months leading up to these nativities. Maybe friends and family members were fascinated.

In the absorbing The Hunt for Bin Laden (UTV), former CIA and FBI operatives confessed themselves shocked though not surprised by the 9/11 outrages. Having spent much of the previous decade warning the White House of the threat he posed and having begged for the resources needed to snatch and/or kill him, they viewed the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks as almost inevitable.

It didn't get any better after 9/11, George W Bush belittling Bin Laden's significance while pursuing his own calamitous agenda in Iraq. And various attempts to track him down were so inept and underfunded that, in the words of one agent, they could have been conducted by the Keystone Cops.

When he was finally killed last May, former White House counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke wasn't overly impressed. "If I ordered a pizza," he said, "and it came 10 years after I ordered it, I wouldn't be delighted."

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