Friday 23 February 2018

John Boland looks back at the week in TV

John Boland

With Liam Brady a mere lad at 57, Eamon Dunphy a cantankerous 68 and John Giles and Bill O'Herlihy's grizzled eminences at 72 and 74 respectively, the average age in RTÉ Two's World Cup Qualifier studio on Tuesday night was an estimable 67-plus.

By contrast, on the same channel's Second Captains Live, which followed the epic O'Herlihy show with yet another hour of sports chat, the average age of the presenters was somewhere in the 30s – closer, I would guess, to the desired age demographic of those viewers who fervently believe that sport is more important than life or death.

Youth, however, doesn't necessarily bring iconoclasm or even irreverence, just as age is no guarantee of either wisdom or tolerance – the latter truth demonstrated when Eamon and Liam got into a cranky old spat about Giovanni Trapattoni that was more reminiscent of playground tantrums than of measured debate.

Eamon, outraged that Liam kept "moving the goalposts" in his defence of the Irish football manager and warning him that "you're not going to get away with it tonight", was also incensed at the money Trap was making. Liam thought this line of argument "really nasty" and it went from there, Eamon at one point angrily insisting "You're not going to shout me down" even though no one was doing anything of the sort.

No such incivilities occurred in the Second Captains Live studio, which looked as if it had been lying around since the era of Nighthawks, its largely male audience standing around clutching beer bottles; or indeed since the time of Wanderly Wagon, with the all-red velvet floral wallpaper, old sofas and standard lamps with tassels. The conversation was just as cosy as the set, its three hosts (refugees from Newstalk's cult show, Off the Ball, from which they resigned last March) being more intent on ingratiation than confrontation.

There was a potentially interesting discussion about the meaning of sporting success with Derval O'Rourke, Richie Sadlier and Oisín McConville, but it needed more time – perhaps a couple of the jokey items, only some of which worked, could have been jettisoned. But there was a riveting interview with Ronan O'Gara, who had just flown in from Paris for the occasion.

He spoke forthrightly about the end of his international playing career and amusingly about his new-found friendship with Johnny Sexton, whom he now coaches at Racing Metro and whom he had initially disliked ("Of course, yes – two into one doesn't go").

And he was cheeky enough to remove Brian O'Driscoll from top place on the show's wall of sporting greats and replace him with fellow-Corkman Roy Keane.

Overall, in its somewhat laddish way, there was a good feeling to this show, even if its likable presenters were clearly in the process of trying to find their televisual feet. I'd say it'll find an appreciative audience.

The second, and final, installment of The Scholarship (RTÉ One) saw three of the five profiled 11-year-olds being accepted as Belvedere College pupils, but the manner of their selection – their names drawn from a hat – came across as even more unsatisfactory than it had done the previous week. Could the school not have dispensed with this lottery method and just informed the successful candidates that they'd won a place?

But then everything's a cliffhanger contest these days, even in the area of Irish crafts. Time was when craft programmes seemed to be on RTÉ screens every second night of the week, regardless of the fact that they bore most viewers rigid. As if mindful of this, Craft Master (RTÉ One) is offered as a supposedly nail-biting competition, three contestants vying each week to win out in their particular disciplines.

Last week, three aspiring hatmakers did battle and the fact that they all seem intent on becoming the next Philip Treacy was clearly neither here nor there. This week, it was the turn of three furniture makers who, the voiceover insisted, would be "pushed to breaking point" as the competition proceeded. However, it was only the viewer's patience that was pushed to breaking point in a show that wasn't in any way informative about what the contestants were actually doing.

Scannal (RTÉ One) brought us back five years to the Sunday Independent revelations by Shane Ross and Nick Webb about FÁS executives running up expenses bills like there was no tomorrow and very little left of today.

"I'm entitled to travel first class," insisted former CEO Rody Molloy to Pat Kenny. Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen clearly thought so, too, describing Molloy as "an excellent civil servant" in whom he'd "every confidence". You couldn't make it up.

As a fan of the gruffly likable Luca Zingaretti in Inspector Montalbano, I was doubtful that Michele Riondino could be half as engaging in The Young Montalbano (BBC4), but he had the same charming manner – and, indeed, the same endearing bowlegged walk.

As in the parent series, the plot of last weekend's opening story tended towards the shaggy dog kind, but the Sicilian landscapes were super and the idiosyncratic characters made for very good company.

Irish Independent

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