Wednesday 16 October 2019

John Boland: Sex, sex and more sex in the suburbs

Welcome to Tallafornia TV3 Panorama: How to Survive the Meltdown BBC One Money BBC Two Black Mirror Channel 4

It's often been said that California is less a state of America than a state of mind, and TV3 would like us to believe that in Irish terms the same is true of Tallafornia, a concept it defines as "the spread and influence of western Dublin culture, especially that of Tallaght, across the rest of the country".

Where would we be without TV3's commitment to expanding our sociological awareness? Come to that, where would we be without its ceaseless quest to scrape the dank bottoms of very dodgy barrels on our behalf?

Tallafornia doesn't actually make its debut until next month, but this week TV3 was kind enough to provide a teaser in the shape of Welcome to Tallafornia, though it took the trouble to warn us that what we were about to witness contained "adult themes, strong language and nudity".

As it happened, only one of these assertions proved to be correct. Yes, a female member of the house-sharing septet began the programme by shouting "Shut the f**k up!" and ended it by yelling "Go f**k off!", but semi-nakedness rather than outright nudity was the preferred mode of attire (unless you counted a fleeting shot of a guy's bare bum, which left me quite unmoved), while anyone in search of adult themes should have stayed with Treasures of Chinese Porcelain over on BBC4.

Yet though I hadn't expected any of the house-sharers to have completed a PhD on the Ming dynasty, I'd hoped that at least a couple of them might have nurtured aspirations that transcended fitness, fake tans, photo shoots, football and endless shagging. The four guys were especially depressing, all of them addicted to the gym and all of them sporting torsos that recalled Clive James's comparison of Arnie Schwarzenegger to "a condom stuffed with walnuts".

Within 10 minutes, all seven were in a hot tub, sucking each other's toes and ripping off one guy's shorts (hence the bare bum), while five minutes later Cormac and Nikita were between the sheets -- just "snuggling" they insisted, though that didn't stop one guy asking the next morning "Out of 10 what would you give her?" and his pal sniggering, "He gave her one".

Then the girls went off and did the week's shopping -- groceries, toilet paper, Durex, that sort of thing -- after which they all departed to a local nightclub, where they engaged in a snogging contest.

At the end we got a sneak preview of more delights to come, including one young woman accusing a housemate of being "a back-stabbing, two-faced hoor". Welcome to TV3's mixed stew of Jersey Shore, The Only Way is Essex, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Big Brother. Who said humankind cannot bear very much reality? Obviously some fusty old poet.

Reality, though, was biting over on BBC One, with Panorama reporter Adam Shaw advising on How to Survive the Meltdown. Having got no such useful tips from either Richard Curran or George Lee in their recent doom-and-gloom RTÉ documentaries, I paid close attention to Adam, whose own personal solution took the form of looking cheerfully upbeat while driving around England in a snazzy open-topped Mini.

But I learned other things, too. Firstly, study Chinese, as all the children in a London primary school are doing so that they'll be able to communicate with their bosses 10 years hence. Secondly, manufacture JCBs, in whose Staffordshire plant there are 10,000 employees who can't make the diggers fast enough to satisfy the needs of far-flung markets.

Thirdly, advance the international cause of your online children's clothing company by devising a promotional photo shoot in which most of the child models are Asian or Brazilian, because that's where the markets are these days.

And fourthly. . . Well, no, that was about it really. But, gosh, I did fancy Adam's little white Mini.

Money (BBC Two) has been an interesting and diverting series and this week's instalment, entitled Forty Grand, was especially winning, with Vanessa Engle interviewing couples whose joint income amounts to about £40,000 a year.

What emerged were the individual quirks that make ordinary people fascinating, if not always likeable. Train driver Nev, for instance, was a financial control freak and inordinately proud of it, though his aura of smug authority was dented recently when he was diagnosed with a testicular cancer he hadn't bargained for, either economically or otherwise.

Meanwhile, IT manager Andy and stay-at-home wife Gayner were denying themselves a comfortable life so that precocious 13-year-old daughter Becky's private school fees of £750 a month could be paid. Oddly, this hadn't stopped the family taking a series of expensive holidays they couldn't afford in such places as Kenya and the Maldives. But then, as the film engagingly demonstrated throughout, there's nowt so queer as folk.

Charlie Brooker's dystopian Channel 4 trilogy, Black Mirror, which began last week with the headline-grabbing The National Anthem (about a British PM compelled to have sex with a pig), continued with 15 Million Merits, the title referring to the amount of credits needed if Orwellian worker-drones wished to take part in a global talent show that might free them from their slavery.

This began very slowly, indeed boringly, but it gradually gained momentum and quite a lot of heart, with Jessica Brown-Findlay (from Downton Abbey) deeply affecting as the young woman whose bid for X Factor-like stardom saw her consigned to a hell beyond her worst nightmares.

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