Love/Hate was great... yet still they grumble
There was a time when Rory Gallagher or Thin Lizzy would release a new album and we would feel free to point out certain things that were wrong with it, a track here or there that wasn't quite up to their usual high standards.
And then, in the fullness of time, we saw what came after them, and we realised that we were wrong. That Gallagher and Lizzy were so inherently good, we should have just waved them through, as it were, expressing only our warmest good wishes and encouraging them to keep doing it, any way they liked.
I felt the same when I heard people criticising the fourth series of Love/Hate, particularly the end of it, which they found strangely unsatisfying. As it was with Rory and Philo, Love/Hate became a victim of a deeply wrong-headed view of life whereby we tend to assume that things are always generally on the way up -- that in a few years time either Love/Hate will have perfected itself, or some other RTE crime drama will have emerged to give us absolutely everything that we require.
We forget the lesson of history, that if you're finding fault with a Rory Gallagher, it doesn't leave you much room for manoeuvre when Jim Corr comes along.
So let's get this right. Love/Hate was all good.
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Likewise, when they were making the TV adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for the BBC in 1979, and putting it out at prime time on Sunday nights, they perhaps felt their modest efforts would soon be surpassed. That the people raised on stuff such as ITV's The World At War would grow out of the espionage dramas of John le Carre, and that soon nothing less than Dostoyevsky would do them.
And where did we get with that particular narrative of human advancement? How did that one pan out?
Well, high on the improbability of the great success of the movie version of Tinker, Tailor..., the old TV series with Alec Guinness as Smiley was shown again recently on BBC Four. Which was nice, for the 12 people who routinely watch BBC Four, but which demonstrated that a show which in 1979 was thought suitable for mass audience, is now strictly for the aficionados.
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Yet that grand tradition was represented heroically by Simon Schama's The Story Of The Jews, a series which told that story so compellingly, yet with such refinement, it could have been made at any time between 1971 and 1980 -- with the superior machinery of today.
Strolling through the synagogue in Venice, this is how Schama took it home: "I have the strangest sense of having been here before, hundreds of years ago. It's a delusion, I know, but Jews are bound together by irrational bonds of memory, very often. There's an odd air of spice, and old Jews, of which I'm one now. This place is so beautiful it speaks to me of the deep pathos of Jewish longing for beauty, for grandeur. Jews never really think it's an obligation to build gorgeous ornaments, gorgeous buildings, because you always know you're going to have to leave them behind. You're going to have to reach for the suitcase, sooner or later..."
I was also liking The Art of Tommy Cooper on BBC Four when these lines from Kenneth Tynan took it to an even better place: "[Cooper is] the hulking preposterous conjurer who is always in a jelly of hysterics at the collapse of his own tricks. Convulsed by his own incompetence, holding his sides, he staggers hopelessly from trick to trick. No man was ever less surprised by failure. You see Cooper has a distinct attitude towards life, a stoic attitude, a gurgling awareness of the futility of human effort. And that is what raises him above the crowd."
And no man was more surprised than myself at The Secret Life of the Shannon, in which Colin Stafford-Johnson took the viewer to places on the big river which were known only to my late Uncle Joe and his dog Spot.
Like them, Stafford-Johnson wasted no time telling us about various industries you'd find in the towns on the Shannon -- this was not homework. Unlike them, he won three awards at the world's leading nature film festival.
But that's life... that's wildlife.
The second part of Declan Lynch's TV review of the Year will appear next week