Tuesday 12 December 2017

Maia's message in a bottle – go easy on the red, red wine

This time last year, Maia Dunphy made a documentary called From Boom to Maternity, in which she toyed with the idea of having a baby. And this week, in the same Reality Bites strand, she played with the notion of doing something about her booze habits.

Describing herself as a "part-time writer, occasional television producer, sometime broadcaster, lifetime drinker", the 36-year-old Dubliner is married to comedian Johnny Vegas, a man with the look of someone who enjoys a gargle or two, though for all I know alcohol has never passed his lips.

Anyway, he made no contribution, either visual or vocal, to Merlot and Me (RTé Two), in which Dunphy trebled as executive producer, presenter and subject. Yet despite this multi-tasking, there was no sense of an ego on the rampage (do you hear me, Hector?) and, indeed, she seemed just as interested in what other people had to say as in her own utterances (still there, Hector?)

She got a couple of things wrong, notably her assertion that Irish pubs in the late 1960s and early 1970s "shockingly didn't serve women", which simply isn't true (there were a few pubs that refused to serve pints to women, which was another matter), but she wisely left most of the facts to official statistics and focused instead on her own fondness for a nightly tipple or three, which she thought harmless until told otherwise by health experts.

This left her feeling "mildly chastened but not necessarily alarmed", though she confessed to feeling "freaked out" when a test revealed that, after she'd imbibed a beaker of wine, her concentration, judgment, balance and co-ordination were noticeably impaired.

By the end, she had concluded that, although her taste for alcohol remained, her attitude to it had somewhat changed and she resolved to become more aware of her drinking patterns. Not exactly earth-shattering revelations, but she had been such a sprightly and engaging host that the hour slipped down as pleasantly as the nightly half-bottle of wine she hoped wouldn't be her undoing.

Louie arrived on Fox (formerly FX) trailing clouds of glory from the United States, where the show has been running for a couple of acclaimed seasons, and this opening episode fitfully suggested reasons for its cult appeal.

Bearded, balding and somewhat nondescript, the 40-something comic (full name Louis Szekely) presents himself in the manner of a politically incorrect Seinfeld, his stand-up routine interspersed with filmed sketches. The best of these on Tuesday night focused on a disastrous blind date, which ended with the young woman finally fleeing the scene in a helicopter, like someone airlifted from the fall of Saigon.

In between, Louis ruminated on the futility of seeking any kind of relationship, observing that "even if it's nice, it's going to lead to s**t" and further noting that "everything that makes you happy is going to end" – a philosophy that seems to sum up this comic's jaundiced, if bemused, take on life in general. Certainly his show is worth keeping an eye on.

Fox has also been running Better Off Ted, a workplace sitcom with more droll situations and good gags than the US version of The Office – though plainly too clever and inventive for its commissioning network ABC, which discontinued it after a season. Of course, much the same happened to Family Guy, until audience demand brought it back, though Better Off Ted doesn't look as if it's going to be reprieved, more's the pity.

"I'm just happy to hear you're safe," Kevin Bacon's FBI agent told a young woman threatened by a murderer in the first episode of The Following (Sky Atlantic). Two minutes later, her gay neighbours reassured her: "We're right next door – just call if you need us." And a minute after that, a policewoman soothed her further: "There are two officers outside the door if you need them."

Needless to say, she was dead within three minutes, her eyes gouged out by a fiendish professor of literature who had just escaped from the prison in which he'd been incarcerated for previous atrocities against young women. Even more worryingly, he had acquired in the meantime a devoted following of other psychopaths who were eager to carry out mayhem on his behalf.

This is the brainchild of Kevin Williamson (the man behind the lucrative Scream movies) and for some reason it persuaded Bacon to make his first foray into television drama. I don't know why he bothered given that his character is that tired old staple of so many serial killer movies – the haunted cop who's forced to confront yet again the maniac who had given him so many nightmares.

This and other clichés abounded in the first episode, which also relied on sudden jolts and risible implausibilities to keep the viewer awake if not engrossed.

The second episode of Utopia (Channel 4) wasn't quite as frightening as the first but there were still a couple of unsettling killings and the general atmosphere of alienation and unease was well maintained – you really don't know who's going to be murdered next.

Or, indeed, for what reason. I really haven't grasped why the comic book at the core of the story is so important it spells death for anyone who knows anything about it. Perhaps all will be revealed by the end, though I've an awful feeling that it won't, or not to my satisfaction anyway.

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