Thursday 22 February 2018

Nation sees a shadow fall over childhood

Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Prime Time, A Breach Of Trust (RTE 1)

The Fall (BBC2, RTE1)

The Saturday Night Show (RTE1)

When I was a child, weeks like this, with "glorious" weather, were the cue for me to be ordered out of my stupor in front of the television and outside to "play". There was a notion, probably since borne out, that my mind was being rotted by endless Zig and Zag quips and He-Man reruns. Under protest, I would trudge out into the sunshine where I would re-enact scenes from the TV programmes I had just watched, while praying for rain.

Most of the rest of the time, though, television's role as an unqualified, unregistered and dubious childminder was tolerated. We were all pragmatic enough to realise that the chance of me seeing something unsuitable – Channel 4 was a good bet – were offset by the cheapness and reliability of the box in the corner.

As a spectacular sunset exploded over Dublin last Tuesday, the country's electronic childminder called foul on some other babysitter bandits. It's been said that you could put a hidden camera into any institution in the country and shut it down, but still RTE's Prime Time investigation, A Breach Of Trust, made for particularly uncomfortable viewing; staff at a creche manhandling children, snatching toys from their hands. Toddlers were shown strapped into chairs for long periods. After the recent care homes revelations, we might have known this was coming but the emotional abuse shown in the programme conjured Dickensian echoes, with the added outrage that people had paid for their kids to be treated this way.

Watching the grainy footage, you instantly wondered whether these children would be seeking compensation from us in 20 years' time. The programme also was also an agenda-setting and morale-boosting coup for RTE investigations, after the fallout from A Mission to Prey, which dragged on into last year. Still, it was hard not to wince at some of the discussion which followed the programme. On one RTE panel, journalist Susan McKay summed up the situation thus: "I don't think any of us will ever again be able to listen to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with innocent ears."

So nursery rhymes are ruined forever after last week, apparently, but at least we could be grateful that we are all grown up with nobody to push us out into the fine evening, especially since The Fall was reaching new heights of suspense over on BBC2. My original notes for this programme say that the voluptuous protagonist "has all the ice-cool hauteur of a young Gillian Anderson" so imagine my surprise when the credits rolled and I saw that it starred, in alphabetical order ... Gillian Anderson. From The X-Files. Which was first filmed in the early Nineties. Twenty years ago. This means that The Fall is a mystery within a mystery.

On the one hand, it's about a handsome serial killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), who is terrorising Belfast while his wife and children are unaware (mostly – there is a chilling moment when one child whimpers that she saw a body in the attic – it's assumed she saw a "ghost"). On the other, it's a study in how Gillian Anderson, who plays the detective superintendent drafted in to hunt Spector, has remained fresh-faced without looking remotely pulled or pinched.

Maybe it's because she was so serious in The X- Files and therefore seemed older then than she actually was. Or maybe limbs are going to start snapping any second now, as the youth potion fails, like Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. Either way, it's a conundrum that has captured the public's imagination. The series is currently being talked up as the Love/Hate of the North – a homegrown drama with potential to do well abroad.

Traditionally, the summer TV schedules can resemble a dust bowl as the flagship programmes that sustained us through the long winter are given a few months to work on their tans. So it is with The Saturday Night Show, which aired for the last time before going off the air for the summer, leaving a Brendan-shaped void in the weekend. Perhaps it's TV's way of telling us: move away from the screen and babysit yourselves. It might finally be time to go out and play.

Irish Independent

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