Monday 23 October 2017

Television Review: Fancy a trip to Australia, a car or a kitchen upgrade? Eddie's your man

Hobbs's radical idea: 'Give Or Take Club' in Ballyjamesduff.
Hobbs's radical idea: 'Give Or Take Club' in Ballyjamesduff.

John Boland

For most of the week on RTÉ One, I wasn't sure exactly what I was watching or why. Give Or Take Club, for instance, which was devised and hosted by Eddie Hobbs, presented itself as a blueprint for fostering community spirit in hard times while perversely creating a situation that risked encouraging animosity among neighbours. Perhaps that's why it was relegated to teatime on Sunday, rather than to a prime-time weeknight slot, when its failings might have been observed by a larger and less indulgent audience.

The format was simple. Thirty-three households in the chosen town of Ballyjamesduff were invited to form a club based on the old notion of bartering – each household stating what it most needed (or simply wanted) in the hope that other club members would make this possible, while in return offering their own expertise and hard work towards the fulfilment of their neighbours' aspirations.

It probably sounded good in theory, but the problems began with the nature of the requests. While one man modestly wished to learn how to write and another how to swim, other hopefuls plumped for a €6,000 automatic car, a €5,000 kitchen upgrade, a €3,500 trip to Australia and a €4,200 visit home to Nigeria.

Throughout the proceedings, Eddie remained earnestly upbeat about what he deemed his "radical new idea", even assuring us that "you give and you feel good, you take and you feel good. What could possibly go wrong?"

I didn't detect any irony in that last declaration, but soon there were mutters of dissent about demands that were considered to be outlandish and about the quality of some of the work being undertaken.

Eddie's mission being of a determinedly feel-good nature, these mutterings were kept to a minimum and I began to wonder how many others had ended up on the cutting-room floor. Did no one, for instance, make any comments about the family (never identified or even shown) who wanted the €4,200 for their proposed trip to Nigeria?

Certainly, behind the overall facade of positivity, there was an undercurrent of unspoken negativity – a suggestion of unvoiced resentments and envies and begrudgeries that Eddie's relentless cheeriness never quite dispelled. And thus, when he marvelled to a group who had restored a woman's garden "How did ye manage to do this?", you felt like pointing out that the presence of an RTÉ camera crew and a high-profile host had possibly encouraged them in some way.

Or, to put it another way, I can't see Eddie's radical idea working on my camera-free street.

Just as hard to get my head around was the return of The Moment of Truth, in which Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh chose a religious setting – stained-glass backdrop and all – in which to interview a woman called Mia about her difficult life.

In fact, that's to understate what Mia had to relate: a grim chronicle of child sexual abuse, heroin addiction and prostitution that continued until recently when she got clean, gave up selling her body and found contentment with loving friends and the daughter she'd somehow raised during the bad years.

This was the narrative redemption that her pietistic interviewer, brow permanently furrowed in concern, had been seeking, but I remained unsure how I was meant to respond to it all – beyond being glad for Mia that her life seemed fine now. But what was I supposed to be watching and why?

I felt something of the same emotion throughout Joe Brolly: Perfect Match, which told the story of how the GAA pundit had donated a kidney to Shane Finnegan just over a year ago, of the medical complications that had necessitated the kidney's removal nine days later and of subsequent developments.

Brolly's act of selfless generosity towards a man he hadn't previously known was certainly remarkable, but it's been documented at length throughout the media and I wondered why at this stage it was deemed worthy of an hour's television – though perhaps Brolly's spiky and cocky personality was the main reason I lost patience with the film.

The Irish heat of Portrait Artist of the Year (Sky Arts 1) took place in the RDS, with Pauline McLynn bravely adopting nude Rokeby Venus mode as one of the sitters for the 21 painters who were vying for the overall title.

They had to execute their work in four hours and some of them were very impressive, but the hour-long film afforded them no identifying captions, so I hadn't a clue who most of them were.

At the end, though, one broody painter stormed out on learning he hadn't won, leaving presenter Joan Bakewell open-mouthed in astonishment. "I'm not very good at talking," he had gruffly confessed earlier, but he was very good at walking.

Borgen (BBC4) is back for a final season, reuniting former Danish prime minister Birgitte with former colleagues and enemies and with ace reporter Katrine now a single mum after feckless boyfriend Kasper did a runner.

Will Birgitte manage to wrest control from the right-wing baddies? Will Katrine find fulfilment in a new career? Whatever happens, this is a very superior political drama.

I'm not sure why – but, heck, I'm staying with 'homeland'

I'm not sure why I'm still watching Homeland (RTÉ Two). Certainly it's not for Brody, who has appeared in only one of the last eight episodes, and it's not really for Carrie, who's so unhinged that she's become quite annoying.

But at least the dopey subplot about troubled teen Dana has been abandoned, while Saul has had some fine moments as the departing CIA chief with nothing to lose. And there are still some nail-biting scenes, not least this week when Quinn was ordered to save a surveillance operation by shooting the highly unprofessional Carrie.

Only four more episodes to go in this increasingly erratic but oddly unmissable third season. Heck, I'll stay with it.

Irish Independent

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