What a let-down – the week 'The Fall' finally slipped up
In Kitchen Hero: HomeCooked (RTé One), Donal Skehan declared himself to be a man on a mission, though in truth he looked more like a Junior Cert student who should have been at home swotting for his exams.
Anyway, Donal's mission was to show us "just how easy it is to cook delicious home-cooked food" – a statement of intent he thought so striking that he repeated it 20 seconds later in the exact same words. All very odd.
Then he set up his cooking stall on the quayside at Howth and told passers-by how to make a seafood chowder that included small potato cubes – offering, in the process, a handy tip on how to gauge if the latter were ready for consumption. Apparently you take a fork and stick it into them and "when the fork goes through them smoothly, you know your potatoes are cooked".
When this show first aired a couple of years ago, I commended the presenter on his boyish enthusiasm, but I'm afraid his cheery insistence on the simple approach is so basic as to verge on the simple-minded.
Still, Kitchen Hero was as good as it got this week on RTé, which appears to have taken its summer vacation even earlier than usual, and if you wanted programmes of any substance, you had to seek elsewhere, where a couple of striking dramas were to be found – along with the biggest let-down in years.
I'm speaking of The Fall (BBC One/RTé One), which had begun brilliantly but concluded by coming to no conclusion. Ambiguity, of course, can often resonate quite hauntingly (as in the unsettling closing scene of The Sopranos), but here you had the nagging sense that the makers had bitten off more than they could chew and couldn't find a way to resolve anything.
Yes, I know there's a second season in the works which may tidy up various plot strands, but that was only commissioned a few weeks ago when the first series was already attracting a big viewership, so it's reasonable to assume that the writer was content with the ending he'd conjured up for this first series.
He shouldn't have been because the viewer learned nothing about what motivated the serial killer to commit his dreadful acts, or about why the policeman was murdered or by whom.
And though Gillian Anderson was icily commanding as the officer leading the investigation, her detection skills were so wanting that she didn't actually detect anything, and it was left to her adversary to make final contact with her.
But if The Fall's ending was a major disappointment, the nine-part Dates (Channel 4) began with considerable panache. The set-up is simple – a series of two-handers involving couples who've met on the internet and are embarking on their first actual dates – but there was considerable depth to this week's opening two episodes.
In the first, widowed father-of-four David had a volatile restaurant hook-up with evasive and bitchy Mia, prompting him to inquire "Are you always this horrible?" and to remark that being so clever and beautiful probably "wears you out".
Yet, though you felt there was much more to Mia than she allowed herself reveal, she remained a tantalisingly elusive figure, both to the heart-on-sleeve David and to the viewer.
However, a terrific script (by Skins creator Bryan Elsley) and superb playing by Will Mellor and Oona Chaplin made it compelling drama.
In the second episode, Sheridan Smith was excellent as the lonely schoolteacher who winds up on a date with a city trader prone to creepily sexist remarks and harbouring an even darker other side. Here again the writing (by Nancy Harris) was first class and I look forward to the remaining episodes of this so far very impressive series.
I'll also be revisiting The Returned (Channel 4), a spooky eight-part drama that seized the attention right from its opening scene of an alpine bus plunging off a bend in the road and killing its cargo of 38 teenage schoolgoers. Four years later, the parents are still attending bereavement sessions when one of the teenagers arrives home as if she's just been away for the day.
Then an old man's wife, who's been dead for decades, turns up at his house as if they've never been apart, while a nurse is visited by a mysterious young boy who may have been at the scene of the accident. Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking young women in the town . . .
Despite all this, the first episode's pacing bordered on the funereal, as if the director was trying to establish art-house credentials, but it was strikingly shot and edited and it conveyed a genuinely eerie atmosphere.
The Bookseller of Belfast (BBC One) was also afflicted by artiness, director Allesandra Celesia not bothering with either a narrator or with identifying captions for any of the film's participants. That didn't make it an easy watch but patience was rewarded as we got to know the film's eccentric hero, dishevelled booklover John Clancy, as he encountered various friends and acquaintances.
Indeed, the film was more about the man himself and the people he met than about his lifelong fascination with books and was all the more intriguing for that.