Game Change is the kind of real-life telly movie that HBO makes now. These are usually differentiated from Lifetime real-life movies by the political subject matter and the heavy-duty actors.
This one was all about a gruff baldy senator, John McCain (Ed Harris), who chose a wide-eyed dingbat, Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore), as his presidential running-mate.
Unfortunately, it wasn't clear how we were supposed to feel about that dingbat. Were we meant to disdain her small-minded ignorance? Were we meant to feel sorry for her as she floundered? (At one point I thought McCain was going to take her down by the creek to talk about the rabbit farm they were going to buy ... like in Of Mice and Men).
Or were we meant to root for her as weary handlers coached her for office ... like in Educating Rita/The King's Speech? (I found myself punching the air when she managed a coherent sentence.)
Sometimes it veered towards horror. "What have I done?" The eyes of campaign manager Stephen Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) seemed to say, as the Republican faithful chanted Palin's name and she began to look like a Dead Zone-style end-of-days dictator, not simply a new celebrity with a wacky Partridge-family entourage.
The essential shakiness of Game Change's contradictions soon swamped any sense of credible drama. Although it did make me wonder if RTE would ever dramatise recent events in Irish politics. While our national broadcaster probably wouldn't be able to afford actors of this quality (Julianne Moore as Brian Cowen?), a few sock puppets and the cast of Apres Match would probably do the trick.
I thought of the big famous heads dotted throughout Game Change, while watching psychotherapist Pamela Stephenson explore more big famous heads on The Fame Report. Another programme attempting to have its cake and eat it, this one analysed the warped psychology of fame while simultaneously placing its celebrity contributors on a pedestal.
Stephenson, a semi-famous person herself, basically argued that fame was a psychological affliction suffered by special people (it's probably already in the DSM).
The conclusions were trite and the interviewees should have known better. Stephenson's husband Billy Connolly explained how a round of applause made him feel like a "shiny person".
Actor Stanley Tucci discussed using his fame to get off traffic fines, while John Hurt and Stephenson mused about how even mortality was felt more acutely by the famous. Basically, if any of them had a signature perfume it would be called "My Own Farts" (in French). In famous people, Stephenson argued, we see ourselves. We're clearly self-obsessed narcissists who like cod-psychology.
Everyone wants to be famous these days. Even inanimate paintings are entered in X Factor-style competitions ... such as Masterpiece, RTE's Mike Murphy-fronted attempt to ascertain the nation's favourite picture, or at least their favourite picture from a pre-selected list of 10.
Why the carefully chosen shortlist? Well, the experts clearly feared that left to their own devices the Irish public would choose a picture of a tennis player scratching her arse, a kitten hanging from a washing line, or a muscular male model cradling a baby (all great pictures, to be fair).
Still, it was nice to see genial, learned Mike Murphy again. And I enjoyed listening to passionate experts discussing the likes of Jack B Yeats and Harry Clarke, even if the camera-folk sometimes panned across and cropped the images as though frustrated that they were static and not more televisual.
Overall, it was a nice bit of event television. Unfortunately, like much Irish arts programming, Masterpiece was scheduled late at night. It's only a matter of time before RTE arts shows aren't even on television, but are placed in a box, buried in a secret location and then found using cryptic clues left in the RTE Guide.
Game Change HHIII
Pamela Stephenson: The Fame Report HHIII