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No secret to this show's failings

THE Secret Millionaire is not so secret anymore. After 10 series on Channel 4 and one on RTE1, the sight of a conspicuously articulate stranger with a rucksack slung over their shoulder and a camera crew at their heel at large in a deprived community is bound to set local antennae hopefully buzzing.

The format now looks so transparent that the first of this season's covert do-gooders, global IT entrepreneur Jim Breen, seemed barely concerned about his cover story when he entered Finglas, one of Dublin's worst blackspots for unemployment, substance abuse, depression and suicide.

A muttered "making a documentary" instantly quelled all suspicion, at least on camera, while there were several markedly muted, if genuinely grateful, reactions when Breen revealed himself to be not what he'd said he was. You have to ask: Does the secrecy even matter at this stage? Why bother with the pretence? But then, I suppose, we wouldn't have the feelgood moments so important to the programme.

Breen was, by his own admission, "a big bo**ocks" when he started out in business. "I wouldn't have taken no for an answer," he said. "I was always right." A friend of his, though, said he'd mellowed over the years. "There's been the emergence of a sort of heart." That heart was certainly touched by the voluntary workers of Detached Youth, who help young people, for whom life is a "minefield", to stay away from drugs and crime, and sometimes just stay alive.

"If they weren't here, half of us wouldn't be here," said a man with a black eye who looked as though he'd stepped on quite a few mines in his time.

Breen was similarly moved by his encounters with Headway, a group that assists people with brain injuries, and by a single mum Antoinette and her charming, selfless 14-year-old son, who acts as her co-carer to his two special needs siblings.

The most compassion and the biggest cheque (€20,000) was reserved for Suicide Awareness Dublin 15, one of whose volunteers, Lily, was spurred to help others after her son hanged himself at 23.

They were all deserving of Breen's largesse. Yet because the programme focused so tightly on them, it couldn't -- can never -- confront the bigger societal issues that have carved a chasm between parts of areas like Finglas and the rest of the city.

Good intentions notwithstanding, The Secret Millionaire is a sticking plaster on a gaping head wound. And it remains dubious as primetime entertainment.

"KE-EN," Deirdre Barlow bawled up the stairs, "are you gonna stay up there all night? You're gonna miss me stuffed marrow." The silly season may be over for Enda Kenny but it's in full autumnal swing on Coronation Street. Ken, disgusted that Tracy, the sociopathic trollop with a heart of carbon-fibre, is using Michelle's sponge-brained son Ryan as sex putty, had retreated to the marital cave, presumably to reignite his on-off relationship with Vladimir Nabokov.

But why sulk alone when a gender-reversal adaptation of Nabokov's Lolita is unfolding downstairs in your very own dining room, with Deirdre's stuffed marrow as an aphrodisiac? Still on the subject of stuffed marrows, Tyrone, the missing link between man and vegetable, has brought Kirsty, a timebomb of paranoia, anger and hormonal rage wired to a frizzy-hair-trigger temper, and their daughter home from hospital.

And what a disappointing birth that was. Those of us expecting the spawn of Tyrone and Kirsty to come chest-bursting into the world Alien-style, before skittering out the doors of the Rovers and clamping itself to Norris's face were asking a bit too much.

Meanwhile, Ken Barlow's real-life alter ego, William Roache, has been publicly prophesying that the world is going to "change dramatically" on December 12.

If Coronation Street carries on in this vein much longer, the only thing changing dramatically in our house will be the channel.

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