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TV Review: Back to the wilderness, George

George Lee's Tax Return (RTE1) -- George Lee has returned. Better still, he's returned with a pun: George Lee's Tax Return.

Wey-hey! Don't you just love that title?

Having served out his sentence in the RTE wilderness -- a monstrous gulag where they break your spirit by making you work on the radio instead of the telly -- the poacher-turned-gamekeeper-turned-poacher is back to tell us where it's all going wrong. Again.

George, as you'll know, used to make his living telling us where it's all going wrong.

A lot of the time he was right, although the politicians, too busy faffing on about soft landings and all that guff, refused to listen to him.

We, the public, loved him, though.

He was the nation's favourite harbinger of doom. Even if there were no soft landings, there would always be a soft place in our hearts for George.

And then he went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like, "I'm going to run for Fine Gael in the Dublin South by-election."

After nine months peeing inside the tent, George decided he'd had enough.

Bleating that he'd had virtually no influence or input on Fine Gael's economic policy, he returned to the cosy environs of RTE, where his job had been held open for him. RTE is one of the few places where you can walk off, indulge your ego and then scurry back in a huff when it doesn't work out the way you wanted it to.

Anyway, in George Lee's Tax Return, George is walking around a house turning on the lights, the heating, a kettle, a television.

Click! How much do you think this costs? Click! How much do you think that costs? Jaysus, George, I don't know. Enlighten me.

At one point, he's filmed from inside a fridge.

You're wondering: is it a real fridge?

Did RTE find an especially tiny cameraman, about the size of that creepy bear Willem Dafoe voices on the Birds Eye ads, and stick him on the top shelf ("We want a bird's eye shot of George Lee -- boom-boom!") or is it just a clever special effect?

There's a disconnect, George is telling us, between the tax we pay and what it's spent on (I think we kind of knew that, but carry on).

It would be better, he's telling us, if we knew where the money is going.

Go on, then, George: enlighten us again. Well, €21bn of it is spent on social protection, which is the biggest area of Government spending, and it's all funded from PRSI. Worrying that we might be nodding off, George brings us to meet some people.

Here's Susan. She works in the financial sector and her husband is a civil servant. They earn €70,000 a year between them, but by the time all the bills are paid, she says, they have about €2,000 a month to live on.

Ah, but what bills? Mortgage, heating, childcare, shopping?

George never bothers to ask, so the whole thing is lacking a little context. Susan is thinking she and her husband would be better off on social welfare. Call me picky, but isn't social welfare supposed to be for people that don't have jobs, rather than those that do but still find it difficult to meet their financial commitments?

"Public servants pay taxes too, and some of them are struggling to make ends meet," says George, who appears to have added a degree in the bleeding obvious to his numerous other qualifications since we last saw him.

One of them is Gemma, who used to earn €31,000 a year but now earns a bit less and has to work nights in a bar to pay her mortgage. I have sympathy for Gemma; nobody wants to work all day just to keep a roof over their head.

Then again, there are hundreds of thousands of people who would give an arm and a leg just to HAVE a job, so maybe George isn't choosing his subjects too carefully.

A documentary as woolly-headed as George's brief flirtation with politics.

George Lee's Tax Return 1/5