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Ursula's Rise falls flat

THERE was surely some intentional humour in the fact Ursula Halligan opened her three-part opus on Fianna Fail in Glasnevin cemetery, resting place of republican heroes and the only place now fit to house the party's ambitions.

And who should she find there, hovering solemnly amid the headstones like a black-clad ghost? Why, none other than Bertie Ahern, proving once and for all that while the man they used to call the Teflon Taoiseach does many things, irony is not one of them.

Apparently, 50 hours of interviews with a huge gallery of political players, past and present, went into the making of this series. But after all the pre-transmission brouhaha about Ahern's soundbites, including his crack about certain FF campaign workers being "a useless bunch of good-for-nothings", he actually formed no more than a tiny part of the programme.

It was a curiously broken-backed way to open a series. Much of it was a standard schoolbook history lesson about the extraordinary development of Fianna Fail up to the Lemass years, and not terribly different from anything we've seen before.

But there were also curious little flashforwards to what happened later, including a telling clip of a glowingly smug Ahern leading his loyal troops, most of whom have been consigned to the political scrapheap, on the election trail. At times it felt like a 60-minute promo for the next two episodes.

In television as in politics, timing is key (a week is a long time and all that) and you do wonder if Halligan and TV3 have got their timing right with this one.

Is anyone who isn't an out and out political junkie really that interested any more in what once made Fianna Fail an unstoppable force?

Or in the grubby, greedy, thieving, corrupt reign of that old crook Charlie Haughey and his acolytes? Or, for that matter, in yet another tiresome blast of deluded personal revisionism from Bertie Ahern, who acquired his expertise in the dark political arts at the hooves of the master?

Maybe Halligan is saving the real meat for next week's instalment. Frankly, I'm not so sure I have the appetite for it.

There's at least one 9/11 documentary a night this week. All are sad, some are uplifting, but none has been quite as dispiriting as The Ground Zero Mosque -- which isn't planned for Ground Zero at all but for a disused coat factory two blocks away.

When the furore over the issue erupted last year, one person who remained quiet was the man behind the plan: developer Sharif El-Gamal, a New Yorker born of a Polish Catholic mother and a Muslim father, who changed faiths after the latter died.

Breaking his silence, El-Gamal insisted he's simply a successful capitalist who wants to do something for his community. But as this well-made but ultimately depressing film showed, reasoned debate has been hijacked by odious right-wing blogger Pamela Geller.

Aided by the jackals and hyenas of Fox News, Geller, the leader of a rabid anti-Islam movement, has whipped up a campaign against the building of any mosques anywhere that has spread to 16 states. It would seem the gaping hole left in New York after 9/11 will heal quicker than this sore.

As you may know, E4 finally stopped showing repeats of Friends at the weekend. "Oh dear," wailed those who've never heard of boxsets, "what are we to do now?"

Well, fans still struggling to overcome Friends-related grief a full seven years after the series ended should probably avoid the abysmal Cougar Town, starring a stringy-looking Courteney Cox as a middle-aged, married man-eater with a taste for firm young flesh, like the plague.

A guest spot by Jennifer Aniston as Cox's wacky life coach simply reminded us how lightning rarely strikes twice.

the rise and fall of fianna fail HHIII the ground zero mosque HHHII cougar town HIIII