Does God hate?; Who do you think you are?…

by John Boland

Does God hate sex? Or women? Or science? No, but what God does hate (and viewers, too) are ideas for series that are as outmoded and naff as RTE1’s new Sunday night vehicle for Marian Finucane.

Who on earth comes up with these notions? In the 1960s, when God’s existence was largely unquestioned in this country and when the Catholic Church still had the power to terrify the plain people of Ireland with dire warnings about His wrath, a series entitled Does God Hate…? might have been mildly provocative, or at least of some relevance. But four decades later, with church attendances in irreversible decline, vocations almost non-existent and a young population more likely to find common cause with unbeliever Richard Dawkins than with any theologian, such a solemnly intoned question – with all the loftily assumed certainties that lie behind it – registers as absurdly quaint.

But if the concept for this series is cringeworthy, its execution is a joke. At the outset of this week’s first programme, Marian Finucane promised that we’d hear from a panel with “strong views” and an audience of seven people “representing the main churches and beliefs”, but so shambolic was her handling of the show that two of the latter weren’t even given the time to open their mouths or even be identified.

In hindsight they may feel grateful about that because most of what did get said was either waffle or piffle, despite panellist Roisin Boyd’s optimistic declaration “I bet this programme will get really high ratings because we’re all fascinated by sex.” Roisin also confided that sex was “a wonderful, wonderful thing,” just in case we’d mixed it up with eye-gouging or Brian Lenihan’s upcoming Budget.

Jewish spokesperson Hilary Gross concurred, deeming it both “pleasurable and beneficial,” though potentially “disastrous” if “misused.” I wanted to hear more about such misuse and its disastrous consequences but sadly she didn’t elaborate.

Conservative religious pundit David Quinn fretted loudly and long about the effects of infidelity on the nation’s moral fibre, while Muslim theologian Ali Selim’s response to Marian’s horror at stoning as a punishment for unpermitted sex was an equivocal “Well, I can see your point” before he unequivocally condemned homosexuality and all those who practise it. He clinched his point by asking us to picture a Dublin that was overrun by lesbians: “What would happen to men?” As Eric Morecambe used to say, there’s no answer to that. Certainly it left panellist David Norris speechless, if you can imagine such a thing.

By now, though, the supposed discussion had turned into a ludicrous wrangle, like an out-of-control school debate, with everyone shouting and snorting at each other and with Marian Finucane unable to exert any authority over the proceedings. How could someone who’s so commanding on radio be so adrift here? But then how could she have agreed to host such an ill-advised undertaking in the first place?

On Who Do You Think Your Are? (RTE1), former Miss World Rosanna Davison confided that, while to many people she’s mainly known as Chris de Burgh’s daughter, she’s worked very hard “to establish my own identity.” Which must be why the programme’s opening scene was dominated by her famous father, though at least he wasn’t singing Patricia the Stripper or The Lady in Red (Oh, here comes another furious tirade against critics).

Rosanna, though, is well able to hold the viewer’s attention on her own, especially when she’s parading around in  the variety of eye-catching outfits that were on display here as she whirled from Dublin to Wexford, and from London to Normandy and Malta in pursuit of her ancestors. (Good to see our licence fee being spent on such essential travels.)

The De Burgh nomenclature comes from her mother’s side of the family, most notably 18th century surveyor general Thomas de Burgh, who created what’s now called Collins Barracks and whose friends, according to historian Turtle Bunberry, were “the hoi polloi of Dublin, seriously powerful and influential guys.” Someone should tell Turtle to look up the meaning of “hoi polloi” in a dictionary.

In fact, Rosanna’s maternal antecedents go back to William the Conqueror, which means that she’s got royal blood. She should get together with Ryan Tubridy, recently revealed in the same series as of similarly aristocratic lineage, and then we’d have our very own House of Windsor.

“It’s amazing!” Rosanna declared at one point. “How exciting!” she gasped at another. But on learning that her paternal grandfather, in his role as a British secret agent, had unwittingly sent more than three hundred freedom fighters to their doom in the Communist-run Albania of the 1950s she became genuinely sad. All in all, it was hard not to warm to her.

This week’s edition of The Frontline (RTE1), which asked “Would you be prepared to take a pay cut to save the country?”, had more focus and depth than the opening show, helped by the no-nonsense presence of economist Colm McCarthy as first-half guest. He enraged the public-sector workers in the audience, but that didn’t stop him delivering his bleak prescription for recovery – based,  in his own words, on “brutal arithmetics.”

Eddie Hobbs’s similarly inclined message infuriated the same sector of the audience. Indeed, there was a palpable sense of anger throughout, and the host allowed it to be articulated, while never letting tempers get out of hand. That’s what makes a good compere – knowing when to let discussion flow and sensing when to stop it.

It’s called judgment, a virtue that was sorely lacking in this week’s instalment of The Apprentice (TV3), where Bill Cullen made a bad mistake by firing the wrong guy. Among the mainly unappealing lot who are this year’s contestants, Donal had registered from the outset as perhaps the most intriguing, and certainly most charismatic, of the men (as he demonstrated in the follow-up show, The Apprentice: You’re Fired), and there seemed no reason whatever to make him the scapegoat for the ineptitude and unpleasantness of others.

Bill erred in deciding otherwise. Jackie Lavin should take him aside and tell him the facts of life – or at least of what people want from television shows.

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