by John Boland

This week, an international survey revealed that, of 19 countries polled, the Irish had by far the gloomiest view of the current economic crisis – and right on cue along came RTE’s George Lee to tell us that the country’s banjaxed.

George, of course, has been droning on about this for years and though he must have felt like Cassandra when his prophecies of doom continually went unheeded, some of us sensed that he was probably right. I remember a few years back watching in astonishment as potential buyers stampeded a trendy Liffeyside complex in their frantic urge to grab two-bedroom apartments at €600,000 each. Even someone as financially ignorant as myself sensed that this was gaga and that sooner rather than later there’d be a reckoning.

George, to be fair to him, doesn’t go in for “I told you so,” but he does keep repeating himself, nowhere more laboriously than in How We Blew the Boom (RTE1), which took five minutes of genuine content and managed to stretch it out to an hour.

This it contrived to do in various ways – plonking George down in a myriad of locations, enlisting the assistance of a multitude of economic pundits (seemingly the only people making consistent money out of this recession) and ridiculously overusing timelapse photography, frantic elisions and other hey-look-at-me visual techniques.

George, it has to be said, contributed to the programme’s production excesses by regurgitating every cliche ever invented. Some of these came with visual backup – he stood in a boxing ring to remind us that “we’re on the ropes” and was pictured quayside when informing us that “plain sailing” was not an option – but most of them made their lethal impact unaccompanied by anything more than George’s grim visage.

As George described it, we had been “spending like there was no tomorrow,” property fever “was raging” even though we were “living on borrowed time” and a “chill wind was starting to blow.” Finally “the game was up” and people were “feeling the pain” as “the good times were coming to an end.”

Still, I was looking forward to hearing George’s solution to the mess we’re in, but all he could come up with at the end were pious generalities about “adapting our economy to the needs of the world” and “becoming more flexible” and competitiveness being “the key” and needing “a new game plan.” Jeepers, George, even I know that and I’m not RTE’s economics editor.

Still, rather an hour with glum George than a whole series in the company of ego-trippers. Yes, Celebrity Bainisteoir (RTE1) is back again, its hollow intent neatly summed up at the outset in George Hook’s  declaration “I’ve never had a problem talking about things I know nothing about.” He said that as if it were a matter for some pride, and perhaps it is to those career celebs for whom the only sin is to spend a day of their lives unnoticed.

Certainly model Andrea Roche was on George’s wavelength, cheerfully boasting “I know very little about the GAA – I barely know the format of a game.” So why should viewers be remotely interested in watching her coach a GAA team? And narrator Aidan Power rather gave the vacuous game away when he confided that veteran RTE stalwart Derek Davis, who was another of the celebrity managers, was “relishing the chance to return to the limelight” – Derek himself confirming this by excitedly declaring “I didn’t expect to be anywhere near a television camera again.”

In the event, half of the team to which Derek was assigned hadn’t a clue who he was when he entered their dressing room. Ah, the transitory nature of fame. And the fact that most of them had anyway been hoping for Kathryn Thomas, Caroline Morahan or Rosanna Davison showed that totty rather than sporting triumph was the priority.

It was a relief to turn to the Arts Lives profile Thomas Kinsella: Personal Places, if only to remind oneself that there are still a few people in television who wish to make serious, substantial programmes and that every once in a while RTE indulges them in their arcane desires. The producer-director here was Ann Marie O’Callaghan and her portrait of the Dublin poet evinced both a real admiration of the work and a genuine affection for the man.

Colm Toibin and Denis O’Driscoll were among those who testified to the “difficulty” of Kinsella’s later poems, though they chose to see this as an admirable quality. For myself, I’ve always thought them not so much difficult as often impenetrable and don’t regard that as warranting self-reproach. But the earlier verse remains as elegant, suggestive and potent as I recall from my college days. I know that because I’ve just been rereading it and I’ve been doing so because Ms O’Callaghan’s quirky and absorbing film managed that best outcome of any arts documentary – it sent me immediately back to the work.

Meanwhile, RTE star presenter Lucy Kennedy is intent on sending my electricity bill to Bord Gais rather than the ESB. There she is, hour after hour and night after night, exhorting me to make “the big switch” from a venerable state institution to its johnny-come-lately rival. Does this mean that Lucy’s employers are just as partial to An Bord Gais? And if so, what next? Pat Kenny assuring us that commuters can do better than Iarnrod Eireann? Ryan Tubridy rubbishing Aer Lingus?

Everyone – well, every British TV critic – kept telling me that Red Riding (Channel 4) was among the greatest dramas ever seen on television, though none of them actually explained what it was all about.  Maybe I’m especially dense but by the end of the final episode I hadn’t a clue why various characters were being killed by a seemingly demented police officer, or indeed what had happened to quite a few others who had popped up during the course of the series’ six hours. But it was all relentlessly bleak, and that’s almost a guarantee of critical success.

Given the week that was in it, Against the Head (RTE2) dispensed with critical analysis and just showed us 60 minutes of highlights from Ireland’s heart-stopping Grand Slam win – or, as presenter Joanne Cantwell somewhat quaintly put it, “Ireland’s history-making antics.”

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