On the Ir­ish ver­sion of Porter re­verts to ami­able gay stereo­type

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Watch­ing Al Porter as he hosted Blind Date (TV3) the other night, I couldn’t help won­der­ing if he’s des­tined to be­come Ire­land’s an­swer to Larry Grayson or Ju­lian Clary, or even Dale Win­ton. Dale who? Pre­cisely.

I hope not be­cause Porter is bet­ter than that, not just as a cheeky-chap­pie co­me­dian but as an ar­tic­u­late and per­son­able pun­dit on chat shows — he was full of sen­si­ble in­sights in the ini­tial se­ries of Bren­dan O’Con­nor’s Cut­ting Edge (which has made a wel­come re­turn) and also re­cently as a pan­el­list on TV3’s The Tonight Show with Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper.

On the Ir­ish ver­sion of Blind Date, though, he re­verts to ami­able gay stereo­type, sea­soned with a sprin­kling of mumsy Cilla Black, who hosted this show on ITV for the best part of 20 years.

The sex­ual in­nu­endo, though, is more up­front than it was in her hey­day, the host opt­ing for Ju­lian Clary mode when telling a for­mer beauty con­tes­tant “I en­tered Mr Ire­land. Well, he didn’t seem to mind” and flirt­ing with one of the male con­tes­tants.

Over­all, it was harm­less stuff and Porter han­dled it adroitly, but it’s a tired old for­mat and the fact that the lam­en­ta­ble Chan­nel 5 has also cho­sen to re­vive it is proof of that. Let’s hope Porter goes on to more in­ter­est­ing things. How about Bren­dan O’Con­nor mak­ing him a reg­u­lar pan­el­list?

“I’m scared that I’m los­ing my mind and even more scared that I’m not,” said be­wil­dered hero­ine Sarah in the third episode of Ir­ish-Cana­dian thriller Ac­cept­able Risk (RTÉ1). For my­self, I was just los­ing the will to live as the script and act­ing got even ropier than in the fist two episodes.

But Mr Mercedes (RTÉ1) is the real deal and has been get­ting bet­ter as each episode pro­gresses. It’s the sign of a re­ally good drama se­ries when even the most mi­nor of char­ac­ters reg­is­ter vividly as peo­ple with a life of their own, and so it is here.

Bren­dan Glee­son’s cranky and tor­mented ex-cop and Harry Tread­away’s dis­turbed young killer are the main play­ers (and Glee­son has never been bet­ter), but you’re also in­trigued by the sub­sidiary per­form­ers, not least Hol­land Tay­lor as neighbour Ida and Breeda Wool as quirky elec­tron­ics store worker Lou.

The plot­ting (from Stephen King’s novel) and the pac­ing are su­perbly han­dled, and if the se­ries man­ages to hold its tone and its nerve, it will rank along­side the best sea­sons of Fargo and Bet­ter Call Saul.

Less impressive was the first episode of Snow­fall (BBC2), a drugs drama partly writ­ten and di­rected by John Sin­gle­ton. His 1991 de­but film was the mar­vel­lous Boyz n the Hood, and here we were again in South Cen­tral, LA, this time as the crack co­caine trade of the early 1980s took hold.

But too many sto­ry­lines and too many char­ac­ters mud­dled this pi­lot episode, which had the some­what tawdry feel of an up­mar­ket soap. In The Deuce (Sky At­lantic) you re­ally feel you’re in­hab­it­ing the 1970s world of Times Square hus­tlers, pimps and pros­ti­tutes, but here you felt like de­tached ob­servers of an un­in­volv­ing drama.

By con­trast, the open­ing in­stal­ment of Louis Th­er­oux’s Dark States (BBC2) brought you up close and per­sonal with its un­for­tu­nate peo­ple. Sub­ti­tled ‘Heroin Town’, Louis vis­ited Hunt­ing­ton in West Vir­ginia, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 49,000 and is home to what Th­er­oux called “the most deadly drug epi­demic in US his­tory”.

Once a thriv­ing town of steel mills and fac­to­ries, Hunt­ing­ton is full of peo­ple who, de­prived of pre­scrip­tion painkillers, have suc­cumbed to heroin in­stead. Th­er­oux, who’s come a long way since he made faux-naïf mock­ing doc­u­men­taries about Paul Daniels, Chris­tine Hamilton and the like, brought all his be­mused earnest­ness to bear on th­ese ad­dicts, elic­it­ing sto­ries that would be beyond the reach of more con­ven­tional in­ter­view­ers.

“I feel weird watch­ing you do some­thing so dan­ger­ous,” he re­marked to a young wo­man who was shoot­ing up in the room where they chat­ted. But she went on to tell of her life and of the abu­sive boyfriend who hov­ered nearby. “Where do you see the re­la­tion­ship go­ing?” he asked. “Down the drain,” she replied. Yet she needed him to get the heroin for her.

Other sto­ries abounded in a doc­u­men­tary that por­trayed a grim Amer­ica, while also grim was the Tu­van town of doomed al­co­holics that we en­coun­tered in Rus­sia with Si­mon Reeve (BBC2).

Mean­while, in the two-part Ir­ish in Won­der­land (RTÉ2), we only met peo­ple whose ad­dic­tion was to wealth, sta­tus and bling. “I hate th­ese pro­grammes”, Gerry from the Coo­ley penin­sula said on Gog­gle­box Ire­land (TV3), “they just make you re­alise how crap your own life is,” but it was the pro­gramme it­self that was crap.

Perky pre­sen­ter Yas­mine Akram vis­ited Man­hat­tan, the Hamp­tons and the Riviera, and was so awestruck by all the money-chas­ing Ir­ish émi­grés she en­coun­tered that she never thought to ques­tion whether the flaunt­ing of wealthy life­styles was re­ally a good thing. In­sult­ing stuff.

In the sec­ond in­stal­ment of Tunes for Tyrants (BBC4), Suzy Klein re­lated how Richard Strauss, Ger­many’s most cel­e­brated com­poser in the 1930s and the fa­ther-in-law of a Jewish wo­man, ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion to be pres­i­dent of Reich mu­sic, thus giv­ing cred­i­bil­ity to a Nazi regime that banned any per­for­mances of Men­delssohn and other com­posers tainted by Ju­daism.

It wasn’t brave, it wasn’t moral, Klein said, “but it’s what real peo­ple do when liv­ing in a night­mare”.

Then she turned her at­ten­tion to Shostakovich, so ter­ri­fied of in­cur­ring Stalin’s wrath that he “lived with his suit­case packed” in case the Gu­lag awaited. An ab­sorb­ing se­ries.

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