‘Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage’ was also de­ter­minedly feel-good, though its sto­ries of cou­ples who’ve been to­gether for a half-cen­tury had some win­ning dis­clo­sures

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

When the pi­lot of Moth­er­land (BBC2) aired just over a year ago, I thought its beady-eyed take on met­ro­pol­i­tan mums very funny and I looked for­ward to the promised fol­low-up se­ries. Cre­ated and writ­ten by Sharon Hor­gan, Holly Walsh and Gra­ham and He­len Line­han, the cre­den­tials were cer­tainly there to make it a win­ner, and there were many laugh-out­loud mo­ments in the pi­lot as fraz­zled work­ing mother Ju­lia (Anna Maxwell Martin) tried cat­a­stroph­i­cally to jug­gle ca­reer and child­care.

In the cur­rent spin-off se­ries, she’s still the hap­less hero­ine, this week throw­ing a birth­day party for her daugh­ter in the hope that all the other moth­ers would re­turn the favour and pro­vide her with some breath­ing space for her ca­reer. Need­less to say, that didn’t quite work out for her.

Yet though the writ­ing in this sea­son-opener was as sharp as ever, most of the set-ups and gags were squirm-in­duc­ing rather than truly amus­ing, while the troupe of su­per­cil­ious al­pha-mums were al­most car­toon­ish in their so­cial shal­low­ness. But there are five more episodes to come and one can rea­son­ably ex­pect that Hor­gan, Line­han and Co will hit their proven comic stride in some of them.

And at least I knew what Moth­er­land was aim­ing to achieve, whereas with Des­per­ate Houses (RTÉ1) I didn’t know what I was watch­ing, or why. This new se­ries is one of those re­al­ity shows where a sup­posed ex­pert cleans up peo­ple’s lives for them, and in Tues­day night’s opener we were asked to watch as 60-yearold Annette from Tal­laght had two be­d­rooms emp­tied of their clut­ter and re­vamped for her.

Wid­owed for the past 30 years and also mourn­ing a son (whose death went un­ex­plained), Annette seemed a nice woman, but the re­vamp­ing ex­er­cise un­der­taken by ar­chi­tect and de­signer Róisín Mur­phy was much ado about very lit­tle, at least as far as the viewer was con­cerned. I cer­tainly failed to see the point of it all — beyond pro­vid­ing some feel-good ther­apy for Annette.

Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage (RTÉ1) was also de­ter­minedly feel-good, though its sto­ries of cou­ples who’ve been to­gether for a half-cen­tury had some win­ning dis­clo­sures, even if the tone was overly trea­cly at times.

There were no un­suc­cess­ful re­la­tion­ships here, even if English-born Lucy had con­sid­ered leav­ing Johnny, owner of a posh coun­try pile in Clones, early in their marriage. How­ever, her mother had coun­selled that “if you go, you take your­self with you”, which both Lucy and Johnny had thought ex­cel­lent ad­vice. So they stayed put and seem happy to have done so, even if, as Lucy ob­served, “we have our mo­ments”.

Else­where, the week was dom­i­nated by drama, Un­speak­able (Chan­nel 4) of­fer­ing that old-fash­ioned thing: a one-off story whose mys­tery was re­solved by the end of 60 min­utes.

Indira Varma played Jo, di­vorced mother of 11-year-old daugh­ter Katie and re­cip­i­ent at the out­set of an anony­mous text mes­sage stat­ing “Your boyfriend and Katie — some­thing’s go­ing on. It’s not right”. What to do? Con­front the boyfriend? Go to the po­lice? Jo fi­nally opted for the for­mer, only to dis­cover that a jeal­ous ex-hus­band was the text’s per­pe­tra­tor.

It made for an ab­sorb­ing hour, though part of my in­ter­est was in watch­ing Harry Tread­away’s turn as the boyfriend — al­most un­recog­nis­able from the deeply un­set­tling psy­chopath he plays in Mr Mercedes.

This has been one of RTÉ1’s best drama ac­qui­si­tions in years and I’m mys­ti­fied why it hasn’t been a crit­i­cal and pop­u­lar suc­cess in its na­tive Amer­ica — in­deed, a Google search re­veals lit­tle about it, and clearly it hasn’t been taken up by any ma­jor US net­work.

In fact, it’s fe­ro­ciously good and get­ting more fe­ro­cious as each week passes, and with the viewer forced into as much com­plic­ity with the vil­lain as with Bren­dan Glee­son’s tor­mented ex-cop. There are five more episodes to go and un­less they tail off badly, this will have been the year’s out­stand­ing thriller — bet­ter even than the re­cent sea­sons of Bet­ter Call Saul and Fargo.

Baby­lon Ber­lin (Sky At­lantic) is more am­bi­tious in scope, though it re­mains to be seen whether this 16-part Ger­man drama jus­ti­fies all the ac­co­lades it’s been re­ceiv­ing in its na­tive coun­try.

It be­gan ar­rest­ingly, with ex­tra­or­di­nary vis­ual evo­ca­tions of the Ger­man city in 1929 as a po­lice vice squad con­fronts the he­do­nis­tic and crim­i­nal ex­cesses of the Weimar repub­lic be­fore Hitler and his hench­men put paid to all that jazz.

Volker Bruch is the haunted young cop, Peter Kurth is his af­fa­bly bru­tal col­league, while Liv Lisa Fries is the ten­e­ment-living young woman who cat­a­logues crimes by day and ca­vorts like Sally Bowles by night. There are dan­ger­ous Mafia fig­ures, too, not to men­tion sedi­tious Trot­skyites, and how it will all work out is any­body’s guess, but this week’s pi­lot episode was as­sem­bled with promis­ing as­sur­ance.

Alias Grace (Net­flix) is as­sured, too, and you can binge-watch all six episodes if you so de­sire. I just looked at the first hour and was im­me­di­ately struck by Sarah Gadon’s play­ing of the ser­vant girl jailed for the mur­der of her em­ployer in 19th-cen­tury Canada.

The 1996 source novel is by Mar­garet At­wood and you’ ll find echoes of The Hand­maid’s Tale here, not least in its de­pic­tion of women’s sub­ju­ga­tion in a pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, though the tone is some­what less fright­en­ing.

In Scan­nal (RTÉ1), which re­called how the Boom­town Rats were re­fused a li­cence to play in Leop­ard­stown in 1980, Bob Geldof railed against the pu­ri­tan­i­cal Ire­land of old, though I was more taken with the ques­tion posed by the voiceover-nar­ra­tor: “What le­gacy did this storm in a teacup leave?”

None as far as I could see.

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