March­ing on with Miriam... and the rise of Pres­i­dent Rock?

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - & - Ian O’Doherty

It has al­ready been dis­missed in some cir­cles as North­ern Ire­land For Dum­mies, but the Miriam O’Cal­laghan-pre­sented The Long March (RTÉ One, Tues­day), which charted the emer­gence of the North­ern Ir­ish Civil Rights move­ment was al­ways on a hid­ing to noth­ing. As the pre­sen­ter ad­mit­ted be­fore it had even aired, pro­grammes about the North are a rat­ings killer this side of the bor­der. But while there were mo­ments of stat­ing-the-bleed­ing-ob­vi­ous, this was ob­vi­ously geared to­wards those who nei­ther know nor re­mem­ber very much about events up the road 50 years ago.

She also vis­ited Selma to talk to Amer­i­can civil rights ac­tivists who were en­gaged in their own strug­gle at the time and while it didn’t shed any new light on the story, and also in­evitably touched on sim­i­lar ground to last week’s John Hume doc­u­men­tary, this was a wor­thy ef­fort for a thank­less task...

On a lighter note, Rus­sell Brand is back! I use the ex­cla­ma­tion as a warn­ing, rather than an en­dorse­ment be­cause he’s the kind of chap who makes the prover­bial Mar­mite look uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar.

But de­spite his te­dious procla­ma­tions and ap­par­ent de­sire to be the next Mes­siah, Brand has al­ways been a fine, if rather nar­row in range, com­edy ac­tor.

In Thurs­day night’s re­turn of the crim­i­nally un­der­rated com­edy-drama Ballers (Sky At­lantic), Brand plays a — wait for it — louche, foul-mouthed sex-ma­niac who has been clean of drugs for the last five years.

He is Lance Ki­lans, the strangely charm­ing owner of an ex­treme sports com­pany, al­though some English view­ers prob­a­bly won’t be happy with a joke he makes about hav­ing sex with the queen (it’s all about the pres­tige, ap­par­ently).

Ballers sees Dwayne John­son as Spencer Strasmore, a for­mer pro-foot­baller-turned­sports agent strug­gling to nav­i­gate his way through the ruth­less cor­po­rate world, a far more bruis­ing arena than the play­ing fields of the NFL, which left his body bro­ken and tee­ter­ing on the edge of a pain killer ad­dic­tion.

When the show first ap­peared, the omens weren’t good — a celebrity with a bunch of hang­ers-on evoked ini­tial, un­pleas­ant mem­o­ries of the pretty aw­ful En­tourage and the idea of a bunch of bros hang­ing out and do­ing bro stuff seems a bit out of step with the cur­rent cli­mate.

But there was al­ways much more to Ballers than the first im­pres­sions may have in­di­cated, and the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons saw Strasmore de­velop from the cock­sure foot­ball legend into some­one strug­gling with self-doubt, self-loathing and his con­stant fear that he would al­ways be an em­ployee rather than a boss.

In debt to the tune of mil­lions to his friends, there was an air of un­com­fort­able des­per­a­tion about the last sea­son which took the show into un­ex­pected and ex­tremely re­ward­ing ter­ri­tory.

Thurs­day night’s opener be­gan with a lovely nod to Good­fel­las — a lin­ger­ing track­ing shot as Strasmore walked through the kitchens of a fancy ho­tel, greet­ing the staff like an old friend be­fore meet­ing his col­leagues to plot their next move.

The toast made by his as­sis­tant in crime, Rob Corddry — fa­mil­iar to fans of The Daily Show when it was still funny — will cer­tainly have been of in­ter­est to Ir­ish view­ers. Has any­one ever said “may you al­ways a clean shirt and coin in your pocket for a pint”?

But proverbs of du­bi­ous prove­nance aside, the show was filled with its usual caus­tic one-lin­ers and it took a darker twist when it emerged that Mi­ami-based Strasmore is re­luc­tant to re­turn to his na­tive LA be­cause of his brother’s sui­cide. John­son is prob­a­bly best known over here as The Rock, just another beef cake ac­tion hero star.

But he’s so pop­u­lar in the States that there have even been calls for him to run as the next pres­i­dent.

That was ca­su­ally ad­dressed in this episode; when in­formed that he is ‘on the bal­lot’, he de­clares that he is not yet ready to run for pub­lic of­fice, al­though in this case the bal­lot was in re­la­tion to his place on the NFL Hall of Fame.

So, could the man for­merly known as The Rock ac­tu­ally be­come pres­i­dent?

Well, as we know, stranger things have hap­pened — really stranger things.

Ballers is an un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated gem of a show that has been steadily in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity and given the un­doubted charisma and charm of its lead­ing man, that’s no sur­prise.

Hell, they even man­aged to make Rus­sell Brand al­most bear­able...

Like at­tend­ing a lec­ture by a rather cool pro­fes­sor, Mark Ker­mode’s Se­crets of Cin­ema (BBC4) has been one of the stand­out pro­grammes of the sum­mer. Hav­ing delved into every­thing from heist movies to rom­coms, he saved the best for last for Tues­day’s ex­plo­ration of that most un­der­rated of gen­res — the hor­ror flick.

Ker­mode ac­tu­ally wrote his own col­lege the­sis on hor­ror movies and his ad­mi­ra­tion for the genre was sin­cere and en­dear­ing.

Dis­sect­ing cin­e­matic tropes can be off-putting at the best of times — no­body wants to see how their favourite sausages are made, af­ter all. But he adroitly placed var­i­ous land­mark hor­rors in their his­tor­i­cal con­text, and dis­cussed how sub-gen­res such as zom­bie movies are really just re­flect­ing con­tem­po­rary con­cerns through a glass darkly...

Speak­ing of which, Fear the Walk­ing Dead (E4, Sun­day) fi­nally gets a slot this side of the wa­ter. More highly rated than the now mori­bund The Walk­ing Dead, this spin off goes back to when the virus first be­gan to ap­pear. Well worth a down­load be­fore to­mor­row night’s sec­ond in­stal­ment.

Some English view­ers prob­a­bly won’t be happy with a joke he makes about hav­ing sex with the queen (it’s all about the pres­tige, ap­par­ently)

Thank­less task: Miriam in Derry for The Long March, and in­set, Dwayne John­son as Spencer Strasmore

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