PA­TRICK FREYNE

This week on so-called ‘TLC’, we fol­low a Long Is­land ghost buster who looks likes he has a dog on her head

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As an in­tel­lec­tual and man of let­ters (puffs on pipe), I like – when not en­gaged with my books and stud­ies – to spend my evenings watch­ing The Learn­ing Chan­nel or, if you in­sist on us­ing the acro­nym, TLC.

While watch­ing this chan­nel, I con­sider the great is­sues of the age (plas­tic surgery gone wrong, com­pul­sive hoard­ing, ex­treme coupon­ing, sex­ual ac­ci­dents . . . the sub­jects of my BA, ba­si­cally), which I then con­verse about at length over at my sa­lon. This is be­cause I am learned.

“What are you watch­ing this for?” says my wife, who is not learned, and wants to watch Cor­rie.

“Pshaw, woman!” I say. “This is The Learn­ing Chan­nel. I’m cul­ti­vat­ing my mind.” And then I turn the sound up re­ally loud.

(Wife: “It’s not been called The Learn­ing Chan­nel for years, it’s now just TLC. Since when have you smoked a pipe? Are you wear­ing a cra­vat? Are you tak­ing notes with a quill?”) This week on TLC, I watch two new episodes of Long Is­land Medium (Tues­day), which is about a loud and ter­ri­fy­ing woman who con­fuses the re­cently be­reaved for money.

“I like to think of my­self as a fairly typ­i­cal Long Is­land mom,” yells Theresa Ca­puto over some in­spi­ra­tional mu­sic, “but I have a fairly spe­cial gift.” We see a mon­tage of Theresa shop­ping for veg­eta­bles, chuck­ling with her hus­band, and wan­der­ing through a grave­yard in stilet­tos.

“I talk to the dead,” she adds mat­ter-of-factly.

Theresa Ca­puto has very white teeth and the sort of poufy blonde hair halo that makes her whole head re­sem­ble a small dog. She is mar­ried to a mus­cley man called Larry who wears an all-over leather gimp suit, or, pos­si­bly, is just a bit leath­ery. They have chil­dren who are slightly scaled-down ver­sions of their par­ents, in­di­cat­ing that the Ca­putos come in some sort of kit. Each episode of Long Is­land Medium sees Larry freak­ing out and be­ing threat­ened by el­e­ments of the mod­ern world (but not, fun­nily enough, by the fact that his wife sees dead peo­ple). The Ca­putos also al­ways deal with some mi­nor do­mes­tic cri­sis.

In this week’s episodes, their daugh­ter shows an in­ter­est in com­pet­i­tive pole-danc­ing (Larry’s not go­ing to stand for that!); Theresa takes up “juic­ing” (Larry’s not go­ing to stand for that!); and they lo­co­mote in an en­chanted car­riage pulled by in­vis­i­ble horses (Larry’s not go­ing to stand for that!).

Dan­ger, strangers

Th­ese in­ter­ludes are mixed with Theresa blow­ing the minds of sad-look­ing strangers. Their loved ones have of­ten died in hor­ri­ble ways (knife mur­ders, el­e­va­tor ac­ci­dents, sui­cide) and they are un­der­stand­ably dis­traught. Her modus operandi is to breeze in, make a few wise­cracks and then begin with some to­tal guess­work: “Who lost a brother or brother-in-law?”

Some­one then ten­ta­tively takes the bait, af­ter which she demon­strates that spe­cific words have no mean­ing in the spirit world. One sad-eyed man says he’s lost his best friend, “. . . who was like a brother to you”, says Ca­puto, to clar­ify that she has, once again, got it ex­actly right. She also meets a teenager whose cousin was like a brother to him, a woman whose sis­terin-law was like a sis­ter to her, and a woman whose three ghosts ex­panded to four with­out any fan­fare when the bi­o­graph­i­cal de­tails ceased to fit. There are many sharp in­takes of breath.

When she gets her guesses closer than this, Theresa of­ten seems amazed her­self and shrieks with de­light – which would be a dead give­away that she is to­tally chanc­ing her arm if the peo­ple she was with weren’t so numb with grief. Un­like Ha­ley Joel Os­ment in The Sixth Sense, who is per­pet­u­ally hor­ri­fied by ghoul­ish ap­pari­tions, Theresa’s dead peo­ple con­tin­u­ously amuse her with their in­co­her­ent meta­phys­i­cal japes. They’re like Kramer in Se­in­feld or the baby in Full House or Alf. They’re a fun bunch.

Ul­ti­mately, the be­reaved seem com­forted by Theresa Ca­puto’s whim­si­cal bull­shit­tery, but this is mainly be­cause she in­sists that all the dead peo­ple she en­coun­ters are in a good place. How­ever, given that they are de­tached from their loved ones and can only com­mu­ni­cate via a loud woman with a small dog for a head, it’s clear they must ac­tu­ally be in hell.

Any­way, we also get to watch Larry and Theresa shop for blinds or juice veg­eta­bles or Skype with their daugh­ter: ac­tiv­i­ties that don’t make me won­der about life af­ter death so much as ques­tion the no­tion of life be­fore death. Which is ex­actly the kind of deep philo­soph­i­cal con­tem­pla­tion I’ve come to ex­pect from The Learn­ing Chan­nel.

Or, if you in­sist, TLC.

A rough beast

As a mem­ber of the Her­metic Or­der of the Golden Dawn, WB Yeats would have had plenty of time for Theresa Ca­puto. On Mon­day, RTÉ1 will reshow Mau­rice Sweeney’s ex­cel­lent WB Yeats: No Coun­try for Old Men. Like Ca­puto, Yeats de­rived pow­ers from ut­ter shame­less­ness, and this beau­ti­fully made film doc­u­ments his tran­si­tion from ro­man­tic, sex­u­ally frus­trated Adrian Mole to oc­cult-dab­bling, viril­ity-ob­sessed polyamor­ist and public in­tel­lec­tual.

Of course, be­ing a bit of an ee­jit never stopped any­one from be­ing a ge­nius, and the doc­u­men­tary con­vinc­ingly sug­gests that the two things are in­sep­a­ra­ble. And we also get to hear lots of Yeats’s po­etry re­cited by charis­matic po­ets of to­day: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches to­wards Beth­le­hem to be born?”

Yes, Yeats is clearly talk­ing about Theresa Ca­puto.

Though if he were around now, that rough beast would prob­a­bly be a 14-part re­al­ity show called Pimped Up Poet over on The Learn­ing Chan­nel.

Or, if you in­sist, TLC.

The fact that Theresa is shriek­ing with de­light would be a dead give­away that she is chanc­ing her arm if the peo­ple she was with weren’t so numb with grief

‘The be­reaved seem com­forted by her whim­si­cal bull­shit­tery’

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