TV & Ra­dio

‘National Trea­sures’ rum­mages through the na­tion’s at­tic to find the value in worth­less ob­jects; ‘Al­li­son Spit­tle’s Culchie Club’ goes search­ing for an en­dan­gered species; and the re­booted fam­ily of ‘Lost in Space’ is ready to be dis­cov­ered

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - ED POWER - PETER CRAW­LEY

Sound and screen reviews

National Trea­sures

(Sun­day, RTÉ One, 6.30pm) is so re­luc­tant to dis­crim­i­nate that it’s hard to say ex­actly what it is. A na­tion­wide cam­paign, a trav­el­ling road­show, a dig­i­tal archive, a mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tion and a four-part tele­vi­sion pro­gramme, it is, at its sim­plest, a big bunch of stuff.

“Stuff” feels like the ap­pro­pri­ate word, un­pre­ten­tious and un­re­stric­tive, which is what the pro­ject’s ap­peal for crowd-sourced ev­ery­day ob­jects has yielded: sil­ver cig­a­rette boxes, po­lit­i­cal posters, al­bum sleeves, Aran sweaters, metronomes, weapons, fur­ni­ture… It is a por­trait of Ire­land, over the past 100 years, pieced to­gether with any­thing peo­ple couldn’t bring them­selves to throw away.

That makes the pro­gramme a hoarder’s dream; a per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment that items with­out value can have in­es­timable worth, like an anti-cap­i­tal­ist An­tiques Road­show.

Even pre­sen­ter John Cree­don can warmly iden­tify with bric-a-brac left ly­ing about the place. An an­cient Turk­ish De­light tin re­minds Cree­don of be­ing chased out of the shop by its pro­pri­etor Hadji Bey, with the words, “Get out of here, you lit­tle gang­ster!”

That small mo­ment cor­re­sponds with a big­ger idea, that ev­ery ob­ject tells a story. Take the sat­is­fy­ingly worn copy of an anti-con­scrip­tion pledge, from 1918, in which cu­ra­tor Róisín Hig­gins finds an im­por­tant foothold in in­de­pen­dence; or a bul­let-pocked sil­ver cig­a­rette box, which saved its owner’s from the Black and Tans – “They say cig­a­rettes are bad for you,” wise­cracks cu­ra­tor Donal Fal­lon; or the evoca­tive smoke dam­age to a poster for the gay club night Flikkers, at Dublin’s Hirschfield Cen­tre, burned down in an ar­son at­tack in 1987.

Han­dling such items, the cu­ra­tors wear pro­tec­tive white gloves, which, given the sheer vol­ume of con­trib­u­tors, also makes them look slightly like traf­fic cops. In that case, do they ever say stop? (It’s no­tice­able, for in­stance, that for all the Bosco mugs we see in the frame, no one is thanked for them.) It’s not a small point. If ev­ery­thing is a trea­sure, noth­ing is.

That’s why the in­clu­sion of a leather strap, used to beat chil­dren in an in­dus­trial school, and a ledger con­tain­ing a com­plete record of boys sent to a an­other school in Lim­er­ick seem all the more im­por­tant – ev­i­dence in a long national scan­dal rather than things to have val­ued. In­deed, when Fal­lon re­calls an early 20th-cen­tury Ir­ish flir­ta­tion with the Sovi­ets, and a col­lec­tive bak­ery’s slo­gan, “We make bread not prof­its”, it’s tempt­ing to see echoes of that spirit in this pro­ject’s de­sire to share its wealth.

For the National Mu­seum of Ire­land, which will dis­play a se­lec­tion of these sto­ried keep­sakes, that ought to make for a cost-ef­fec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion – ev­ery­thing here is gen­er­ously on loan. But that seems ap­pro­pri­ate for the patch­work story of a na­tion. You can’t put a price on it.

Aparagono­fur­ban­liv­ing

You can un­der­stand Al­i­son Spit­tle’s con­fu­sion. Born in Lon­don, the co­me­dian moved to Ire­land at the age of seven and set­tled in Bal­ly­more – lit­er­ally “big town”. So how can this paragon of ur­ban liv­ing ever iden­tify as a culchie?

In an ef­fort to rekin­dle Spit­tle’s con­nec­tion to the un­spoiled land – or at least to spin an hour of tele­vi­sion out of a few ba­sic ques­tions – Culchie

Club (RTÉ Two, Mon­day, 9.30pm) at­tempts a pré­cis on small town Ire­land.

“Well, with my cam­era crew and my flimsy premise, I’m going to find out what it means to be a proud culchie,” she in­forms us, char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally wry, but cut­ting a lit­tle too close to the bone. How much sub­stance is there in her sub­ject?

Spit­tle’s search be­gins with her fam­ily, in West­meath, where she won­ders briefly about her own feel­ings of dis­place­ment. Yet here is where she seems most at home, jok­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­ally with her mother about Leo Varad­kar and Gerry Adams. That she fol­lows up with a dis­cus­sion with Kerry co­me­dian Shane Clif­ford, who speaks frankly of in­built in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plexes, de­pres­sion and his rea­son for get­ting into com­edy – “I find it dif­fi­cult to talk to peo­ple” – and steadily builds up an­tic­i­pa­tion for her fi­nal en­counter, with the less re­tir­ing Ca­van co­me­dian Kevin McGa­h­ern, sug­gests she might have found a stur­dier premise in a doc­u­men­tary on the per­spec­tive of comic out­siders.

What the show turns up, al­most ac­ci­den­tally, is that culchies are now al­most mythic crea­tures. A re­cur­ring, bor­der­line racist vox pop with a se­lec­tion of alarm­ingly in­su­lar young Dublin­ers sug­gests that kids in the cap­i­tal have never spo­ken to any­body be­yond their own post­code. By com­par­i­son, few peo­ple in ru­ral

‘‘ The in­clu­sion of a leather strap, used to beat chil­dren in an in­dus­trial school, and a ledger con­tain­ing a com­plete record of boys sent to a an­other school in Lim­er­ick seem all the more im­por­tant – ev­i­dence in a long national scan­dal rather than things to have val­ued

Ire­land seem quite so iso­lated, not least be­cause of the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion. We meet a fash­ion blog­ger from Kerry, whose great­est mis­giv­ing is the lack of re­li­able broad­band, and later a farm­ing fam­ily watch­ing the livestream of a cat­tle auc­tion on their smart­phones. By the time Spit­tle loses her shit over Gog­gle­box’s Neal Tully, fresh from a Face­book Live com­mit­ment at a Macra na Feirme event, the whole idea of ur­ban-ru­ral divi­sion seems ob­so­lete within this rest­lessly con­nected world.

That’s why a Mayo woman in an in­can­des­cent green wig seems as good an au­thor­ity as any­one to claim, just be­fore the fate­ful All Ire­land GAA Fi­nal, that Dublin “is not the real Ire­land”. But what is?

At least the much-hyped Kevin McGa­h­ern lives up to his ad­ver­tis­ing, bring­ing the show to a cat­e­gor­i­cal con­clu­sion. “God, I don’t even know if it’s that com­pli­cated,” he tells Spit­tle, un­der­stand­ably, when asked to de­fine a culchie. “If you can see a field from your house ... ”

Alive­tothedan­ger

“Why would I bring some­thing trashy to the new world?” asks one of the Robin­sons, an in­trepid bunch of space colonists, when asked about the con­tents of her book col­lec­tion. It is not a ques­tion that both­ers the lat­est re­boot of

Lost in Space (Net­flix, now stream­ing) an en­dur­ing slice of 1960s sci-fi hokum now given the big-bud­get aura of pres­tige tele­vi­sion. In the fu­ture, you sus­pect, there will be no other kind.

In 1965, Lost in Space imag­ined a dis­tant, un­know­able fu­ture – the year 1997. Here, a ma­rooned Space Fam­ily Robin­son could strut their stuff in sil­ver lamé space­suits or comfy yel­low polo necks; a re­cently colourised vi­sion of the fu­ture where Dad, an as­tro­physi­cist, lit­er­ally knew best and Mom, a no-less ac­com­plished bio­chemist, made the din­ner. The kids – an ac­cu­mu­lated goody-six-shoes – en­dured the de­vi­ously camp Dr Smith’s dou­ble act with a flail­ing robot, the lovechild of a juke­box and a wash­ing ma­chine. These were in­no­cent times.

This lav­ish re­boot – the third such at­tempt – du­ti­fully rolls the past, present and fu­ture into one, with nos­tal­gia to hon­our, a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence to bear in mind and – set in 2046 – its own pre­dic­tions to make. It’s just as easy to get lost in time. “The odds of that hap­pen­ing, it’s like win­ning the lot­tery,” re­marks one of the fam­ily, know­ingly, when the at­mos­phere of a new planet proves mirac­u­lously breath­able. That is your per­mis­sion to re­lax over details way more fi than sci.

The most sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment is not so much the en­hanced spe­cial ef­fects (the best that money can buy) but how it imag­ines its fam­ily and yours. The new Robin­sons are refugees from an Earth whose at­mos­phere is – at much shorter odds – no longer breath­able. And with a mar­riage on the verge of col­lapse (be­tween Toby Stephens’s eas­ily emas­cu­lated mil­i­tary grunt and the ex­cel­lent Molly Parker’s am­bi­tious brainiac), ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences be­tween a fa­ther and step-child, Judy (Tay­lor Rus­sell), and the in­clu­sion of youngest child Will Robin­son hing­ing on a guilty se­cret, its idea of do­mes­tic life can be just as suf­fo­cat­ing. Who wouldn’t want to blast free?

That’s why ad­ven­ture dom­i­nates, to an en­joy­ably lu­di­crous de­gree. “Ev­ery prob­lem has a so­lu­tion,” in­sists our sen­si­ble mom fig­ure, while the show zeal­ously be­lieves the op­po­site. Per­ils mul­ti­ply. Crush­ing ice leads to rag­ing fires. Emer­gency surgery yields to alien at­tack. By the time you hear the words, “Dan­ger, Will Robin­son,” from a god­like fig­ure with a ro­botic voice – a machina ex deus – and the sound­track curls around some fa­mil­iar notes, the repack­ag­ing feels both overblown and oddly sin­cere.

Less the show for kids that adults en­joyed than a show for adults the kids are al­lowed to watch, it is a re­make of how fam­i­lies get drawn into the same or­bit. The Space Fam­ily Robin­son would take plea­sure in that, found once again.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: RTÉ; NET­FLIX

Maxwell Jenk­ins as Will Robin­son in the Net­flix re­boot of Lost in Space; Al­i­son Spit­tle with the Tully twins in Culchie Club; National Tresures pre­sen­ter John-Cree­don.

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