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
Sound and screen reviews
(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.
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 ... ”
“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.
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.