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