Sound and screen reviews

‘The Hard­est Har­vest’ sends a Cork farmer to wit­ness the drought-in­flicted tri­als of the Maa­sai in Kenya; Rory O’Con­nell makes us be­lieve we can cook as well as he can; and ‘Le­gion’ may well be the most visu­ally in­ven­tive show on the box

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - PATRICK FREYNE - PETER CRAW­LEY

There are many stark dif­fer­ences to ob­serve in The Hard­est Har­vest (RTÉ1, Wednes­day, 9.35pm), a pro­gramme that sends an Ir­ish farmer, forester and fisher to tough it out in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa across suc­ces­sive episodes. Those who work in agri­cul­ture in Ire­land and south­ern Kenya have rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent chal­lenges, for in­stance. How many Ir­ish dairy farm­ers worry about drought or hye­nas?

More startling is the dif­fer­ence in live­stock: mar­bled and serene in Paula Hynes’s Cork dairy farm; skele­tal and in­firm af­ter a year of drought among the Maa­sai tribe she joins for a fort­night. The more sober­ing com­par­i­son, though, is to recog­nise that her well-fed Ir­ish cat­tle en­joy a higher qual­ity of life than this Maa­sai boma, a vil­lage of no­madic warriors. The well­be­ing of their cat­tle sus­tains the boma – and these cat­tle are far from well.

What im­pels Hynes to make the jour­ney is not some­thing the pro­gramme makes en­tirely clear. To present it as a per­sonal chal­lenge, for in­stance, risks triv­i­al­is­ing ru­ral African hard­ship as an ex­treme kind of tourism. A bet­ter pur­pose, with a sadly pa­tro­n­is­ing ring, would be to “raise aware­ness” for the con­se­quence of Kenya’s drought, in the way that the vis­i­tors of Comic Re­lief show the pri­va­tions of Africa through Eu­ro­pean eyes.

What­ever mo­ti­vates Hynes, she is cer­tainly not averse to a chal­lenge: she runs a dairy farm and has three chil­dren.

That makes her a nat­u­ral col­league for the women of the Maa­sai, be­cause they ap­pear to do ev­ery­thing. Among them, Hynes will milk, build, haul 20kg of wa­ter from a bore­hole, watch the slaugh­ter of a goat, at­tend a hunt, and later bring two cows to a dis­tant mar­ket to fa­cil­i­tate their sale. It is not a hol­i­day.

A calm voiceover ex­plains the eti­quette of liv­ing with the Maa­sai, not­ing, “Paula is ex­pected to drink the blood warm,” with­out re­call­ing the gross-out dares and ex­oti­cism of I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here. A more awe­some as­so­ci­a­tion is that drink­ing cow blood was a sur­vival tac­tic dur­ing the Ir­ish famine.

Hynes makes for a good travel com­pan­ion – daunt­less, good-hu­moured and so re­luc­tant to show emo­tion that, when she does, it hits you with full force. “It was quick and pain­less, at least,” she says of the goat’s slaugh­ter, mo­men­tar­ily over­come. “My cows leave in a lorry.”

Although Hynes’s fi­nal task of sell­ing a cow and her calf at a dis­tant mar­ket is pre­sented as a kind of game – “This is go­ing to be the tough­est, tough­est thing I ever did” – the pro­gramme in­ti­mates that it is re­ally a mat­ter of life and death.

That Hynes sells only one of them, at a price be­low what we un­der­stood to be rock bot­tom, is held as a grand achieve­ment, and be­fore leav­ing she is chris­tened Na­sula by the vil­lage chief, mean­ing “win­ner”.

It’s a touch­ing scene, like the mu­tu­ally teary good­byes among women, yet noth­ing budges the mem­ory of a con­ver­sa­tion with her li­ai­son, Wil­liam, who calmly con­tem­plated the vil­lage’s an­ni­hi­la­tion. “I don’t think life will be okay,” he says, an­tic­i­pat­ing the com­plete loss of their cat­tle, per­haps within a month. “I can­not pre­dict how we will sur­vive.”

“That’s hor­ren­dous,” Hynes says, weep­ing. Not ev­ery demise can be quick and pain­less.

Can­cook,will­cook

His eye­brows ris­ing gen­tly over the top of his horn-rimmed glasses, Rory O’Con­nell ad­dresses the viewer across his kitchen ta­ble with a soft apol­ogy. “These graters have gone slightly out of fash­ion,” he says in his ap­petis­ingly posh voice, “but they re­ally have an im­por­tant place in the kitchen.”

In truth, he could be talk­ing about him­self: a po­lite, well-sea­soned male chef in an age of cook­ing shows that favour the brash and boy­ish.

O’Con­nell – co­founder of the Bal­ly­maloe Cook­ery School with his sis­ter Da­rina Allen – does not go in for show­man­ship, prod­uct-place­ment or ex­per­i­men­tal genre-hop­ping for­mats on How to Cook Well (RTÉ1, Tues­day, 7pm), now in its fourth se­ries.

In­stead, he walks you through hon­est recipes with a sin­cere, don­nish en­thu­si­asm that makes you be­lieve, against all ev­i­dence to the con­trary, you could ac­tu­ally cook as well as he does. Hell, two of this week’s dishes don’t even re­quire cook­ing – you got this.

The first is a chilled cu­cum­ber and grape soup, whose pale green con­coc­tion is en­livened with elder­flower cor­dial and bursts of colour: the red pop of sliced radish and pomegranat­e seeds, the rich am­ber of marigold blos­soms and the del­i­cate green of broc­coli flow­ers.

Di­rec­tor David Hare lets the cam­era glide serenely around the ta­ble cor­ner, but he’s acutely at­ten­tive to the sounds of cook­ing – the harsh brush of the old-fash­ioned grater, the sharp siz­zle of the oil later used to fry spiced chicken, or the vig­or­ous cor­po­real pun­ish­ment of a wooden spoon on the back­side of a pomegranat­e – all wor­thy of the tingly ap­pre­ci­a­tion of an ASMR sub cul­ture.

On the other hand, the show’s gen­tle nos­tal­gia couldn’t be more Chekho­vian. In a Big House with a sprawl­ing gar­den, bathed in dreamy nat­u­ral light, O’Con­nell will wist­fully re­fer to the elder­flower or­chards or pleas­antly ad­mon­ish mod­ern frip­peries.

“Few things seem as friv­o­lous as pop­si­cles,” he smiles. “You might pre­fer to use their old-fash­ioned name: ice lolly.” Hon­estly, he’s so charm­ingly quaint that when he an­nounced his in­ten­tion to slice the radish with a man­do­line, I half ex­pected him to reap­pear with a lute.

O’Con­nell is fixed to the fu­ture, though, if only as far ahead as your din­ner­time.

‘‘ Rory O’Con­nell is a po­lite, well-sea­soned male chef in an age of cook­ing shows that favour the brash and boy­ish. He’s so charm­ingly quaint that when he an­nounced his in­ten­tion to slice the radish with a man­do­line, I half ex­pected him to reap­pear with a lute

Ev­ery­thing he of­fers is re­as­sur­ingly achiev­able and glo­ri­ously sum­mery, from the flavour­some fried chicken and salsa to his straw­berry fri­vol­i­ties – even if he does say so him­self.

“It’s an­other of what I like to call my ‘good things’,” he says, as a tray of curled al­mond tu­iles emerges from the oven. He adds a sprin­kling of dif­fi­dence. “It’s an ex­pres­sion I know I use too of­ten, but it’s a good thing.”

Fine by us. Go on, Rory, you good thing.

Fight-freed marvel

The sim­plest way of de­scrib­ing Le­gion (Fox HD, Tues­day, 9pm), a show that re­sists sim­ple de­scrip­tion, is as a kalei­do­scopic mind game. It is based on a char­ac­ter from the X-Men comics, the men­tally troubled son of lead­ing telepath Pro­fes­sor Xavier, and was de­vel­oped by the mis­chievous Fargo showrun­ner Noah Haw­ley into a Marvel prop­erty mer­ci­fully un­like any other. No masks. Lit­tle fight­ing. Way more psy­che­delic hal­lu­ci­na­tions.

The pro­tag­o­nist, David Haller (Dan Stevens), be­gan the first se­ries con­fined to a psy­chi­atric fa­cil­ity in a fug of med­i­ca­tion. This, he dis­cov­ered, was an aw­ful ruse, us­ing schizophre­nia to dis­guise his awe­some mu­tant pow­ers. Whisked away to an­other fa­cil­ity, a kind of 1960s utopia called Sum­mer­land, David scoured his me­mories for what was real and what wasn’t. Then things re­ally went hay­wire. Gor­geously de­signed, with counter-cul­ture fash­ions and a psy­che­delic colour pal­ette, the metaphor was even more grip­ping than the ef­fects. You read his awe­some mu­tant pow­ers as a vivid cam­ou­flage for ad­dress­ing schizophre­nia.

Given an even freer rein and what looks like

a much big­ger bud­get for the sec­ond se­ries, Haw­ley has used it to en­sure there’s noth­ing on tele­vi­sion more visu­ally de­pen­dent, in­ven­tive or dis­tinc­tive than Le­gion. The screen is likely to dis­solve into an­i­ma­tion, to shrink or ex­pand its frame, slam into a dance se­quence, or re­treat to a goofy cafe­te­ria where food floats by on a river of minia­ture slow boats. In­spi­ra­tions abound, from David Lynch to Stan­ley Kubrick, manga to mu­si­cal the­atre, nudg­ing at what is real and imag­ined. (The wordier West­world is sim­i­larly ob­sessed, but nowhere near as spry.)

“You’re in­side the maze now. Wel­come to mad­ness,” an­nounced a voiceover that could only be­long to Jon Hamm as the se­ries be­gan, later ex­plain­ing the birth of dis­torted ideas and psy­chosis. That is where the sec­ond se­ries strands most of its char­ac­ters, and a grow­ing stretch of the hu­man race, all trapped in the mazes of their own minds. It’s up to David, a fran­tic de­tec­tive in men­tal labyrinths, to try and free them.

But the woozy plea­sure of the se­ries is to make the au­di­ence con­sider the bor­ders of its own re­al­ity, with all its gaslight­ing weird­ness and mono­chrome im­plau­si­bil­i­ties.

“Be­ware of ideas that are not your own,” goes a po­lite recorded mes­sage through the cor­ri­dors of Le­gion’s Di­vi­sion 3. In these de­luded days, that seems like pretty good ad­vice.

Clock­wise from main, Paula Hynes tends to a dy­ing cow in RTÉ’s The Hard­est Har­vest; Rory O’Con­nell is charm­ingly quaint on How to Cook Well; and Fox’s Le­gion (pic­tured is Dan Stevens as David Haller) is the most visu­ally de­pen­dent, in­ven­tive and...

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