Sound and screen re­views

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - PETER CRAW­LEY

Claire Byrne hosts a pres­i­den­tial de­bate with­out the Pres­i­dent; ‘Blue Peter’ con­tin­ues shap­ing lit­tle Bri­tons and fu­ture BBC pre­sen­ters; and ‘The Bi­sex­ual’ keeps its op­tions wide open

And so it comes to this: a “pres­i­den­tial de­bate” with­out the Pres­i­dent, Michael D Hig­gins, or his near­est ri­val, Sean Gal­lagher. “It is a de­bate,” the host of Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Mon­day, 9.35pm) re­minds the hope­fuls, “so feel free to get in­volved and make your­selves heard over the course of the de­bate.” What does such an in­struc­tion say about the en­thu­si­asm of the can­di­dates, or even of the show? Doesn’t any­body want to be here?

If Byrne feels jilted by the ab­sences, she does her level best not to show it. Even when mil­lion­aire businessman and for­mer Dragons’ Den star Gavin Duffy ad­dresses the ele­phants who are not in the room (“think­ing they’re above the Ir­ish peo­ple”) and Sinn Féin can­di­date Li­adh Ní Ri­ada be­moans their “air of en­ti­tle­ment”, Byrne re­mains sto­ically im­par­tial. “It is my job as a fair mod­er­a­tor to cor­rect false­hoods,” she says at one point, ward­ing the scrap­pers away from open goals. See what you’re miss­ing, Michael?

One such in­ac­cu­racy, as every­body knows, is that the role of the pres­i­dent of Ire­land some­thing more than sym­bolic, but tonight some can­di­dates are let­ting their me­taphors get away from them.

“He is the in­flu­encer-in-chief,” mil­lion­aire businessman and for­mer Dragons’ Den star Peter Casey de­fines the role, as though the pres­i­dent might wield a golden In­sta­gram ac­count.

Se­na­tor and psy­chol­o­gist Joan Free­man, pay­ing trib­ute to for­mer pres­i­dent Mary McAleese’s “build­ing bridges” cam­paign metaphor, auto-tunes her own con­tri­bu­tion to bring­ing “well­ness to our coun­try”.

At least Casey is more con­crete. “I want to build a plat­form where we can con­nect with the peo­ple liv­ing abroad,” he in­sists. “A plat­form for busi­ness,” he elab­o­rates. “They can ex­port their prod­ucts us­ing this plat­form.” Is Casey still speak­ing metaphor­i­cally, or is this his equiv­a­lent to Don­ald Trump’s Wall? Build the plat­form! Build the plat­form!

Things get sil­lier. Casey, who re­cently dis­par­aged fem­i­nism, an­nounces he would use his seven nom­i­na­tions to the Coun­cil of State to ap­point seven women. Who, Byrne asks? Casey first sug­gests Joan Free­man, the woman stand­ing be­side him, and, with a lit­tle more time to re­flect on the mat­ter, Claire Byrne, the woman stand­ing in front of him.

Per­haps Byrne might con­sider it, be­cause tonight she seems about as present as Sean Gal­lagher.

From the au­di­ence comes the Don­ald Trump ques­tion: Are there any world lead­ers the can­di­dates would refuse to meet? “I think he’s an in­ter­na­tional em­bar­rass­ment,” Casey says of Trump, a dilet­tan­tish businessman who made his name on a re­al­ity TV show and then de­cided to run for pres­i­dent. You can see his point.

The small mat­ter of enor­mous money arises. Can Duffy af­ford to lose his es­ti­mated per­sonal in­vest­ment of ¤300,000, Byrne asks. “I don’t think any­one can af­ford to lose that money,” he says. Can Casey? “Oh, yeah,” smiles this man of the peo­ple. “I’ve done it a cou­ple of times in the past.”

To­wards the end of the show, when the au­di­ence and some of the can­di­dates are vis­i­bly wilt­ing, some much-needed ex­cite­ment ar­rives in the form of one dis­rup­tive au­di­ence mem­ber. Byrne apol­o­gises and cuts to a break. Maybe that’s for the best.

But maybe, given all the show’s en­comi­ums to po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion and rep­re­sent­ing “the peo­ple of Ire­land”, it’s a lit­tle un­grate­ful. At least some­body wanted to be here tonight.

Frozen­in­time

Here’s some­thing to con­sider. If you had been born in the year that Blue Peter be­gan, in 1958, you would cur­rently be con­sid­er­ing your re­tire­ment op­tions. As it cel­e­brates its 60th birth­day, that seems an un­likely prospect for

BluePeter (CBBC, Tues­day, 5pm) it­self, hero­ically in­dif­fer­ent to the ad­vanc­ing years. It may reg­u­larly bury time capsules in the gar­den, filled with the jet­sam of child­hood, but the world seems un­chang­ing on Blue Peter, where time is some­thing to be filled rather than con­tem­plated.

This it does by re­lay­ing ad­ven­ture sto­ries in­volv­ing huge machin­ery or wild an­i­mals; dili­gently ap­ply­ing chil­dren to arts-and-crafts busy work; and, of course, en­cour­ag­ing them in the re­lent­less pur­suit of badges.

That makes the show’s phi­los­o­phy part im­pe­rial, part scout­ing, al­ways imag­in­ing ex­pe­di­tions on ships (like its en­dur­ing mas­cot) in the hope of mak­ing ex­otic dis­cov­er­ies that can be brought back home. It’s a logic shared by kids and colo­nial­ists alike – fin­ders keep­ers.

As it cel­e­brates 60 years of mak­ing good lit­tle Bri­tons, the show also re­mains a ship-shape model for mak­ing good BBC pre­sen­ters. They started out as sur­ro­gate par­ent types, as the sprightly re­turn of Va­lerie Sin­gle­ton and Janet El­lis for this broad­cast re­minds you. But grad­u­ally they be­came

‘‘ “I think he’s an in­ter­na­tional em­bar­rass­ment,” Casey says of Trump, a dilet­tan­tish businessman who made his name on a re­al­ity TV show and then de­cided to run for pres­i­dent. You can see his point

younger, the way po­lice­men seem to do, with cool older sib­ling types, like Kon­nie Huq or Richard Ba­con, pro­pelled later to other me­dia jobs.

When to­day’s com­pe­ti­tion win­ner, Nell, spins to­wards the cam­era to an­nounce, “Run VT!”, the Blue Peter fac­tory shows no signs of slow­ing down.

Be­sides the brisk ac­knowl­edg­ment of six decades of his­tory lov­ingly re­duced into a run VT, the broad­cast is child’s play as usual. Adorable pre­sen­ter Radzi Chinyan­ganya gets to hold the wheel of the big­gest ship in the Bri­tish Navy (“Mum, I’m steer­ing an air­craft car­rier!” he says. “You only get this on Blue Peter!”). Co-pre­sen­ter Lind­say Rus­sell gets to wave her Brexit-blue pass­port at the cam­era and fly a hot air bal­loon over the colder reaches of the EU. (“These things only hap­pen on Blue Peter!” she says.) Sure, where else would you get it? And while both a fid­get spin­ner and a David Wal­liams book are ea­gerly sealed into an­other Time Cap­sule, spe­cial guest Ed Sheeran, sadly, is not.

“Bang­ing,” says the mu­si­cian, a pre­vi­ous pre­sen­ter of the show and an ex­em­plary prod­uct of it, upon re­ceiv­ing its high­est ac­co­lade, a gold Blue Peter badge. “Wow,” he says, re­flect­ing on other re­cip­i­ents. “Me and the Queen.”

Oh, Blue Peter, don’t ever change.

Strictly pla­tonic

In The Bi­sex­ual (Chan­nel 4, Wed­nes­day, 10pm), the ac­tor and film­maker De­siree Akha­van tries to keep her op­tions open.

Her char­ac­ter Leila, an ed­i­tor at an im­pos­si­bly trendy les­bian mag­a­zine, spins out of a re­la­tion­ship with her part­ner Sadie (Max­ine Peake, as as­sured in com­edy as she is in drama), and – for rea­sons barely es­tab­lished – holes up in a flat be­long­ing to Gabe (Brian Glee­son) – a man, ac­cord­ing to her gen­der-cri­tiquing friend, “so straight and white he called his book Tes­tic­u­lar.”

Their re­la­tion­ship is strictly pla­tonic: “Don’t shit where you eat,” Gabe mut­ters. (And they say chivalry is dead.) But Leila seems ready to take a page out of Gabe’s book. She is, in her mind, part of a dis­trusted sex­ual mi­nor­ity: “I’m pretty sure bi­sex­u­al­ity is a myth,” she says early in the series. “It was in­vented by ad agen­cies to sell flavoured vodka.”

Leila ought to know. She ex­ists among Lon­don’s mi­lieu of mil­len­nial me­dia start-ups, mul­ti­cul­tural hip­sters and sham­bling in­tel­lec­tu­als, a bi­sex­ual who has yet to have a het­ero­sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence, awk­wardly scour­ing the bars, launch par­ties and club nights for an op­por­tu­nity to broaden her horizons. She is, largely, dis­ap­pointed.

Like a com­bi­na­tion of Fleabag and In­se­cure, with a cou­ple of def­er­en­tial nods to the me­an­der­ing tilt of At­lanta, Akha­van’s cre­ation is a com­edy about con­fi­dence: hip­per-than-thou she may be, but Leila doesn’t have any. The com­edy of her en­coun­ters with men, for in­stance, trail­ing with stud­ied cool af­ter one guy only to wait for him out­side the men’s toi­let, or clum­sily dis­pelling an­other’s fan­tasy in the bed­room (“I’ve wanked off so many times think­ing about this,” he says, wracked with emas­cu­lat­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties), is one of touch­ingly ado­les­cent sex­ual anx­i­ety: Who does what? What goes where?

Re­fresh­ingly, when she finds a de­cent guy, their sex is filmed with the unglam­orous, un­hur­ried re­al­ism of a Ken Loach movie (or a Lena Dun­ham show, for that mat­ter) as though in an­ti­dote to an era of porn and pos­ing; ten­der, with no fil­ters.

The show is best, though, in its sup­port­ing char­ac­ters: a chill clique of Lon­don les­bians (in­clud­ing the ex­cel­lent Caoil­fhionn Dunne) who will ref­er­ence The L Word while re­mind­ing Glee­son’s dither­ing, cardi­gan-wear­ing man-boy that it does not de­fine them. Bet­ter still, though, it sees Lon­don as it re­ally is: a clus­ter of fab­u­lous pop-up en­ter­prises over cold ar­chi­tec­ture and shabby apart­ments, a trek to dis­mal house par­ties on drab buses, at once in­tim­i­dat­ingly ex­pan­sive and suf­fo­cat­ing small. In that, Lon­don makes a fine home to Leila’s searches. They both want to have it both ways.

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: NICK BRAD­SHAW; BBC; CHAN­NEL FOUR

Peter Casey, Li­adh Ní Ri­ada, RTÉ’s Claire Byrne, Joan Free­man and Gavin Duffy; Blue Peter pre­sen­ters Bar­ney Har­wood, Lind­sey Rus­sell and Radzi Chinyan­ganya; Max­ine Peake and De­siree Akha­van in The Bi­sex­ual.

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