HOPES AND PRAYERS AND PUNCH­LINES PETER CRAW­LEY

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RTÉ In­ves­ti­gates brings stun­ning news that the home­less­ness cri­sis is some­how even worse than we imag­ined; Fr Tony Coote, a pil­grim with Mo­tor Neu­rone Dis­ease, con­tem­plates phys­i­cal and spir­i­tual de­cline; and the bright fan­tasy of The Mar­velous Mrs Maisel lets you eat cake

There’s no easy way for RTÉ In­ves­ti­gates:Land­ofHo­pe­and

Home­less (RTÉ One, Wed­nes­day, 9.35pm) to break it to us, but the hous­ing cri­sis is some­how even worse than we imag­ined.

Such is the com­bi­na­tion of fi­nan­cial squeeze and Ir­ish shame that a fam­ily can dis­cover them­selves part of the “hid­den home­less”, not recorded among the of­fi­cial es­ti­mate of 9,700 home­less, nor reg­is­tered on the wait­ing list for so­cial hous­ing that now stretches to in­clude 7,200 fam­i­lies.

“We’re home­less,” says Char­lene Davis, re­treat­ing from spi­ralling rents and un­af­ford­able house with her fam­ily to her par­ents’ at­tic, speak­ing more in dis­be­lief than sor­row, while won­der­ing, “Where did I go wrong?” The hor­ror of her dilemma, as this dili­gently re­searched and ad­mirably clear re­port il­lus­trates, is that the sit­u­a­tion is far be­yond her con­trol.

Re­porter Oonagh Smyth is sen­si­tive in putting faces to the prob­lem – in­tro­duc­ing Eileen Kinch, a woman with two grown chil­dren who can’t find a home to rent within HAP lim­its, and Eva Leahy and her son Sean, who has Asperger’s, stuck in an in­tol­er­a­ble sit­u­a­tion in Cork, among oth­ers. But an­other face to watch be­longs to Eoghan Mur­phy, Min­is­ter for Hous­ing, who has per­fected the tech­nique of read­ily agree­ing with his crit­i­cism. “Of course it’s not hap­pen­ing fast enough,” he tells Smyth of the in­ter­minable de­lays to the 2016 Re­build­ing Ire­land strat­egy, which promised the com­ple­tion of 50,000 so­cial houses by 2021. Mur­phy’s ex­pres­sion – at­ten­tive but with the im­pas­sive glaze of some­one won­der­ing how the hell Health turned out to be the less toxic port­fo­lio – in­sists that the rate of de­vel­op­ment will take off in the next cou­ple of years and even ex­ceed the tar­get.

But as Smyth out­lines the fig­ures, you’d feel more re­as­sured if he just took out a pocket book and started tak­ing notes. “Ef­fec­tively you’ve got al­most 35,000 [more] to do in the re­main­ing three years,” she says of the time­frame. “That’s a mas­sive leap in what you’ve been av­er­ag­ing.”

In the mean­time the epi­demic in home­less­ness is spread­ing far quicker: in two years, the number of home­less fam­i­lies has dou­bled to 1,753. “Quick fixes lead to quick breaks,” Mur­phy says in his de­fence, which may ex­plain all the breaks. Gov­ern­ment in­cen­tives for com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment, for in­stance, have seen a boom in pri­vate stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion and hoovered up avail­able builders. Changes in plan­ning guide­lines, af­fect­ing the height of apart­ment blocks, have sim­ply stalled de­vel­op­ments while in­vestors wait to learn how high their build­ings – and prof­its – can go.

By the time Bren­dan Kenny, deputy chief ex­ec­u­tive of ous­ing for Dublin City Coun­cil, says “the pri­vate sec­tor have to [be] the ones to solve the cri­sis”, you ap­pre­ci­ate just how des­per­ate we have be­come.

“It’s at the point now where it’s even be­gin­ning to piss off rich peo­ple,” re­ports one glum civil ser­vant. The ar­gu­ment may not have im­mensely sta­ble foun­da­tions, but nor do ap­par­ently “pri­ori­tised” sites such as Cher­ry­wood, still un­de­vel­oped after sev­eral years. Save us, rich peo­ple, you’re our only hope. They say pride comes be­fore a fall, but in the case of Fa­ther Tony Coote, it may have been the op­po­site. Di­ag­nosed with Mo­tor Neu­rone Dis­ease in April, a rapid, ter­mi­nal and indis­crim­i­nate ill­ness, the charis­matic priest later col­lapsed while vis­it­ing a school and broke his ribs. Sur­vey­ing this ac­cu­mu­la­tion of mis­ery, his nurse re­turned an un­sen­ti­men­tal ex­pla­na­tion. “Life’s shite,” she told him.

Like many of his sto­ries in Walk­ingth­eWalk (RTÉ One, Thurs­day, 10.15pm), told with Coote’s char­ac­ter­is­tic good hu­mour and alert­ness to hu­man na­ture (he also stud­ied psy­chother­apy), you won­der whether this is in­tended as a para­ble. Be­cause although he was soon de­pen­dent on a wheel­chair, Coote de­cided to lead a pil­grim­age called Walk While You Can (a rather sar­donic ti­tle that cuts through the glibly in­spi­ra­tional and the ex­ces­sively maudlin), stretch­ing from Let­terkenny to Bal­ly­de­hob in aid of Mo­tor Neu­rone re­search.

It says much about the place of re­li­gion in Ir­ish so­ci­ety to­day that Coote is one of few priests to com­mand such a gath­er­ing. “What hap­pened to re­spect in the com­mu­nity for the priest and the doc­tor?” jokes Orla Hardi­man, pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­science, when Coote again re­sists her ad­vice on the trail. “It’s long gone,” he grins. Yet that is not true of Coote.

A for­mer chap­lain of UCD and the founder of UCD Vol­un­teers Over­seas, he has many fol­low­ers, of­fer­ing the doc­u­men­tary mem­o­ries and pho­to­graphs like sa­cred relics, join­ing the walk like apos­tles. Coote, in­ter­viewed along the way, is given to con­tem­pla­tions of de­cline: of his own phys­i­cal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion and that of the priest­hood. He makes those strug­gles vis­i­bly, af­fect­ingly hu­man: can­did about his anger, but se­cure in his faith.

As­sist­ing in this uniquely Catholic act of mor­ti­fi­ca­tion (no­body could call the walk it­self much fun), the com­mu­nity pro­vides its own suc­cour. Coote knows it, and the rea­son for his good re­gard is be­cause he of­fers his parish­ioners guid­ance rather than in­struc­tion.

That some of them hope for a mir­a­cle en route to Knock, per­haps not en­tirely in jest, is some­thing he bats away. As his brother points out, the long, dry sum­mer is mirac­u­lous – or “jammy” – enough. Trib­utes and words of ap­pre­ci­a­tion are heaped on Coote along the path. “In a quirky way, I am the guest of hon­our at my own funeral,” he says. That makes it

tempt­ing to see this as an­other para­ble, re­trac­ing the steps of di­vine mar­tyrs.

But Coote is not wait­ing for a mir­a­cle, nor pray­ing for a cure. He is ask­ing for fund­ing, from the Gov­ern­ment, to­wards re­search and care for Mo­tor Neu­ron Dis­ease. With those earthly aims, such mea­sures can­not come soon enough. Heaven can wait.

Anun­guard­ed­mi­cro­phone

When we first met Mrs Maisel – a 1960s Jewish woman who was be­trayed and be­drag­gled, swig­ging from a bot­tle of kosher wine and en­gaged in the an­gry re­cov­ery of a Pyrex dish – she was a woman in clear need of a psy­chi­a­trist. What she found, in a com­edy club cel­lar, was an un­guarded mi­cro­phone. With a dis­tract­ed­ness that turned into a tour-de-force of self-dep­re­ca­tion, spousal evis­cer­a­tion, pro­fan­ity, nu­dity and lat­terly a po­lice ar­rest, she told it most of her prob­lems. She was a hit.

Now, as The Mar­velous Mrs Maisel (Ama­zon Prime, now stream­ing) re­turns for a sec­ond series, gar­landed with more awards than Mrs Maisel her­self has yet re­ceived, she seems more like a fan­tasy. The depart­ment store where she works (to the cha­grin of her wealthy Up­per West Side par­ents) is re­vealed in its Christ­mas prepa­ra­tions with all the chore­ographed charm of a mu­si­cal. And though she has been rel­e­gated to the bow­els of the store’s phone switch­board, we re­dis­cover Midge mov­ing with the el­e­gance and com­po­sure of a Busby Berke­ley babe within a mag­is­te­rial dis­play of syn­chro­nised switching.

If Mad Men peeled the nos­tal­gic glam­our of the 1960s away to re­veal some­thing sor­didly con­tem­po­rary, The Mar­velous Mrs Maisel shame­lessly reaf­fixes it again. Styled to the nines and candied up by CGI, Amy Sher­manPal­ladino’s comic drama de­picts 1960s New York as though it were stitched to­gether from other old movies: you meet the in­fa­mous co­me­dian Lenny Bruce (in Luke Kirby’s marvel­lous per­for­mance) but you imag­ine Jack Le­mon pop­ping up at any minute.

The whole thing, though, is an en­joy­ably hammy per­for­mance. As Midge, the adorable wiseass, Rachel Bros­na­han has a declam­a­tory, ex­as­per­ated style of delivery both on and off the stage, for­ever ex­tend­ing her arms in re­mon­stra­tion with an im­pos­si­ble world. Take my life, please!

For the open­ing episode, she and her fa­ther (the ef­fort­lessly ex­cel­lent Tony Shal­houb) de­part for Paris in search of her ab­scond­ing mother, where the streets re­quire even less dress­ing to sum­mon the pe­riod. That Midge charmed New York’s un­der­ground scene with her end­less flap and un­likely com­mand of sex­ual swear words was far-fetched enough. But to see her both charm and then dev­as­tate the worldly clien­tele of a Parisian cabaret, with the as­sis­tance of an in­ter­preter, may be one act of wish ful­fil­ment too far. (Even the won­der­ful Alex Borstein’s B-plot es­capade, as her butch man­ager be­friend­ing mob­ster col­lec­tors, seems more plau­si­ble.)

At least the show recog­nises the undimmed ap­peal of its es­capism in th­ese times of need. When “the idiot twins”, as her fa­ther calls them, ar­rive in Paris, fam­ished and fren­zied, their mother be­comes grave with con­cern. “Are you hun­gry?” she asks. “I could scrounge around for some cake.” Let them eat it. Some­times, as Mrs

Maisel hap­pily proves, a pure con­fec­tion is sus­te­nance enough.

Anun­sen­ti­men­tal­ex­pla­na­tion

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: AMA­ZON; DARA MAC DÓNAILL; RTÉ

Rachel Bros­na­han in The Mar­velous Mrs Maisel; Fa­ther Tony Coote in Walk­ing the Walk; Min­is­ter for Hous­ing, Plan­ning and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Eoghan Mur­phy.

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