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Six Degrees: A show about the young that doesn't patronise

The programmes to watch and the ones you really want to miss

By Joe Nawaz

Published 03/04/2015

Jayne Wisener in Six Degrees
Jayne Wisener in Six Degrees
Dermot Murphy as new boy Liam in Six Degrees

You'd be forgiven for thinking we're really culturally ancient in these parts. I don't mean we've got a venerable heritage. Hell no. I mean, to the untrained eye, it would seem we're only comfortable with the archaic, the antiquated and the downright backwards. You know - the kind of folk who'd still be impressed if a Hoover salesman came to the door with a new wonder-cleaning product?

So, through this sepia filter of perception, opera and orchestras are what pass for cutting-edge cultural output, and our old folk huddle together in fearful masses (the non-cassocked variety) in fear of "the gay".

Sex education is of the brisk cheerful "knees together girls" school and the kicking of a ball of a Sunday is given a moral status akin to coveting your neighbour's ass.

In this 1950s idyll then, it's enough that student drama Six Degrees - which has recently returned for its third series - simply depicts young people doing, well, youthful things.

OK, the script is patchier than the jacket elbows at the Sinn Fein ard fheis. There's a fair dollop of lumpy acting of the "let's party! We're krayzee!" variety.

There's clearly some attempt, like in The Fall, to re-imagine Belfast as a kind of fantasy cosmopolitan postcard destination (last time I checked, the Titanic Quarter was a bit of a half-abandoned wasteland peppered with costly, foreign-owned erections). But to have a local programme which celebrates youth and young living, in all its technicoloured yawning glory, is a good thing. It reminds us that there is actually something more vibrant and, dare I say, diverse about this place than televised reminiscences from Gloria Hunniford and the media storm about the sexuality of a Battenberg would suggest.

Not only does Six Degrees have predominantly young characters, but some of them are gay! And it's not a big deal, except when they need it to be, with the odd borrowed storyline about homophobia (c/o Hollyoaks). And like real students, they seem to spend most time perving, partying and pubbing or talking about their feelings about perving, partying and pubbing.

This also makes Six Degrees important. We're constantly told about the danger to and from the younger generation, with their terrifying world of sex, selfies and Minecraft - and their deep lascivious whiffs of the pernicious paint thinner that is moral turpitude. Turns out young people are on the whole more progressive, emotionally mature and morally sound than the generation that spends so much time trying to protect or punish them. The kids here may be slightly too old for university in real life, but they still make a pretty good case for suggesting that the kids are all right, and hell, they might even make a better job of it than we have.

Not since Why Don't You came to Belfast back in the '80s - and I wasn't allowed to audition for it because we were going away on summer holiday - have I been aware of a programme for and about "yoot" on our screens that doesn't patronise or have the air of a disappointed sigh about it.

Eva, Conor, Sandie, Liam, Leech and Carly - you may be in your mid-20s in real life, but you make a pretty good stab at showing young 'uns in a fairly positive light. Just don't throw up on the upholstery, eh? I've just had it shampooed.

Entertaining retelling of a well-worn tale from the Bible

I'm not what you might call a religious sort. In my spiritual travels, I've managed at one time or another to break every branch I've alighted upon on the religion tree. And yet, I'm fascinated by religions - culturally, and historically. And I have nothing but respect for anybody who personally, privately practises. Faith should, of course, be between you and your god, as Dave Allen almost said.

My grandmother was a devout daily churchgoer. She used not to judge or condemn others, but generally be bloody decent - even to double-glazing salesmen.

Inspired by this familial spirit of tolerance, I set about watching the Beeb's The Ark. It's a story that I knew inside out from the time I read the Bible cover to cover in a week to win a bet at Christian Union at school. David Threlfall didn't look or sound a million miles away from Frank Gallagher, playing the one good man with the divine weather forecast. No, not Frank Mitchell, smart Alec, the other fella.

Actually, this was an entertaining and well-made retelling of a well-worn tale. See, I've always liked a good Bible story, but I always bring a pinch of my own salt to taste.

Switch on

Louis Theroux’s By Reason of Insanity was a welcome dose of superior documentary- making, with Theroux’s usual faux innocent approach delivering highly watchable results, this time in the grey, grey world of people who have committed terrible deeds in the grip of severe mental illness.

Switch off

Clucking hell! Is there anything more inane and misleading than The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop on BBC? Well, there’s quite a few things actually, but this turkey has the added distinction of being an extended advertisement for KFC. Zinger for them, lumpen KFC gravy for the rest of us.

Belfast Telegraph

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