TV View: How I got my faith restored in real-life religious programmes
The programmes to watch... and the ones you'll really want to miss
It might just be a miracle in itself, but I've made it to the end of City Of Faith (BBC2NI). Call it divine intervention, or just "bugger-all-else-on syndrome", but by the final episode the other night I even softened to a series I'd hitherto thought made Songs Of Praise seem like a Night At The Palladium.
The BBC has obviously invested a lot of time and money into this chunky six-parter. While any sane person might reasonably question the value of chucking skipfuls of licence fee into that most stultifying monolithic of our local preoccupations – white Christian faith – when Thomas McHugh popped up, it brought a little sparkle to proceedings.
Like child chimney sweeps and street manure collectors, there's not much vocational calling these days to the Catholic priesthood. But Father McHugh of St Malachy's chapel wasn't long from the seminary and had all the vim and jazz hands enthusiasm you'd usually associate with musical theatre. Only the priestly get-up is much more fabulous than anything you'd find in A Chorus Line.
His idiot's guide to the Catholic eucharist "When I say 'this is my body, this is my blood', it's not really mine, it's Jesus's" was as unwittingly succinct a description of the dogmatic schism of post-Reformation Christianity as you'll hear. And camper than a row of spangly tents. You could almost hear him end it with a tutting "silly!".
Like most people in City Of Faith, Father McHugh chatted to God. And it was in one of these heavenly heart-to-hearts that he'd decided to join the priesthood. "God spoke to me. Not in words, but in my heart. If you want to do computers and start a family and have your life I'm behind you... but really, I want you to be a priest."
In a place where the physical and emotional landscapes are often as unforgiving as the Presbyterian God would be if he found you moonlighting in a Baptist Hall, is it any wonder folk feel they have access to an omniscient force who can offer a hint of something better than, well, all of this?
Farmer Trevor, for example, had "got himself right with God".
"We're all sinners – I'd been smoking and drinking." He confided with such clear-eyed intensity I nearly spilled my Pimms. He finally gave in to the calling (the calling seemed to be people haranguing him to come to church while playing football) when his young niece died. Out of this terrible tragedy, Trevor repented and gave up the fags and booze. And now he's pretty certain, like Fr McHugh and everybody else in City Of Faith, that he's going to Heaven.
Of course, the programme never really touched on the stickier end of religious zealotry, namely, how people with God on speed dial see other people with alternative versions of the divine in their address books.
Alan and Joanne of Armagh Baptist Church seemed like decent people. Polite, generous, ready smiles and nice sweaters. Joanne was too nice a person to say that she thought that people who didn't believe were damned to live in the after-life version of Larne for all eternity. She did struggle with the concept of not-believing, though: "I don't know how people who aren't Christians can go through these big things in their lives without having God. We are humans and are frail and make mistakes. We are not perfect and never will be. He is."
By the end of City Of Faith, two disturbing things came to mind: while the hinterlands of NI are this religiously entrenched, what hope for an inclusive, secular society? And the rickety Archdiocese of Armagh website could do with a bit of an overhaul.
I've ad it with stars polluting the box to plug their movies
On Wednesday night, when I was waiting for Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown to come on (my second favourite Channel 4 Mash-up after the Hollyoaks-Benefits Street Deathmatch), something surprisingly ugly popped up.
And I don't mean the trailer for John McCrirrick's Swimwear Through The Ages. Two "toofy yoofy" mockney presenters started reading out tweets from idiots who'd seen the latest Transformers movie.
"I fot transformers Age Of Extinkshun wuz grate" read one. "Effectz wur ore-some. Some amazeballs akshun. The bizznizz" read another, which surely ran to more than 140 characters. Then it cut to the acting gammon that is Mark Wahlberg, who sincerely thanked me for tuning in.
"Come see my movie, which is out in insert name of country here this summer," he almost said, being a literally minded sort.
It seems that these "show us on the doll where Channel 4 inappropriately touched you" live ads are the latest in invasive marketing, whereby viewers are meant to believe that the barely human touch of barely human E4 mannequins is much more effective than showing a trailer of the movie.
It was in utterly bad taste, kind of like the KKK showing up on Good Morning Ulster, if you can imagine such a thing...
It's a right royal fall in standards
Has anybody seen I Wanna Marry Harry (Fox)? It was so bad that it was pulled in the States after just four episodes. But on the premise that misery loves company, I'm going to share just a few of the horrors of this barrel-scraper of a show.
Think a royal Joe Millionaire with an extra-unsavoury whiff of exploitation. OK, the exploited are a bunch of horrifying AMWs (that's actresses/models/whatevers, acronym fans). But nevertheless, pretending to be Prince Harry, and selecting which of your harem you're going to invite to stay the night in the Crown Suite, has "see you in court" written all over it. And to make matters worse, the chap pretending to play Prince Harry doesn't even look like Prince Harry. Standards in bad TV are really slipping ...