Belfast Telegraph

TV View: Nolan Show highlights need for fresh look at our religious landscape

TV View: The programmes to watch...and the ones you really want to miss

By Joe Nawaz

I'm not entirely sure what all the fuss was about. A fundamentalist Christian preacher preached fundamentalist Christian bile. It's been happening in these parts since that very first egomaniac thought he'd been chosen as God's instrument.

I apologise if this usually crisp 'n' wry TV column seems a little sodden round the edges this week, it's because I, like most people, had the misfortune of watching more of the doddering old bigot that is Pastor James McConnell.

In the indigenous Norn Iron style of stretching outrage so thinly, it'll cover an entire programme's worth – he was invited back onto the Nolan Show for a second stab at promulgating the comedy racism that had hitherto been safely contained within the whacky walls of Whitewell "church of God".

I, like many, cringed as he insisted he was fully versed in the evils of something called "Sha-ra-ra Law", yet was seemingly completely ignorant of Islamic Sharia law. I blanched when he kept saying daft racist things at the obligatory one Muslim, Khalid Anis, who couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

I cringed when he averred that Muslims in NI "give no trouble". I was suitably appalled at Stephen Nolan's teeth-gratingly inappropriate attempts at balance by adding the occasional "but isn't he entitled to say what he wants?" I was of course unnerved by that mad shouty local "everyman" (aka the now former Ulster Unionist Colin Houston) in the audience. I was even disappointed that "My next guest came to prominence on a talent show judged by Andrew Lloyd Webber" wasn't in fact George Galloway.

But I wasn't remotely surprised by any of the nonsense that this old ignorant man said. Not once. Growing up in these parts with a Muslim father, you get used to hearing such bilious semi-hilarious nonsense. There's nothing quite like having faith-inspired abuse (or racism if you like) hurled in one's direction to make one pray – oxymoronically – for deliverance from religion.

We're truly riddled with faith in this place. More quibbling denominations than there are pizza outlets. It must seem rather Monty Python to more urbane outsiders whenever they look in on us to find frothing, faith-filled shepherds of men, leading baying sheep into some pretty dark pastures.

Our broadcasters also seem riddled with a self-obsession about our rather monochromatic religious landscape. In a weird counterpart to the Nolan fiasco, came City of Faith, a contemplative, inward-looking series about people of extreme faith (is there any other kind here?) living in that most sacred settlement, Armagh. You had doctors marvelling at the miracle of human cells, people gripped with a dismal, supernatural sense of fatalism. All of them believed they'd been blessed with divine revelation of one sort or another.

It got me thinking, couldn't BBC NI, that benchmark of impartiality, the broadcasting service for all, rather than reverentially looking at both Catholics AND Protestants at prayer, make programmes about people of other communities here? The people who we only usually see on our screens on Newsline if they're burnt out of their homes. Why not programming that looks at people of other faiths, and none? Mightn't that serve us better than giving daft old dolts the oxygen of publicity?

I mean, I'm not saying it'd make me suddenly trust a Christian programme-maker, but I'd certainly consider letting one go to the shops for me.

It's a tough task for Quirke to decipher the muffled exchanges

Is Ireland the new Scandinavia? Gloomy ambience, dark skies and meaningful pauses all pervade a new generation of thrillers set in "the old country".

Jack Taylor's Galway is a cold, sinister place full of dark corners, darker secrets and malign priests. The Belfast of our own The Fall, isn't exactly the stuff of tourist board lather, with every single woman's home a potential crime scene. But the murkiest of them all has to be Quirke. In Sunday's BBC premier of the atmospheric Gabriel Byrne vehicle, 50s Dublin was all dimly lit beige, suppressed passion and another of those ambient flourishes that apparently dogs only the very best thrillers these days; short of an ear trumpet, or subtitles, the dialogue was the murkiest thing about the otherwise excellent show. Our anti-heroic pathologist had quite the job handling saturnine nuns and uncovering dark family secrets and the like, but his biggest job was deciphering many of the muffled exchanges that went on. Simple lines such as "Dr Quirke is it yerself now?" became reason for deploying Holmesian-like powers of deduction. But that didn't stop the elementary enjoyment of the show. Or was that alimentary?

Wheeling in the wheelers and dealers

Del Boys and Dealers has snuck into the schedules like a last orders drunk trying to tiptoe up the stairs to bed and knocking over the landing table.

It's a boorish gawp at a world of Walter Mitty types – y'know, like Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses – as they attempt to make a fast, or even mid-paced, buck out of appropriated tat. The couple least likely to are Sharon and Al – who you knew in a previous life had "Sharon and Al" across their windscreen to delineate their car seating arrangements.

"People like buying s**t", confided Sharon sagely, at one point.

"The more s**t it is, the more likely they are to buy it." Just when you were warming to them too ...

Switch on...

Harry and Paul’s Story of the Twos (BBC2): This was surprisingly very, very funny. For a whole hour. If you'd been alive and in possession of a TV over the past 50 years, there was something to laugh like an idiot at. Remarkably irreverent and a great Simon Schama impersonation to boot.

Switch off...

EastEnders (BBC 1): Do people still watch Eastenders these days? No matter how many characters they bump off, or “favourites” they put through the wringer, you can't help but feel the entire aquarium has been well and truly jumped. This week, David Wicks does some impressive sweaty acting — soapy mexican corn with a Cockney accent.

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