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TV View: You would have to be a lemming to follow these 'leaders'

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

By Joe Nawaz

Published 08/05/2015

The NI Leaders’ Debate on BBC1
The NI Leaders’ Debate on BBC1
Jonny Benjamin

You'll have, of course, by now marked your X, cast your vote, and find yourself living in a brave new post-election world.

Along the way tribal mud has been slung, not least on The NI Leaders' Debate on BBC1, for which most of the leaders didn't bother turning up for.

Impressively, Noel Thompson managed to keep a straight face. Only the unionist pope of mope Mike Nesbitt answered the great call of the conch shell, summoning the House of Fraser-wearing middle-aged men to debate.

The other four "main" parties were represented by "senior" members, filling in for "leaders" who were too rubbish, too busy living and working in another country or too chicken to attend.

What unfolded, or rather unravelled, over 70 long minutes of television was posturing, point-scoring and nothing much in the way of debate - certainly not how I remember it at school.

But it's always fun to watch our political figures squirming and hissing in a confined environment, trying desperately to remember not to be too homophobic, overtly sectarian or mess up their more long-winded scripted platitudes.

Nigel Dodds, who's always been hampered by an unfortunate resemblance to Homer Simpson, managed to get a few body blows in at Martin McGuinness ("more red herrings than red lines" was the one he was most pleased about). McGuinness, meanwhile, was like the small boy in the playground who seemed to be marginalised by the others.

Thompson overlooked him twice when looking for "leaders'" responses. "I have a red line too," he cried meekly, hurt when Thompson failed to notice the small boy at the back of the class with his hand up.

The most televisual tie belonged to Nesbitt, a glorious slash of vibrant purple to match the linguistic somersaults he had to make to convincingly conflate homophobia and tolerance into a palatable package.

The absence of the leaders was somewhat diminished by the fact that most people think Naomi Long is the leader of the Alliance Party anyway - or is that just me?

She had a pretty good innings on the show, and won the award for the "most impressively rendered long-winded sentences of carefully agitated reasonableness". I have the trophy waiting for her here if she wants to pick it up, but I couldn't get all the lettering on.

She almost blew it when she asked for people to vote for her on the ninth of May, but quickly remembered the correct date in time. But don't be surprised if there's still a few puzzled supply geography teachers hanging round outside school gates in east Belfast tomorrow asking when the polling stations open. The audience were no less impressive.

The best, most cryptic comment came from a Christian man who managed to deliver a riddle that the Sphinx would have had to simply concede was "fair play".

I can't remember the details, so baffling was it in its intricacy, but it involved LGBT rights and the sign over Auschwitz and Christians being thrown in prison for not working hard enough or something. But that's floating voters for you -unreadable. In the end, the "leaders" said it best in their closing statements. Which were exactly the same as their opening statements. Like I said, welcome to today's brave new world…

Extremely moving account of man saved from the brink of suicide

Did anybody see The Stranger On The Bridge? I'm not sure if Katie Hopkins actually watched it, but I know she didn't approve, which is surely as good a recommendation as any to turn on. This was that rarest of things - a Channel Four documentary with heart, sensitivity and not much of a whiff of exploitation. My Big Fat Suicide Attempt it mercifully wasn't.

It followed the story of Jonny Benjamin, a schizophrenic young man who was contemplating taking his own life by throwing himself off Waterloo Bridge in 2008 when a stranger talked him down.

They never met again - his only clue was that the man might have been called Mike.

The programme followed Jonny's quest to find this man, but also showed his own battle to overcome his illness.

Along the way he met others affected by mental health and their families. It offered up some of the most emotionally gruelling television you'll see this year. The bit where he spoke to the sister of a man who killed himself at Tower Bridge was particularly painful.

The problem with most programmes like this, of course, is "the journey". We all know that life doesn't move in a satisfying sequence of chapters with a neat conclusion. Television by necessity must impose that sort of order so it can neatly tell a tale with a suitable climax at just around the 58-minute mark. And yes, without spoiling it too much, he did meet the man at the end. And it was extremely moving. Katie Hopkins would have hated it.

Well-crafted and intriguing view into world of creative arts

I'm not remotely into arts and crafts, I haven't put charcoal to paper since that barbecue last summer. Hell, I don't even care too much how beautiful crafted objects and the like get made. It was a huge surprise, therefore, to discover a couple of programmes this week on BBC4 entitled Handmade. No voiceover, no music, no fast cuts. Just two half-hours of craftsmen blowing glass and working metal. The effect was hypnotic and hugely enjoyable. Honestly. Without cues or explanation, you simply had to watch the process unfold and marvel at the beauty and craft of it all. And the fun physics of what happens when you put molten glass into water. The end results were rather wonderful too, and it gave me a new found respect for how "stuff" gets made. This is all part of BBC4's Go Slow season, which may sound poncey but is actually just reminding us that the medium of television can offer so much more than Danny Dyer's emotionally fraught brows and celebrities on ice. It also can be a hug in a mug, a rewarding experience where you just enjoy what's in front of you without anything being at stake, from a burnt soufflé to a passé paso doble.

Switch on

I love Inspector George Gently (BBC1). You might think it's nothing more than boil in the bag nostalgia for people who miss Heartbeat, but it has the great Martin Shaw. When you can't get Trevor Eve, he's the very best next thing. Charlie Brooker's Election Wipe (BBC2) was first class. Nick Helm's Heavy Entertainment (BBC3) is like a psychedelic cabaret nightmare - a good thing.

Switch off

I want to like the Quizeum (BBC4), but it's just so boring. The only people who appear to be having fun are the celebrities. They mainly come from that tier of fame called "you might have accidentally caught me on BBC4 once talking about the history of the motorway". And am I the only person who feels uneasy watching Griff Ryhs Jones?

Belfast Telegraph

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