Belfast Telegraph

TV View: There ought to be a law against Barristers

By Joe Nawaz

Conscious Uncoupling might have been the idiot-meme of the week in certain circles who live their life vicariously through famous people.

BBC NI, with typical contrariness however, opted instead for a little unconscious coupling in its most recent batch of 'Life, innit?' documentaries – putting more flies on walls than is generally considered healthy, and letting us see the results.

Barristers' supposed unprecedented access to the inner legal circles and Jigs And Wigs' 'insider' look at the slightly demented world of Irish dancing boasted much more in common than tacky hairpieces and deft manoeuvring.

There were some God-awful voiceovers for starters, and I mean buttock-clenching 'listen with mother' type, especially in Barristers, which the mighty Conleth Hill (right) must have agreed to do as payback to some dark lord in the Satanic bowels of Broadcasting House, but more of that in a diabolical minute. The promised insights weren't really forthcoming either. Jigs And Wigs, which this week showed us the Taiwanese craze for all things Michael Flatley, couldn't actually get into the heads of these kids, who competed so passionately to fiddly-dee music on the other side of the planet, they had all developed slight Irish accents.

Fortunately the human stories of these hard-working families (I mean 12 hrs a day, people) were so utterly beguiling, the Riverdance fetish was merely window dressing for a glimpse at human frailty, fear and the joy of small triumphs.

That's been the strength of Jigs And Wigs throughout – it, ahem, reels us in with a bit of fancy footwork, and before you know it you're sucked into these wonderful pockets of human experience that transcend the purported subject. Or something.

There's no pockets – of human experience or otherwise – in a Barrister's robes however, and the cameras being let into the Bar for the first time in 100 years served to obscure rather than illuminate proceedings. It didn't help programme makers decided that because they hadn't filmed there before, we didn't actually know what, y'know, 'the law' was.

"There are two types of lawyer in Northern Ireland: solicitor and barrister," burred Hill almost apologetically.

He paused as if waiting for hands to go up, then added "and barristers are called in if the case is VERY complicated". The early learning guide to legal stuff didn't end there. "Our legal system is not just in Belfast, it's also spread across Northern Ireland." You could see dozens of Belfast city slickers making a mental note to finally brave the wilds of Sprucefield shopping centre for a weekend bargain.

Almost impressively, Barristers was jaw-droppingly condescending, and yet simultaneously boring.

Cameras lingered on a mouldering wig on a desk or an occasional pile of paperwork to lend some visual gravitas to proceedings, whilst poor old Conleth continued: "Like plumbers and builders, barristers need more than one job if they are to make a living."

And don't get me started on the big "book of facts" – an actual barrister thing. I asked a lawyer friend of mine what she made of Barristers. She said it was excruciating. "They've made law look dull, it isn't really!" she protested. But then, she would.

Turns out I prefer my Jigs And Wigs to the sound of Riverdance, thank you very much – if not my legal advice.

A film-maker of pedigree, but Louis's bark is lot quieter now

Everyone's favourite faux-awkward investigative journalist and 'immersive documentary' maker who isn't called Jon Ronson was back this week in Louis Theroux's LA Stories (BBC2).

Typically, Louis shied away from the obvious vapidity and glitz of LaLa land. Instead he focused in the first episode on the mutts that populate the City Of Angels. City Of Dogs had the deceptively affable Theroux effectively drawing parallels between the human societal order and the treatment of canines in LA.

So, you had former gang-banger Malcolm training pound dogs into killing machines. At the other end of the scale you had a zen dog trainer called Dogman (how very LA) and a somewhat delusory chap – is there any other kind of subject in Theroux's films? – who believed even the most vicious dogs could be tamed and thereby saved from extermination.

In a city where about 10,000 unwanted dogs are destroyed each year, and Chihuahuas are the ultimate Louis Vitton handbag accessory, it made for affecting enough telly, but it seems – like us all – Theroux's mellowed in his old age.

I pined like a pit bull on peyote for the days when Louis used to gently skewer the likes of white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists and Jimmy Savile.

Scientifically dubious show was dead loss

"I'm after the last remains of the greatest artists, scientists, even Presidents," gasped scientist Mark Evans in Dead Famous DNA (C4).

"Could their DNA reveal what made Marilyn Monroe so attractive, Albert Einstein so intelligent and Adolf Hitler so evil?" It was all I could do not to scream out: "They're all culturally subjective attributes, Mr so-called Channel Four scientist!!" But instead I persevered.

"You're sort of envisaging a conveyer belt of John Lennons," Evans continued, determined to bait us into staying for the 40 minutes.

Alas – the scientific and non-exploitative genes seem to be as elusive in Channel Four's DNA as Albert Einstein's eyeballs are on eBay. The cosy chat with a Holocaust denier was the final knackered nucleotide in this dead loss of a tenuous science show.

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