TV View: The programmes to watch... and the ones you really want to miss
Same old story of pandering to ancient cults
You know that weird, sluggish period between those two freakishly sunny days in early June and the Twelfth? Where everything suddenly seems to be more of an effort? The only thing that would make getting up even less attractive would be the prospect of a morning in the stocks being pelted with the contents of an Ulster fry while feeling rather peckish.
Making appointments and going about your business takes on the laboured quality of wading through treacle. And in a World Cup year, that treacle appears to have irrevocably congealed. No one? Just me, then. And BBC NI programme-makers.
As anything resembling quality TV goes for its seasonal Burton, we're left with endless "them was the days"-type telly regurgitations, umpteen narcissistic ruminations on (and with) the fu ... sorry... folks on the hill, and the budgetary ballast is made up with the programming of Good Friday cultural obligation.
I can't speak a lick of Irish, save for perhaps the odd Gaelic word such as "washing machine", "DVD", and "variable interest rate". So, I'm stumped before I even flick, but with Ulster-Scots (you know, the other half of that simplistic binary condition that we've been allocated as a society) I always reckon I'm in with a sporting chance. Or "sportin'", as I understand it translates in the hamely tongue.
So, in the arid wilderness of the programming schedules this week, The Gaitherin' burned brightly – like a Ballymoney barn rammed to the oxters with red diesel.
Think the One Show crossed with Surprise Surprise and then thrown into the thresher along with a couple of bales of colloquial hokum and you pretty much have the formula. I raced to the window to see if I'd left the DeLorean running again, because this programme could have been made any time in the last 40 years – our idiosyncratic political sensitivities about identity notwithstanding.
The deal is this: likeable Scottish presenter Helen Marks presents each show for a town with close Ulster-Scots links – "Glenarm! Ballymoney! And tonight ... Groomsport!" Cue cheers so loud you can imagine, just off camera, a gladiator was slashing the throat of another gladiator.
Ah yes – the audience. Suffice to say, the hospitality tea (or "tay") must have been spiked with performance-enhancing drugs. While all seemingly the very epitome of Pringle ' n' pearls respectability (the no football or GAA tops rule clearly paid off), roared, whooped and fist-pumped the air at the merest suggestion of "bagpipe", "bluegrass" or "Bloomfield Shopping Centre".
There was a charming re-imagining of the Plantation of Ulster by a local historian, the obligatory-for-local-telly Alan Partridge moment: "Well, we're talking about a story from hundreds of years ago, but here's a couple who came over from Scotland. TODAY!"
And there was a baffling Ulster-Scots poetry class with some kids.
So, as these youngsters embarked on a voyage of linguistic discovery, so too could we. "Acheteen" means "eighteen", for example. "Sax" means "six", and "Aught" means "anything". Quite.
And, meanwhile, the good folk of Groomsport hollered, bayed, stamped, clapped and whooped again, like a Nuremberg rally hosted by the Women's Institute.
The sound of new Norn Iron The Gaitherin' ain't, and no matter how disturbingly whoopy the audience. An innocuous and even likeable little show in itself, but also a rather melancholic, yellowing reminder of how we're always confusing culture with historical artifact. Culture, rather, is a slippery thing that can't be captured in a bagpipe – thank goodness.
Not for the first time, I wonder why programme-makers pander so flappingly to such cults of antiquity. If they, like me, do ever force themselves out of bed in the morning, I'd recommend taking a look out the window.
There's a big expanse of life out there, yes, even beyond barn dances and bog oak carving.
Race row residents giving this place a (double) negative image
Quote of the week comes courtesy of BBC Newsline (BBC1). Mark Simpson went off in search of racism in Knocknagoney, where residents had daubed colourful, if somewhat xenophobic, slogans on a house which intimidated Nigerian Michael Abiona to the extent that he feels he can no longer move into the area.
Locals denied that they were being racist. And housing for locals in fact meant housing for pensioners and a group known as “disableds”. Now, these days most of us are pretty savvy about the way television can distort your message and even misrepresent your position. The “residents” of Knocknagoney weren’t going to be caught out. They’d seen even our leading politician be recently led up a dark alley by sleeked journalists. So, to combat this, they refused to reveal their identities to camera. They also put their best woman on the job. “We do not have no racism up here,” she confidently, if anonymously, boasted to camera. “So, you do have some racism then?” countered Simpson… in my dreams. “This doesn’t appear to have been an isolated incident” is what he actually said, summing up.
No marks for stating the obvious, but top of the class to the “Knocknagoney not-racist” for superlative prime-time use of the double negative. You couldn’t not make it up.
Politicians’ relief as Jeremy Pax his bags
Farewell then Jeremy Paxman, horse-faced inquisitor of the pompous and powerful, and scourge of the puffed-up political classes.
The head boy sneer and that face you pulled that managed to convey so much incredulity and disdain reduced the biggest beasts to quivering wrecks on Newsnight (BBC2). It was amusing to see Michael “Nosferatu” Howard return for Paxo’s final night to riff off their infamous interview nearly 20 years ago.
His take on the weather forecasting was hilariously blunt. And then he was off, to “go to bed at much the same time as most people”. I said a while back that we’d miss him when he was gone. The biggest accolade you could hand him, though, was that a whole generation of politicians won’t.
World Cup Football (various): Like NI21 election posters, it’s everywhere you turn. Give in. Pick a small team, root for them, enjoy the daft commentary from the likes of Jonathan Pearce. Then put a tenner on the Dutch…
Britain’s Benefit Tenants (C4): Hooray! Channel Four are at it again. Poverty porn is the new Big Brother, it seems. But the biggest low-lifes on display here feature in the end credits. Not good.