TV & Radio

That was the year that was

Some of the cast of Channel 4’s Humans.

Well, there’s another year down, a year full of significant stories and media developments, with the prospects of a rather uncertain 2017 ahead. It strikes me that social stability and civilisation are fragile enough and that complacency would be a bad mistake.

It was a year of high drama on the political front, from Brexit in June to the election of Donald Trump in November. In both cases I stayed up late and had a sense of how things were going, but the morning news still packed a wallop. 

I wasn’t enthusiastic about either result, and am approaching the new year with some trepidation, but what bugged me most about the media coverage was the amount of supposedly liberal commentators who were tearful in their incomprehension (how dare they do this to the beautiful people?) and content to continue in their arrogant ways by attacking the Brexiteers or the Trumpeteers for being so ignorant and uneducated. 

Irish politics continued to disappoint after the general election of February. Visionary leadership continues to be scarce, giving way to indecision, populism, compromise at all costs and downright wimpiness. 

There were more u-turns than on a go-cart track and what bugged me particularly (yes I’m getting bugged quite a bit), was the approach to the abortion issue. Instead of proudly defending our pro-life ethos, which should be popular as it’s infused with principles of children’s rights, equality and inclusiveness,  politicians who should know better scrambled not to take a stand. 

Sessions

Towards the end of the year the sessions of the Citizens’ Assembly were televised on RTÉ News Now, but what was that all about? There is no way 100 people could be representative of the people and I suspect the outcome is predictable. 

And this carefully selected group of 100 have been subject to the media’s biased coverage of the issue for years. It’s there constantly, though the Broadcasting Authority did find against some particularly blatant examples on The Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1), twice already this year. And is that anything more than a token acknowledgement when the show, in my opinion, continued in campaigning mode, with apparent impunity?

It was a great year for TV drama, and most of my favourites were English, either on BBC, Channel 4 or ITV. 

UTV Ireland did a fine job of bringing back some drama series that I had missed first time around on ITV. Stranger Things and Designated Survivor passed the time comfortably on Netflix, while other memorable dramas included: the second series of The Missing, which featured a deliciously convoluted plot and some tour-de-force acting; Paranoid, a quirky cop show with engaging characters; One Of Us, a murky thriller about a family with secrets starring our own John Lynch; Happy Valley, back for an unnerving second season;  Undercover,  a riveting political thriller and one of many dramas this year to show the devastating effects of adultery.

Doctor Foster took the adultery theme to a whole new level of intensity with Suranne Jones giving an award-winning performance, though it was unnecessarily sexed up and most characters were unappealing. The Living and the Dead was a creepy supernatural thriller, while Him  was an affecting and unpredictable paranormal thriller that incidentally featured ultrasound footage of twins in the womb, and it wasn’t the only drama this year to highlight the humanity of the unborn child, though often maintaining a pro-choice perspective as well.

The A-Word, about an autistic boy, was one of the most character driven dramas, with outstanding performances. BBC’s Wallander maintained its high standard, coming to a moving and satisfying conclusion last June. Channel 4’s Humans, about the rise in use of synthetic people (‘synths’) who unexpectedly gain consciousness, went to a second series late in the year and despite some dodgy content raised thought-provoking questions about the development of humanity and human consciousness. 

In the first series, a ‘synth’ attempted to pray, and a few weeks ago one of the synths went to a church to search for meaning and ended up going to Confession – a scene that I thought was touching, respectful and funny. 

There was an imaginative new episode of Sherlock last New Year’s Day, and I’m looking forward to the next one this coming January 1. 

Early in the year Dickensian was a clever drama series that blended several characters from the works of Dickens – our own Stephen Rea excelled as Inspector Bucket. I enjoyed the brief return of The X-Files to RTÉ back in February – reaction was mixed, but on the whole it remained true to the spirit of the original series. 

My Mother and Other Strangers (RTÉ 1 and BBC One) was a warm gentle drama set in Northern Ireland during World War 2. Kudos to Barry Devlin for a mostly fine script and to Hattie Morahan,  riveting in her central performance as a conflicted teacher. The religious background was sketchy and the only priest character a bit of a weasel. There was moral ambiguity around adultery and a rather melodramatic finish left openings for a second season. 

One of the home grown dramas was Rebellion, which I found rather stilted and also marred by some gratuitous and ill-advised sex scenes that limited the audience and caused a flurry on Liveline. 

It was great to see RTÉ’s 1966 drama Insurrection getting a new lease of life – creaky by modern standards but hugely innovative in its day and still able to impress. The documentaries on 1916 were much more effective, including Children of the Revolution, Joe Duffy’s ground-breaking investigation of the young fatalities from the 1916 Rising. 

Of all the other documentaries I saw, A World Without Downs Syndrome (BBC 2) was an essential and scary exploration of attitudes that has lead in the UK to 90% of unborn babies pre-diagnosed with the condition being aborted. 

Religion

As regards specifically religious programmes Would You Believe (RTÉ 1) had some memorable episodes, including the special Exodus, a documentary about the refugee crisis, and has started the current season really well with moving programmes on Sr Consilio and the Biafra famine, as well as a special Beyond Redemption, a challenging episode about perpetrators of child abuse.  

On BBC One Sunday morning fare has been always interesting with The Big Questions early in the year alternating with Sunday Morning Live later in the year. Sunday Sequence on BBC Radio Ulster gives an all-Ireland perspective on ethical and religious affairs of the day. Earlier in the year RTÉ Radio 1’s Leap of Faith and its partner Sunday Spirit on the digital station Radio 1 Extra were excellent and so well presented by Michal Comyn. I hope they’ll return in the New Year. As for The Meaning of Life With Gay Byrne (RTÉ 1), it depended who was on – I remember enjoying episodes with Anna May McHugh, Joanne O’Riordan, Archbishop Charles Brown, John Sheahan and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. 

On the media landscape I see UTV Ireland, bought by TV3, is on the way out, so I’ll miss the dramas they’ve been recycling from ITV. Rumours are that it will be converted to ‘B3’ a channel aimed at female viewers – not entirely niche but I can’t see it working out. 

Newstalk had a major schedule change this Autumn and I’m getting used to it – best bits are Shane Coleman in the morning, George Hook at lunchtime and Sarah McInerney in the evening. I do like The Pat Kenny Show starting earlier, though I tend to switch over to Seán O’Rourke at 10am.

So, what do I hope will happen in the media for the coming year – how about a programme that shows exactly what abortion is? 

Strange that when the topic is constantly discussed no programme will explain what it is! And how about some programmes that explore the wonderful new faith groups and faith initiatives for young people, so that another prevailing narrative about young people and religion is at least challenged? 

And any chance of a few more adult dramas from RTÉ that isn’t riddled with foul language? Or even a night time Irish comedy show on RTÉ 2 that the teens and adults could watch together without embarrassment or disgust? 

I live in hope but I might need a Plan B.