TV Viewpoint: Room to Improve and The Least Leg

Full disclosure – I have a TV but access to a grand total of zero channels. It’s a ‘smart’ TV; much like your computer or phone it can pick up the likes of Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other subscription services you’ve signed up to, and, crucially, you can also reach TV channels’ online services like RTE Player and All 4. This goes a little way towards justifying paying the licence fee (which I do, despite the lack of channels, as all devices capable of picking up a television signal, even if you aren’t actually using said signal or even if the devise is broken must have one), because even if you can’t watch the show live there’s a wide array of shows available to catch up on after the fact.

This is how I ended up not just bingeing, rather gorging on Room to Improve on the RTE Player over the weekend. I’d seen the programme before but I’ve never been a devoted viewer, as many people have become over its lengthy run. I can see why it’s so popular; there’s a distinctive and reassuring beginning, middle and end, the formula is easy to follow and fortunes are easy to predict, and the largely good-natured but sometimes, amusingly, tense nature of the show is a tonic.

I watched four, fifty minute episodes in a row. I couldn’t get enough of it! I loved the banter between the clients and Dermot, the progress reports from the often beleaguered contractors, seeing the starting point, designs, amended designs, work in progress, complications arising, the quantity surveyor tearing her hair out trying to stay on budget and finally the reveal of the finished product. I loved it all! But more than anything I loved the families and their stories. Because I probably won’t be able to afford a house let alone ‘improve’ one until at least 2030 I was sure I would be putting on my bitter hat and bedrudging them all their happy homes, but despite my best efforts to, I couldn’t.

Dun-Laoghaire-3-Dermot-Bannon-with-Avril-Andrew-Wilson-Rankin
Room to Improve – Architect Dermot Bannon with Andrew and Avril Wilson-Rankin, who bought a warehouse and built a house inside it

I watched a mother-daughter duo with a healthy Ebay habit and completely differing visions regarding their ideal home make Dermot laugh more than he has in his life. A vivacious young couple bought a warehouse in Dun Laoghaire and basically built a house from scratch inside it. An enthusiastic middle aged couple with a young family renovated a 1930s doctor’s house in near-total disrepair, with the hopes of installing a slide inside, from the upstairs hall to the kitchen.

I watched Katherine Zappone and her wife Ann Louise Gilligan have their cosy but cramped house transformed into the open-plan home of their dreams, in an episode originally shown in 2013. Ann Louise died last year of complications following a brain haemorrhage, so knowing that they had just over three joyful years in their refurbished house when they were hoping, expecting many more made me realise that every second counts and if you have the means to create the perfect space for yourself and your family no one should convince you otherwise, not even mean-spirited people like me. Well, myself BR (Before Room to Improve). These episodes and more are still on the Player, and viewing (in moderation!) may also give you a dose of comforting, refreshing reality.

Another programme I caught online, this time on Channel 4’s offering, All 4, was the first episode of a new series of The Last Leg, which airs on Fridays. I hadn’t heard of it before, despite it first airing in 2012, as part of that channel’s Paralympics coverage. It’s a comedic, semi-panel show taking a look at that week’s most interesting news stories, presented by Australian comedian Adam Hills with help from Josh Widdicombe and Alex Brooker. The programme gets its name from the fact that only two of the presenters has both sets of legs. Its popularity soared, resulting in the commissions for subsequent summer seasons, as a result of the smart, witty, irreverent commentary with a serious message, namely disability rights and the abolition of injustices in the world.

Last Leg
The Last Leg hosts Josh Widdicombe, Adam Hills and Alex Brooker

Last week’s show had a focus on the now infamous jacket Melania Trump boarding a plane to visit migrant children separated from their families in Texas (which read “I really don’t care. Do you?”) and there was an impassioned rhapsody about the benefits of the NHS by guest panellist Johnny Vegas. A bit too much World Cup Talk for my taste, and some of the antics seemed rowdy and unnecessary, but for a light-hearted yet on-message talk show of a Friday night you can’t go too wrong with this.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on June 27th 2018

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