TV in the time of Covid-19 II

When you’re tuning in to television for a bit of escapism, have you been feeling a pang of envy for those going about their entirely ordinary lives as we knew them a month ago? Popping in to the shops to pick up something they’d forgotten earlier, meeting a pal for a coffee, or something stronger, trying on clothes in a boutique, going in to a supermarket without fearing for your life? Then tear your eyes away from those who make you tear your hair out with cabin-fevered frustration and draw your attention instead to these choices that will either convince you that self-isolation and social distancing is the best thing ever, or at least make you a tiny bit glad you don’t have to suffer people and the banalities of life the way you used to (for now).

Shows that won’t make you miss travelling
If you have access to digital or cable services like Sky you’ll be well aware of Nothing to Declare, because it’s always on any number of the lesser channels, at any time of day. The best one is the original, set in airports and ports in Australia, where they have some of the strictest customs rules in the world. You’ll have people being stopped for pretending they didn’t understand the importation of food rules and will have entire orchards in their suitcases; you’ll have sweaty, shifty eyed people being cleared of suspected drug trafficking and confident types being nicked for hiding suspicious substances in their bag lining. You’ll have irate passengers yelling at unfortunate staff for missed flights, and live snakes being discovered in water bottles. It’s highly entertaining, and even informative, and will stop you regretting that long-haul flight, even if for just a few diverting episodes.

Shows that will almost feel like the new normal
Before Quibi (which I discuss in the column below) there were already experiments with bite-size episodes that proved successful. One such programme is State of the Union, a series of ten episodes that are about 10 minutes long, and can be found on the RTE Player. What’s even better is that it’s mostly a two hander between Rosamund Pike as Louise and Chris O’Dowd as Tom, a married couple meeting up for a drink prior to marriage counselling sessions. From time to time there are brief interactions with other characters, but the cavernous gastro-pub setting more than maintains the social distancing rule; a glimpse of things to come, perhaps, when we make our gradual return to socialising. See also The Trip, starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as bickering versions of themselves, travelling as a pair to such diverse locations as the Lake District and Italy. They’re currently in Greece, Tuesdays at 10pm on Sky One.

State of the Union

Shows that won’t make you miss life as we used to know it
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there so what better thing to watch to forget our current collective situation than a nice cosy period drama? There are two episodes of Love in a Cold Climate on Netflix, a chaotic and not particularly well, good, adaptation of Daisy Mitford’s comic novel, but so much happens in the two hours or so that you won’t find the time go by. The Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice is also on Netflix, and Lark Rise to Candleford and Father Brown are on RTE. More on the good father below.

Arts Offerings from the Comfort of Your Own Home
If you’re craving a trip to the theatre or dreaming of some culture other than re-runs of there is a glimmer of silver at the top of those dark clouds brought on by you-know-what. RTE2 will be showing plays by Shakespeare on Saturday and Sunday mornings, beginning with Hamlet and The Tempest. Enjoy over a late breakfast or record to watch later.
Although this year’s Cúirt festival has been cancelled in its usual form, the great minds behind it have devised the first ever Digital Festival of Literature, from Thursday, April 23rd to Saturday, April 25th, to be broadcast online, entirely free of charge. Events include Jan Carson and Kevin Barry in conversation with Peggy Hughes; Eimear McBride with Edel Coffey; Sara Baume in conversation with Sinead Gleeson;  Elaine Feeney in conversation with Lisa McInerney; Roisín Kelly and Michael Gorman, Mary Costello and Alan McMonagle plus additional events with authors Owudinni Mustapha and Carolyn Forché. All will be broadcast on the Cúirt YouTube channel.

Remember that time when enormous TVs became affordable, flat screens were mounted to walls and the quality was so good you could see every hair on the actor’s face billow in the breeze (and that was just the ladies)? It’s why Botox and fillers became so popular on screen and off, and soft-focus filters, ultra-flattering lighting and a rise in very clever make-up techniques have become de rigour. High definition on big screens has a lot to answer for.

Well, here to undo all that is Quibi, a streaming service launched on Monday for exclusive viewing on your mobile device. Its main offering is its own original programming, series’ that are presented in short bursts designed to be viewed between bus stops or on coffee breaks. You know, the way you might fit in a chapter or two of your current book. Because they’re offering a 90-day free trial I thought to hell with it; even though there are no queues to speak of at the moment, and commutes these days consist of a stroll within 2 kilometres of your house, what’s a little light distraction between walking the dog and getting back in time for the latest instalment in your snack scheduling?

There’s news, reality, original drama, action and comedy and celebrity fronted feel-good talk shows, all in ten-minute episodes. I tried an action thriller called Most Dangerous Game, based on the short story by Richard Connell about humans being hunted for sport, which has already been adapted in various guises quite a bit since the first movie in 1932. I choose it to see how big-budget action might translate to the very, very small screen. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Neither was Survive, starring Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones, or any of the other titles I tried to play. Because, despite allowing me to go through the entire signing up process, for now it’s only actually available for viewing in the US and Canada. It will remain to be seen how the launch goes, particularly at this time, and if it will end up coming to Ireland and Europe at all.

Father Brown

On a much more traditional note, I’ve rediscovered the joys of daytime television, not properly enjoyed since my lazy college days. Last week I watched an episode of Father Brown, the long-running series starring Mark Williams as the titular priest, based on the books by GK Chesterton. This particular episode began with a bucolic ideal; a well-built farmer strode through fields of corn to bright and cheerful music, which took a turn for the ominous when he spied a motorcycle cast carelessly aside. From there he marched with purpose to his farmhouse, where he berated his sleeping son for being drunk on the job. From what followed it was clear that there was no love lost between the two…

A return to lovely, soft-focus cheeriness came with the introduction to Father Brown himself, and church volunteer Mrs McCarthy. Mrs McCarthy makes haste to the doctor’s surgery when she suffers a twig to the eye, thanks to the inept flower arranging of a rival volunteer. There she meets fellow Irishwoman Oona, the young wife and receptionist of significantly older Dr Crawford. Then comes the farmer’s son barging in, upending appointments and sensibilities alike. When later he’s found dead in the farmhouse, it’s anyone’s guess who the culprit may be. A poison pen letter tapped out on a Corona typewriter could either be spelling the truth or be letting loose a major spanner in the works. Given the make of the machine, you can probably guess which it is. Luckily for the local constabulary they have Father Brown’s level-headed logic to make sense of the investigation. Unlike some other stand-alone procedurals, Father Brown has a tightly plotted, well-paced formula and compelling characters that drive the story onward. The bucolic ideal is a perfect foil to gruesome murder and the moments of levity fit in, rather than jar. It’s a great hour of television which has unfortunately been usurped on the daily schedules of RTE1 thanks to our current change in circumstances, but lots of episodes can still be found on the Player.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 08 04 20

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