TV Viewpoint: Finding Alice, Reeling in the Years, Smother

THERE is an episode of The US Office, where a character called Jim shows his new bride Pam around his childhood home, which he then informs her he has bought from his parents for the purposes of starting their married life there.

Although Pam, a known people pleaser, is ultimately happy with the news, it has never set well with me, springing this house on the person who’s supposed to be your equal partner without nary a discussion. A strangely similar thing happens in Finding Alice, a new darkly humorous (or so it thinks) drama that began on RTE One last Thursday, but with decidedly more dire consequences.

A giggling family enters a monolithic home, the likes not seen since the last season of Room to Improve, guided by torch light. They reach the entrance which is accessed by a pin code, and enter the pitch-black premises.

Harry, the dad, leads the way and commands the lights on, impressing his wife Alice and daughter Charlotte with the voice activated controls. It’s soon revealed that this technologically advanced ‘smart’ house is his baby, he has designed and built it, and has already moved all the family’s belongings in.

There are books on bookshelves, objects on display, artwork lined against the walls ready to be hung. Like Pam, Alice doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. She’s even quite passive when nothing responds to her commands when called upon, after she’s left in the lurch after her husband falls down the stairs and dies, while she’s trying to figure out how to flush the loo.

Like Smother, (more of which later), Finding Alice revolves around the early death of a character, and the mess he’s left behind in the lovely houses they live in. When Alice goes to buy some shopping online all her cards are declined.

She goes to his office on the site of another project Harry had been working on, to find it ransacked, and when Alice asks his assistant where everyone else is, she says they’ve all been sent home because they’ve run out of cash.

The plot thickens when a previously unknown business partner of Harry’s turns up on the smart house’s doorstep, the viewing of the CCTV cameras in the house reveals another figure in the house the night Harry died, and yet another mysterious character shows up at the close of the episode.

Finding Alice is a weird combination of quirky British family comedy and fairly low-stakes murder mystery. It’s definitely less funny than it thinks it is, with lots of the one-liners not quite landing, and the gallows humour being quite forced. But there are some lines of enquiry to be resolved that may be worth pursuing with a watch of episode two.

Is Reeling in the Years RTE’s best flagship programme? Clearly stated at the end of a jam packed 25 minutes of clips and snippets presented with background music from the year it’s depicting, is that it’s supported by the television licence fee, which I, for one, am happy to contribute to for shows of this worth.

Opening with the iconic clip of the man slipping on the ice of The Big Freeze of January 2010, and going from there to the IMF bailout in the latter part of the year, taking in international headlines such as the Chilean miners rescue and the Icelandic volcanic eruption, it was hard to believe so many of the events happened a whole decade ago.

The format is perfect, the music chosen so poignantly, that it’s not hard to get emotional at this look-back over our recent history. Good and bad, jarring and fondly remembered, Reeling in the Years is the jewel in the crown of Irish broadcasting.

Smother took its final bow on Sunday evening, with a glimpse into another enviable home. A studio apartment, yes, but this was no hovel with a bed in the bathroom going for rent in Dublin for €1800 a month.

This was where Elaine was residing, and where the truth was finally outed to sleuthing matriarch Val. ‘Twas she who dealt the blow to Dennis that resulted in his careening over the cliff and his ultimate death.

Luckily it all fell into place what with Elaine’s ex Rory agreeing to take the blame thanks to his drastically reduced life expectancy due to a brain tumour (not to mention a hefty case of the guilts), so the rest of them all lived happily ever after, or as happily as this miserable bunch could.

It was no Broadchurch, but Smother did the job of Sunday evening mystery just fine, and leaves hope for the next offering that comes in its wake.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 14 04 21

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