Television: In search of life on RTÉ

  • 8 November 2006
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In Search of the Pope's Children may be pastiche television, and you can't believe all that David McWilliams so passionately tells you, but it's certainly better than the tired old Questions and Answers

Yes, it's pastiche television. Energetic, fast, intense, clever, but still pastiche. And none the worse for that. In Search of the Pope's Children captures a sense of the emerging Ireland, the new social connections, what passes for values, the obsessions, tastes and culture.

David McWilliams presents it with a verve otherwise unknown to RTÉ, aside from Hector. He's as fast, frenetic, frenzied and fabulous as the Ireland he describes.

I don't know if we are as much into decking as he said in this first episode of the three-part series. Or if we buy more BMWs than the Germans or more chocolate than the Belgians or more ecstasy than the Dutch. But it's true that we've changed considerably in the last decade or so. The Celtic Tiger, the immigration, the population boom, the wealth, the vast new estates and towns, the SUVs, the motorways, the vino.

But the extrapolation, for instance, from a friend of his sister having sex in a tent in Ballybrit during Pope John Paul's visit, that half the young people of Ireland were at it while the pope was here, and that everyone else has been at it since then, was a bit far-fetched.

"Most Decklanders are on the road by 6.30am." How does he know? Most?

"Many of us spend as much time at the wheel as we do in bed." Really?

Joe Duffy the Dante of modern Ireland? The gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed?

"The foundations of the new Ireland are not half as stable as we would like to think," he said, because it is reliant on cheap credit, cheap energy and cheap labour. Cheap credit won't continue, he said. But why not? We are in the euro-zone and the deal is there will be no return to the hyper-inflation and hyper interest rates of 20 years ago. If this is not so, we should be told.

Cheap energy won't continue, he said, but then refuted this himself by pointing out that we could avail of nuclear energy. And, incidentally, isn't it true that if we don't build nuclear power stations ourselves, we can import nuclear energy from the UK?

As for cheap labour, is it really the case that our economy is founded on that pillar? I thought the reverse was the case and we got away with it because we were very keen on broadband.

Isn't the problem really to do with our reliance on construction? If that cools off, employment will drop and then there will be trouble. But that was not David's point.

This is "infotainment" and all the better for it. The script was by David McWilliams but the editing, the filming and the sound were all slick, clever and professional. Great television, but you wouldn't want to believe it all.

David McWilliams was on Questions and Answers immediately after the Pope's Children went out. An opportunity to explore the assumptions of the documentary, the assertions and presentation. But only a single bland question, an insightful but brief critique by Donncha O'Connell of NUI Galway, and that was it.

Then the familiar blandness with a familiar bland panel, aside from David McWilliams and Donncha O'Connell. Actually, Alison O'Connor was not bad either but Micheál Martin and Emmett Stagg... awful, both of them.

The pace of Questions and Answers is so slow, and it is compounded by John Bowman's insistence on repeating word-for-word the question just posed by a member of the audience. Why? He clutches a pen in his right hand to emphasise the schoolmaster tone of the programme. It is all so bloody boring and predictable. Precisely what In Search of the Pope's Children was not.

By the way, why not give David McWilliams a regular TV slot of his own on RTÉ?