Television: A Taste of their medicine

  • 25 October 2006
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RTÉ's drama The Clinic provides welcome relief from the drudgery of Pat Kenny on The Late Late Show

It could have been a decent show (The Late Late Show, RTÉ One, Friday, 9.30), but it ended up being flat again. Brian Darcy, had he been given breathing space – and for the most part, he appeared badly out of breath – could have been fascinating. Instead, he seemed merely wretched. He hinted repeatedly that he had a lot to say. What he would have said would all be about himself, but precisely because he has been on the side of the public eye for so long he might have been riveting.

Riveting about why he had become a priest in the first place. Riveting on the times he must have thought of leaving and why he didn't leave. Riveting about his superiors, about the disciplines of the Passionate order, about his doubts on God (if he had doubts), about the Pope and the late pope, about Dolly Parton (remember how he used to ogle her boobs?), about the Fr Trendy phenomenon, about his own platitudinous self. Sounds contradictory, but he was open for disclosure and insight and the programme blew it.

The format of the programme nowadays assumes a short attention span on the part of the viewers. Indeed, the programme's producers subvert the attention span by running text comments at the bottom of the screen while participants are talking – is this rudeness intended?

And the plaintiff pleas to viewers to stay with the programme with offers of trips to New York and $10,000 spending money betrays the programme-makers' own disbelief in the programme – if The Late Late Show were good enough, there would be no reason to bribe viewers to stay with it. Did you notice how for several minutes we were presented with Pat Kenny's now-ample back while he desperately dialled would-be competition winners? It's all rather sad.

Once upon a time, we are told, this was cutting-edge television here. Now it's cuttingroom floor television.

Kenny Rogers with 'The Gambler' was great – while he sang – but so tedious when he spoke and all the more tedious because of the awful questions with which he had to contend. For instance, Pat Kenny asked him, "I mean [why does he start so many of his questions with 'I Mean'?], there are so many different Americas. What America do you live in, what America do you like, what America do you not like?" What a question. At another point in the programme, he referred to a "water-cooler moment". Aghhhhh...

There was a deadly dull interview with Rupert Everett, a great song by the Dracula-like figure of Tony Christie with 'Is This the Way to Amarillo' and then the awful finale (actually the real finale was the even worse spectacle of Pat's back) of an interview with the parents of a man whose wife had murdered him, having previously beaten him on several occasions. Pat Kenny said on introducing the item that it was now an established fact that the incidence of female violence towards male partners was as prevalent as that of male violence towards female partners. Aside from being brazenly wrong, this was grossly insensitive at the end of a week when the murders of two mothers led the news for days.

In The Clinic (Sunday, RTÉ One, 9.30pm) Dan (Dominic Mafham), the cynical cosmetic surgeon, enquired rhetorically what it was the clinic needed in terms of a new appointee. The answer was obvious: a medical doctor. But he thought some other quack therapist was what was required.

The Clinic is the best of all RTÉ's efforts at drama series that I have seen. Televisually very slick, great editing, swift pace, good script, clever plot. Aisling O'Sullivan as Cathy is superb, Dominic Mafham delightfully repellent, Gemma Craven as Dr Julia Brady – the ex-lover of Cathy's late father, who has inherited a third of the business – is deliciously insidious. David Herlihy, who plays Liam Smith, a recently recruited nurse, is a welcome refugee from Glenroe, as is the one who used to play the flirtatious barmaid in Glenroe.

But there is precious little medicine or healthcare in the plot. Perhaps this is indeed what goes on in the clinics of general practitioners: affairs, intrigue, betrayals and politics. The Señor de la Casa (aka the husband) says it is just like the Law Library but nobody there is as good looking as Aisling O'Sullivan (he says).