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Tuesday 22 July 2014

A case of family misfortunes

alan hughes's family fortunes Saturday, TV3 catholics Thursday, BBC 4 my big fat gypsy wedding Tuesday, Channel 4

As fans of excellent supernatural drama Being Human know, vampires can't be photographed, filmed or seen in mirrors. In contrast, writer, socialite and beauty queen Amanda Brunker can only be seen through a camera lens or on a highly reflective surface.

She certainly understands the requirements of light entertainment. When engaged in the intellectually challenging tasks set by Alan Hughes on the Irish version of Family Fortunes she self-consciously donned the black-rimmed spectacles of a television brainbox.

I felt she could have gone further. It would have been nice if she'd also puffed a pipe, worn a white coat or been accompanied by a super-intelligent chimp she'd made in her lab.



brainy

Instead she had her brainy brood of Brunkers (mother, mother-in-law, cousin and friend) who successfully guessed the answers given by the general public to questions such as: "What do you wear a pair of?" (this list included: trousers, glasses and tights, but not "brass bollocks" a pair of which are worn by TV3 commissioners).

Meanwhile, Hughes gasped and goofed like a vat of fake tan, teeth-whitener and Just For Men which had come to life during a lightning storm (as in the movie Short Circuit) as another team, featuring The Priests, grinned angelically.

This trio come from a long line of singing clergymen, who, although able to turn bread into our Lord, must in a post X Factor world appear on quiz shows and sell loads of records.

Their presence was quite fitting, really. While Hughes adjudicating between an ex-model and the clergy is a good metaphor for what went wrong with Ireland, it's also as boring and formulaic as Mass.

An appearance on Alan Hughes's Family Fortunes wasn't an aspiration for the seminarians featured in the first episode of Catholics.

This documentary explored the lives of serious-minded, bespectacled young men as they philosophised, theologised and practised homilies on an empty church ("You've got a dark, brown voice," a kind, older priest said to one).

Those expecting an Animal House-style romp were disappointed, but the programme makers tried to compensate for this by focusing a lot on Robert, a witty, baseball-cap-wearing former-roadie.

Robert had self-consciously replaced sexy pinups with iconographic images of St Theresa and told world-weary war-stories about dating a married woman.

In a discussion of celibacy he was the only one who looked like he had a clue what was going on and he wryly noted of the seminary's screening process, "[nowadays] they assume you're crazy from the start and then see if you're sane".

Catholics would have been a very different programme if made in Ireland. While it was fascinating and unsensational, it felt strangely detached, un-invested and lightly ironic (some shots of priests grappling with technology seemed a bit calculated).

On the other hand I might be a bit overly paranoid because of what's been happening to the fly-on-the-wall documentary lately.

This once-honest genre has been undermined by attempts to confirm prejudices and titillate. This can be seen in its crassest form on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.



dangerous

This week's episode featured two fascinating set-pieces -- a dangerous horse-and-trap race and a little girl in her communion dress trying to visit her father in prison.

But it was also padded with lingering shots of tight dresses and wandering horses and typically gaudy speculation ("Will John John be okay with an indoor toilet?" a crew member asked of John John's newly settled wife).

So more and more I watch fly-on-the-wall documentaries wanting to know more about the fly -- and by that I mean, we the viewers.

I suspect there's a programme to be made called My Big Squeezed Middle Class Farce about settled people with ludicrous negative equity mortgages, silly commutes, diminishing prospects and an overwhelming need to laugh at the lives of others.

Alan hughes's family fortunes HIIII

catholics HHHII

my big fat gypsy wedding HHIII

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