Tuesday 21 November 2017

Endeavour simply tries too hard

50 Years in the Glow could have been named for me. Almost. I'm 49 years in the glow, born nine months after RTE's on-air launch on December 31, 1961, and therefore not privy to the excitement of that night. 50 Years In The Glow (RTE1) The Philip Lynott Archive (RTE1) Endeavour (ITV/UTV)

But there were a lot of memories stirred up in this nostalgic documentary, presented by Pat Shortt in playful but restrained mode and told entirely from the point of view of viewers, about the coming of a native television service to an island nation raised on, if not entirely convinced by, Dev's visions of comely maidens dancing at the crossroads.

The only Crossroads we faced in our house, mind you, was the corny ITV soap opera set in a Birmingham motel with rickety sets and even more rickety acting.

I'm told -- and you'll have to take this on trust because like I said, I wasn't around to verify it -- we were one of the first families in our flat complex to have a television set, rented by the week from Harry Moore, who traded in Dawson Street for more years than he cared to remember, as the man himself used to say in the TV adverts.

So even though we lived in what used to be called multi-channel land, serviced by a massive communal aerial positioned on top of the flats that delivered electrical snowstorms as often as it delivered viewable black-and-white pictures of ITV and the BBC, I could relate to tales of people crowding into neighbours' front rooms to watch the magical box in the corner.

Many of the stories here were predictable and familiar, memories as communal as the experience of watching pre-digital television itself, but that didn't make them any less charming or evocative.

The poignant (watching the big, era-defining events like JFK's funeral, the first moon landing or the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center) rubbed shoulders with the quaint (viewers in the islands powering their sets off car batteries) and the downright comical (children running out of the living room for fear newsreader Charles Mitchel could see them sitting watching in their pyjamas, or the woman who invaded a telly-owning neighbour's house in the days immediately before RTE went on air simply to marvel at the supernatural beauty of the test card).

Though the tone was predominantly lighthearted and anecdotal, the film did touch upon television's power to challenge, provoke, discomfit and even transform, and not always in a positive way.

A clip of Gay Byrne waving a condom in The Late Late Show audience's face, prompting one caller to declare that "rubber won't save their souls", looks risible now, but his lopsided and mean-spirited interview with Annie Murphy, who bore a son for the hypocritical Bishop Eamon Casey, remains one of the most uncomfortable ever television moments.

Last night was very much one for looking back. The Philip Lynott Archive, another key component of RTE's TV50 season, was a beautifully produced and deeply affecting mixture of archive footage and interviews with the Thin Lizzy frontman's contemporaries and admirers that offered very much the last word on the most talented and charismatic Irish rock star of all.

Anyone failing to be moved by Brush Shiels's affectionate/regretful recollections of his old pal (the title of a lovely tribute song, incidentally, The Brush released after Lynott's premature death) must have a heart as solid as the statue of the great man outside Bruxelle's.

Endeavour, however, a one-off (until they commission the surely inevitable series) feature-length drama featuring Shaun Evans as the young, yet-to-be Inspector Morse, seemed like the answer to a question no one asked.

Though a competent thriller in its own right that featured many of the original's trappings -- the Jag, the crosswords, the opera records -- this was a pointless exercise in stripping an enigmatic character of his mystery.

Some puzzles don't need solving.




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