herald

Monday 20 August 2018

Brian and O Briain aim for the stars

STARGAZING LIVE (BBC2)
COCAINE WARS (TV3)

"THIS is not the most dignified way to do science," joked Dara O Briain, dancing around the floor of the Jodrell Bank Observatory while holding an inflatable moon, in order to demonstrate its orbit around Earth.

On the contrary, it's arguably one of the best ways to do science on TV. It might come as a surprise to some that the comedian studied theoretical physics at UCD, which makes his presence more celebrity stunt casting.

Hiring O Briain to partner Professor Brian Cox, television's new shooting star after last year's wonderful Wonders of the Solar System, was a clever move. These physicists have good chemistry.

Getting people to watch science programmes without first dumbing them down is tough enough at the best of times. Stargazing Live, a three-night peep at the heavenly bodies during one of the most active astronomical weeks of the year (a partial eclipse of the sun yesterday, a meteor shower last night), pulls off the trick of making astronomy accessible, understandable and entertaining, without treating the viewers like idiots who need to have everything spelled out with simplistic, whizzed-up graphics.

Still, I could have done without the presence of a mugging Jonathan Ross, who owns three expensive telescopes and doesn't know how to operate them properly, being given a crash-course in how to read the night sky. But that's a tiny quibble.

This is generally splendid stuff and the fact that it's going out live adds an extra frisson: namely, something can always go wrong. Last night, eagle-eyed viewers excitedly contacted the programme to say they'd seen a comet falling from the sky during an outside broadcast from another member of the Stargazing team, Mark Thompson.

Alas, poor Mark, stationed in a cold field in Macclesfield, missed it. He happened to be looking the wrong way at the time, complaining that it was difficult to see anything because of the heavy cloud cover. D'oh!

Another year, another TV3 documentary series about Dublin's gangland scene. This one is Cocaine Wars, based on journalist Mick McCaffrey's book of the same name. The opening episode took another wearying trudge through the already well-trodden territory of the Crumlin/Drimnagh feud.

I wonder how many more times TV3 thinks we need to hear the same old stories about the same old violent thugs, featuring the same old clips, rehashed by the same old cast of hackneyed newspaper hacks spouting the same tired old platitudes and banalities?

While there's no doubt the subject matter is fascinating to all those of us lucky not to have to live within a Glock's reach of these thugs, this effort has so many flaws.

McCaffrey is too wooden a presenter - he needs to learn from the master Paul Williams, whom he makes look like Al Pacino.

But it's not just the repetitiveness that grates. I was born and raised in the Liberties and spent the majority of my married life so far living first in Cork Street (just down the road from the beleaguered Dolphin's Barn) and later Crumlin.

Working on a small local paper in the Eighties, I had a front-row view of the devastation and human tragedy wrought by the heroin epidemic that ripped through these working-class communities.

I saw first hand the real misery that these gangs can inflict on the local communities and sadly Cocaine Wars did not illustrate the true human heartbreak of these so-called turf wars.

McCaffrey's effort is commendable, but he needed more guidance from his station to move from drab to dramatic.

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