In the best travel documentaries, the presenters give the impression of being more interested in their surroundings than in themselves. Michael Palin and Simon Reeve immediately come to mind as hosts with enquiring outlooks and the desire to impart what they’ve discovered.
And even in celebrity-fronted travelogues, the most bearable presenters purport to be more fascinated by where they find themselves than by their own fame. Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Billy Connolly are engaging exemplars of this strand.
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But in the first episode of Daniel and Majella’s USA Road Trip (RTÉ1) there wasn’t the slightest pretence that this odyssey across American heartlands was about anything other than the Donegal crooner and his spouse as a celebrity couple.
“Just Daniel and me chasin’ down the American dream”, Majella folksily began, but it was soon obvious that they were mainly intent on chasing down American fans who already adored the singer from previous gigs.
There was Helen, for instance, an elderly Daniel worshipper who lived in a trailer park outside Chicago and who had, by her own boast, “one of the largest Daniel O’Donnell collections in the world” – rivalled only by her stash of Johnny Cash memorabilia. She even had a toilet cover featuring Daniel’s grinning face, which doesn’t bear thinking about.
Majella pretended to get peeved by this adoration of her hubby, but that’s long been her shtick on their bed-and-breakfast jaunts throughout Ireland and by now it’s become just tiresome. Nor did she bring much else to this week’s first leg of their US road trip – beyond revealing that Chicago was “big and bristling with life”, that baseball “is as American as apple pie” and that “I just farted” when sitting aside a waterskier’s shoulders.
Then it was back to their cod bickering as the duo met up with a Milwaukee high school gospel group who couldn’t get enough of Daniel’s warblings, after which they visited an ice cream parlour crammed with elderly Daniel acolytes.
Near the beginning, Majella had promised “this is gonna be fun”, which was not the word that occurred to me when the end credits rolled. And there are weeks of this to come.
In Fertility Shock (RTÉ1), Dearbhail McDonald pondered many things, ranging from falling fertility rates to the cost of childcare and from the freezing of a woman’s eggs to the problems facing ageing societies.
McDonald, who is INM Group Business Editor, declared a personal stake in all this, wondering whether she’d “left it too late” to try and have a child and talking to a couple who, after a number of failed and traumatic IVF attempts, finally had a baby girl via the eggs of a donor.
The film, which was mostly engrossing, veered between the personal and the general, though spending more fruitful time on the latter, as when McDonald spoke to a working mother who lamented that her children were being “reared by crèche”, and at a cost that exceeded the couple’s mortgage repayments: in stark contrast to the Danish system, where high taxes enable proper state-funded childcare.
The film was interesting, too, on the consequences of declining birth rates, with not enough children being born to support an increasingly ageing population and with that situation predicted to become more and more acute. And if ultimately there were too many topics being covered, each of them meriting a film of their own, there was much here on which to reflect – including the startling fact that more nappies are now being sold in Japan for ageing adults than for babies.
After Life (Netflix) is a six-episode sitcom created and directed by Ricky Gervais and starring Gervais as a journalist for a small local newspaper whose wife’s early death from cancer has turned him into a vile-tempered and foul-mouthed misanthrope.
No stretch, then, for Gervais, whose on-screen persona has always been creepily unpleasant. That worked for The Office, though I thought that series wildly overrated, but here it’s just gratuitously nasty.
“Fat, hairy cocksucker,” he shouts at a man who reprimands him for not keeping his dog on a leash. “Tubby little ginger c**t,” he yells at a schoolboy in a playground. “F***ing pig,” he roars at another.
“You can’t just go around being rude to people,” his brother-in-law says. “You can, though,” he retorts. “That’s the beauty of it”.
The thing is, you’re meant to feel for this oaf who, when he’s not being abusive, is grief-stricken – the latter state clearly intended to account for, and excuse, the former. But it doesn’t. I’ve read somewhere that the series gets better as it goes on, but one episode was more than enough for me.
Happily there’s the second series of Fleabag (BBC1), whose opening episode last week was wonderfully good and which continued to delight this week as Fleabag, the “girl with no friends and an empty heart”, pursued her obsession with the priest (Andrew Scott) she had thought “so hot” on their previous meeting.
And Derry Girls (Channel 4) upped its game with a second episode that featured a glamorous new teacher who immediately became the class’s Miss Jean Brodie as she got them to write poems. (“What rhymes with ‘ride’?” asked randy Michell