Not such a Miserable start to the new year

Not such a Miserable start to the new year

The New Year often sees the launch of new shows or at least new series of old ones. And so, I came across a couple of notables last week.

The Big Questions returned for a new series last Sunday morning on BBC1, hosted as usual by Nicky Campbell. There’s been a redesign, which is fine, but I don’t like the way the audience is more spread out so Campbell can ramble up and down the steps to mingle.

The first show featured a heated debate about whether drugs, especially cannabis, should be legalised. I wasn’t surprised that the majority was in favour of legalising, but I was more inclined to favour the views of those who said that legalising was akin to normalising and even encouraging.

Among those with an articulate conservative viewpoint was writer Peter Hitchins but he found himself rather isolated, partly due to his own style of engaging – he could try a lighter touch.

BBC has also launched a new dramatic adaptation (no singing!) of the Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables and as of last Sunday night it’s two episodes in. So far it’s reasonably good, and of particular note is the character of the bishop (Derek Jacobi), a generous man whose striking kindness turns a convict’s life around.

The convict, Jean Valjean (Dominic West) has been treated with severe cruelty, given 19 years hard labour for stealing a loaf of bread. Needless to say his attitude to humanity is rather jaundiced, but his inherent goodness is sparked into life by the selfless hospitality of the bishop, not at all the typical villainous or vain bishop character of so many dramas.

Like all the BBC’s costume dramas the attention to detail is impeccable, but attention is also given to pace, plot, script and character, with a strong empathy for suffering humanity included. Some elements were spiced up, sometimes to excess (presumptions about what a modern audience is looking for?) so showing it after the 9pm watershed made sense.

Last Sunday’s episode was particularly tense as it detailed the descent of Fantine (Lily Collins) into prostitution. It inspired reflections on the kindness and cruelty that humans are capable of, with the themes of redemption and forgiveness to the fore.

Another new programme, the one-off documentary Pope Francis in Ireland –Behind the Scenes (RTÉ1, Monday night of last week) is also worthy of note. It was at one level a worthwhile reminder of the papal visit, with emphasis on the organisational challenges involved.

It was fly-on-the-wall style with no narrator, which worked well, though I felt at times that contributors were a little too aware of the fly. The dedication of the volunteers was intense and genuine, even when difficulties arose and exhaustion set in.

There were emotional mom-ents among the organisers and volunteers, especially when the Pope landed in Dublin airport and when he arrived in Croke Park.

It couldn’t be called comprehensive – there was almost nothing on the music – but it just offered a valuable flavour of those heady days in August. The protest rally at the Garden of Remembrance was also included. No doubt this was for balance, but then balance isn’t always so highly valued in our media.


Finally, last week saw the formal enactment of Ireland’s legal abortion régime and what a sad time that was. Some chat shows created the illusion of consensus on the matter, while most managed to completely ignore the suffering and even existence of the babies whose lives will be snuffed out in this new compassionate (not!) and inclusive (not!) Ireland.

Use and abuse of language has been crucial in this debate, and one of the more dodgy sleights-of-hand is pro-choice advocates referring to “conscientious obstruction”. This I would suggest attempts to demean and undermine the genuine concerns of so many doctors, midwives and other medical staff who have no intention of obstructing, but just don’t want to be forced to facilitate in any way, whether by direct action or referral.

Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live show was one of the worst offenders on this front, with the host Ciara Kelly liberally throwing this term around on her show Wednesday of last week.  I can understand activist guests doing this, but I don’t think it’s okay for presenters, who should be scrupulously neutral on such controversial matters.

I live in hope, but won’t hold my breath on that one.


Pick of the week
RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday, January 13, 11 am

Live Mass with a congregation from Spirasi and the St Brigid’s Parish Choirs from Blanchardstown. Celebrant                         Fr Paddy Moran CSSP.

BBC4, Monday (night), January 14, 1 am

Richard Taylor charts architect Pugin’s extraordinary life story and discovers how his work continues to influence today.

EWTN, Friday, January 18, 2 pm

Live coverage of the annual March for Life in Washington DC.