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1 of 1 Ireland's Ocean: we've got the friendliest dolphins in the world
Ireland's Ocean: we've got the friendliest dolphins in the world

John Byrne takes in a new wildlife show, an Australian prison drama, the final episode of About a Boy – and some more World Cup action.

Reviewed: Ireland’s Ocean (Sunday, RTÉ One); About a Boy (Monday, Sky 1); Wentworth Prison (Monday, TV3); The World Cup (daily, RTÉ Two)

Between the nice weather and the World Cup, telly-viewing’s definitely in a mid-summer lull, so you’d be forgiven for swapping the great indoors for the great outdoors. But telly tends to find a way and in Ireland’s Ocean (Sunday, RTÉ One) you’ve got the ideal world for anyone who wants to mix the two experiences and do pretty much nothing bar blocking the sunlight from their sofa.

Up until recently I had assumed that Irish coastal waters contained little more than the odd haddock, ray or cod, rusting shopping trolleys and a gazillion discarded plastic bags and even more beer can rings. Not so.

With plenty of languorous slo-mo shots to compliment the odd talking head, this opening episode of a four-parter about our submarine neighbours informed me that both Common and Bottlenose dolphins live in large numbers in and around our coastline. And West Cork, as the narrator puts it, simply ‘pulses’ with wildlife.

Any decent wildlife programme needs to do two things: one, excite and impress viewers with its footage and two, inform with its narration and/or interviews. Box ticked soundly in both respects here.

Previously, the Irish Government had declared all Ireland a whale and dolphin sanctuary. So this episode centred on the Whale and Dolphin group as they sail around the coast on Celtic Mist, a boat donated to them by the late Charles J Haughey.

It was all very pleasant and illuminating, except for the scenes of stranded dolphins struggling to get off a beach and back underwater. That was pretty distressing.

On a much brighter note, I had a good laugh when it was explained that Ireland has a disproportionately high number of friendly dolphins. Even the dolphins in this part of the world are up for a bit of craic. But, just like the landlubbers, there is an undercurrent of violence there. The male Bluenose dolphins are apparently not below a bit of calf-killing, as it means they can mate sooner with the lady dolphins.

Then there was the tale of Dusty the dolphin, named after the late, great singer Dusty Springfield, whose ashes were spread off the Cliffs of Moher just before the dolphin made an appearance.

After years of positive press, Dusty sparked some controversy last summer when she was pregnant and attacked some swimmers while in an aggressive and protective state of mind. As is pointed out here, humans can sometimes be insensitive to dolphins. ‘We are a dangerous species to hang around with,’ the narrator notes. “We have a fantastic coast to share . . . and we’re better off sharing it.’ Indeed.

Another show that started this week was Wentworth Prison (Monday, TV3).  A ‘modern reimagining’ of cult 1980s’ Australian drama, Prisoner Cell Block H, I wondered how this would fare having spent many a late night gobsmacked as my mother lapped up this rather dark and violent drama about female prisoners.

The central character in the original show was Bea Smith, who ruled Wentworth Correctional Centre with an iron fist. But who was Bea Smith before prison? How did a wife and mother from the suburbs become a top dog without rival? Well, this ten-parter sets out to explain all.

In recent times I’d really enjoyed the Australian dramas Underbelly and Secrets and Lies, so I was expecting a lot from Wentworth Prison – and I wasn't disappointed. Sure, the characters are largely one-dimensional, some of the plotting is basically transparent, and the filthy stares are pure panto. But the sum of its parts is great fun.

For starters, the set is very realistic and that adds to the general sense of gloom and despair. The opening episode rattled along as Bea went from terrified newbie to blood-soaked potential top dog in the space of 60 mean-mouthed minutes.

Wentworth Prison is all about what the Australians call scrag fights (have a guess) and the generally vicious way of life that apparently exists among women inmates (I've never been a woman and never been to prison - what would I know?).

And it’s fascinating to watch what – for better or worse – will be considered to be the Antipodean Orange is the New Black. Give it a shout, especially if you know and like the kind of girl who lights matches off your elbow.

From two shows that started in the last few days, to one that came to a close. About a Boy (Monday, Sky 1) is the TV version of the film-of-the-book and, being a third-hand version of a tale about a single guy who adopts a female neighbour’s son as his own, the riff sounds pretty meh at this stage.

After force-feeding myself the first two episodes, I just couldn't take any more of its treacly approach. But out of a sense of duty I took in last Monday’s finale. It was hard to stomach.

Okay, it’s Seinfeld compared to some of the really bad new US comedies – the superb Brooklyn Nine-Nine is the exception in a very bad year for American imports – but it tries too hard to be nice and that’s never a good thing in a comedy. How this got renewed for a second season is beyond me, but I guess I'm not part of the target audience.

In the finale, Will’s current girlfriend Sam is offered a job in New York and she asks him to leave San Francisco and join her. Ultimately he takes the plunge. This seems to fly in the face of the story’s basic premise. I don’t know where they’re going with this show for season two - it’s simply beyond me.

Finally, there’s simply no avoiding the World Cup (daily, RTÉ Two), especially if you're in our gaff. So far it’s been a fantastic tournament, with some great games, super goals and a wonderfully passionate Mexican coach. But it’s also a relief that the three-games-a-day element is over, even if the panel are always good for a laugh.

The final 11pm game took place last Sunday and it was quite a cracker.  The USA impressed in their opening win against Ghana and looked even better against an admittedly under-strength Portugal. It took a last-gasp equaliser for Portugal to sneak a 2-2 and deny the States’ passage in the last 16. It was breathtaking and made it very difficult to get asleep afterwards, even though it was the umpteenth late night over the previous ten days.

From Monday, it was down to a more manageable two games a day, and that’s it until the semi-finals. Already I'm thinking 2014’s one of the special World Cups, and we aren't even into the knockouts yet.

Now, where did I leave my life?

John Byrne

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