Care to take a guess what the big talking point is in my circle of friends this week? It’s not the repeated calls for political consensus by Environment Minister John Gormley (mainly because most people can see it as the master class in fig leaf couture that it is), or the fact that apparently a third of Irish people in their mid-twenties are driven loco by the fact they’re still living with their parentis (we try not to dwell on that one). It’s not even the depressing realisation that, after seeing "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off" on the TV this week, my father was roughly the same age as I am when the film was released (I have to confess, that one is all mine). In actual fact, the big, preoccupying story this week is the return of "Reeling in the Years".
In TV terms, only episodes of "Mad Men" featuring Trudy Campbell come anywhere near close to matching the excitement I’m currently feeling.
For the uninitiated, "Reeling" is an historical documentary series, a popular culture travelogue documenting life, politics, attitudes and sport through a very Irish lens. The idea and execution thereof is simple, but incredibly effective. Using only archive footage (and occasionally pregnant pauses), contemporary music chosen with clever precision and a few explanatory sentences rolling across the bottom third throughout, Reeling In The Years has profiled every year from 1962 (the year after the national broadcaster Teilifís Éireann came into being) to 1999, with the new series beginning this Sunday bringing us right up to date.
The show has been an unmitigated success for RTÉ, receiving universal plaudits, becoming the staple of many a summer afternoon’s viewing and a scheduler’s dream, as it’s habitually in the top ten of most watched programmes in any given week it’s shown. Such is its popularity that they had to had to reverse their initial decision not to release DVD’s of the show (because procuring the rights of external archives and music for such a venture is a job so stressful and expensive it’d make Hercules weep) and released two slightly amended compilations of the 80’s and 90’s. The compelling mix of a bullet-proof format, nostalgia and learning by stealth has made "Reeling in the Years" not only the national social studies class, but the national common denominator.
While the proximity to the events profiled will be much closer than previous series, the rate at which things have changed in Ireland even over the last 24 months will have given the producers more than enough scope to use their trademark retrospective tongue in cheek humour and penchant for finding clips of statements that proved wry prescience, the most infamous example being Charles Haughey claiming he’d “keep a little something for myself” in response to being asked what he’d do if he won the newly launched National Lottery, accompanied by Wet Wet Wet’s “Wishing I was Lucky”.
So while it’ll be interesting to see how stories fresh in the mind are dealt with, even more interesting will be the memories evoked by big events long since buried, like the Y2K bug, the ban on smoking, the infamous nude painting of Brian Cowen or, God forbid, the Saipan debacle of the 2002 World Cup. Opening those wounds again could precipitate a second civil war.
But whatever the new series shows and however is shows it, Ireland will be watching attentively.
It will be available internationally on http://www.rte.ie/player