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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Jack Ir­ish: Black Tide, Num­b3rs,

else to tell sto­ries about. Now it has turned full circle and he may just be at the cen­tre of ock­er­dom’s re­vival. THE first ABC adaptation of Peter Tem­ple’s crit­i­cally ap­plauded Jack Ir­ish nov­els went to air last week with Guy Peace as the hard-boiled pri­vate eye manque, gravely in­hab­ited by the weight of Mel­bourne gloom. And it was a cracker. The sec­ond fea­ture-length in­stal­ment, Black Tide, is air­ing this week and it’s just as com­pelling. Crim­i­nal lawyer, gam­bler, fixer, peo­ple-finder, debt col­lec­tor and part-time cab­i­net-maker, the lachry­mose Ir­ish is sim­ply one of the great brood­ing anti-heroes of crime fic­tion and watch­ing last week re­minded me how much we en­joyed dis­cov­er­ing him in the mid-90s when he first ap­peared in mod­est, small-for­mat­ted pa­per­back.

The nov­els — there were four and all are now reprinted by Text with a skulk­ing Pearce on the cov­ers — were po­tent and evoca­tive, Tem­ple’s classy prose crafted with a sense of Mel­bourne fa­tal­ism.

‘‘ Mel­bourne hates suc­cess,’’ Ir­ish says in Black Tide, the sec­ond in the se­ries of nov­els. ‘‘ It didn’t match the weather. Mel­bourne’s weather suited in­tro­spec­tive medi­ocrity and sui­ci­dal fail­ure. The only ac­cept­able suc­cess had to in­volve pain, sac­ri­fice and hu­mil­ity. Sydney likes the idea of suc­cess; achieved at no cost and ac­com­pa­nied by ar­ro­gance.’’

Maybe the Sydney big shots never warmed to Ir­ish but, while it has taken a long time for him to find his way around TV’s mean streets, he looks as much at home there as he does in his lo­cal pub, think­ing about the glory days of the Fitzroy Football Club. Last week’s Bad Debts saw him in­volved in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a so­cial jus­tice ac­tivist, tak­ing a long and dan­ger­ous walk into the past. This week as Black Tide opens, Jack is do­ing a lot of mooching about as things are not go­ing well with Linda (Marta Dus­sel­dorp). The feisty TV re­porter whom he met in Bad Debts has re­lo­cated to Sydney, mov­ing suc­cess­fully into TV news. He is, he tells Linda in a rare phone call, ‘‘ fall­ing freely; floor loom­ing up and all’’.

Oc­ca­sion­ally he still helps out at a race­track scam op­er­ated by ex-jockey Harry Strang (Roy Billing) to help his fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, and his spare time is spent with the sup­port­ers of his fa­ther’s old footy team in the lo­cal pub or do­ing some soli­tary read­ing and cook­ing.

But just as we think ‘‘ black tide’’ refers to Ir­ish’s melan­choly, he’s sud­denly up to his neck in in­trigue af­ter Des Con­nors (Ron Ja­cob­son), an old footy team­mate of his fa­ther, ar­rives at his door want­ing him to look for his dif­fi­cult son, Gary (Ni­cholas Cogh­lan). He’s gone AWOL, many mys­ter­ies in his wake. Soon bad men in worse suits are tak­ing an in­ter­est in Ir­ish’s quest, es­pe­cially the tac­i­turn Dave (Don Hany), an ob­ses­sive fed­eral agent head­ing up a clan­des­tine op­er­a­tion called Black Tide. There are black­ened bod­ies in an aban­doned car at Tul­la­ma­rine air­port, an agent is ex­e­cuted in a derelict wa­ter tank and a de­tested white shoe BrisVe­gas gang­ster, Ricky Kirsch (Neil Melville), is mov­ing in on Harry Strang’s ter­ri­tory.

Again, as with Bad Debts, I like the way writer Matt Cameron and di­rec­tor Jef­frey Walker have let the nov­els speak for them­selves, el­e­gantly and co­her­ently with just the right sense of genre. All those in­volved with these pro­duc­tions have served Tem­ple ad­mirably, pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of his nov­els. The ap­proach brings us closer to the peo­ple framed so el­e­gantly by Walker and his cin­e­matog­ra­pher Martin McGrath. Like Tem­ple, they ap­pre­ci­ate that plot comes out of char­ac­ter, and that cru­cial to the mys­tery form it­self is the no­tion that the great­est mys­tery is char­ac­ter. They give the ac­tors room to be­have, in­habit the screen, take con­trol, the psy­chic in­te­ri­ors of their char­ac­ters slowly re­veal­ing them­selves.

The act­ing is ter­rific, all the per­form­ers grab­bing on to the clipped na­ture of Tem­ple’s di­a­logue. Pearce is a wryly forlorn knighter­rant, the bony-faced an­gu­lar­ity, squint­ing eyes, blue stub­ble on his face, and his rub­ber­legged slouch all car­ry­ing their own grace. Billing’s avun­cu­lar but deadly Harry Strang is a plea­sure to watch, his hands the size of tennis rack­ets just like the Harry of the nov­els, even if he has less hair. And Aaron Ped­er­sen’s Cam Del­ray, Harry’s enig­matic foot sol­dier, is grand sup­port too, one of our finest TV ac­tors, au­thor­i­ta­tive but at the same time self­ef­fac­ing. He brings pres­ence to ev­ery fram­ing.

This re­ally is finely crafted, adult-minded drama from the ABC and once again points to the va­pid­ity of most of our fea­ture film in­dus­try, which is still such a great dis­ap­point­ment to those of us who were there at its be­gin­ning. THE other night I hap­pened to pick up an episode of the crime se­ries Num­b3rs, which Ten is us­ing to fill late-night pro­gram­ming holes. You’ll have to chase it in your favourite TV guide as it’s hard to pin down. You may re­call it is the show in which the pro­tag­o­nist is a maths pro­fes­sor and the se­ries uses crime in­ves­ti­ga­tion tech­niques that delve into math­e­mat­i­cal con­cepts and equa­tions.

When Num­b3rs started in 2005 — it ran for the next five years — it flum­moxed re­view­ers, who could not be­lieve cops could use math­e­mat­ics to solve crim­i­nal cases. ‘‘ Num­b3rs doesn’t add up,’’ they crowed, say­ing the se­ries lacked orig­i­nal­ity and overused crimeshow ba­nal­i­ties. ‘‘ Not an­other for­mu­la­rised cop se­ries,’’ they moaned, not re­al­is­ing that the only way the idea got to air was be­cause of the generic cliches.

The se­ries’ co-creators, co-pro­duc­ers and co-writ­ers Nick Falacci and Ch­eryl Heu­ton were de­ter­mined to de­velop a prime-time pro­gram fea­tur­ing math­e­mati­cians and sci­en­tists. They got nowhere un­til Num­b3rs was con­ceived as a vari­ant of the highly pop­u­lar CSI fran­chise and fa­mous film pro­duc­ers Ri­d­ley and Tony Scott be­came in­volved. It was their first ven­ture into se­ries TV.

Math­e­mat­ics ge­nius Char­lie Eppes (David Krumholtz) gets in­volved in crack­ing crim­i­nal cases through his elder brother, Don (Rob Morrow), an FBI agent, re­plac­ing the foren­sic do-good­ers of CSI, though that se­ries has been im­por­tant too in bring­ing sci­ence to TV. (Krumholtz pops up too in The News­room as a brainy psy­chi­a­trist.)

In as­sist­ing the FBI in the show, Char­lie in­voked the fol­low­ing math­e­mat­i­cal dis­ci­plines (among oth­ers): crypt­anal­y­sis, prob­a­bil­ity the­ory, game the­ory, par­tial dif­fer­en­tial equa­tions, de­ci­sion the­ory, graph the­ory and data min­ing. To say noth­ing of fric­tion circle the­ory, as­tro­physics, prin­ci­pal com­po­nents anal­y­sis and model sim­u­la­tion.

Char­lie brought the no­tion of the al­go­rithm — that is, any set of de­tailed in­struc­tions that re­sults in a pre­dictable end state from a known be­gin­ning — into our lives. Well, he did into mine. Be­ing able to il­lus­trate New­ton’s equa­tions of fall­ing bod­ies and his law of univer­sal grav­i­ta­tion be­came a party trick for a while and I still love the idea of an ac­tor be­com­ing a star by play­ing a kind of metaphor, a stand-in for a body of knowl­edge. Which is re­ally all Krumholtz had to do.

And it was like meet­ing up with old friends as I watched Char­lie Eppes again scrib­bling nu­mer­als and signs and pump­ing out equa­tions on the show’s fa­mous chalk­board.

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