TV and Ra­dio

Just be your­self, the ro­man­tic hope­fuls are told as ‘First Dates Ire­land’ re­turns; good ad­vice for the lac­quered le­gal drama ‘Strik­ing Out’, still wrestling with its iden­tity, while zippy new com­edy ‘Derry Girls’ has fewer hang ups

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Screen and sound re­views

Lisa McGee’s zippy new com­edy se­ries fea­tured a ter­ror­ist act in its open­ing mo­ments. Set in mid-1990s Northern Ire­land, when bomb threats were no joke, it was a fas­ci­nat­ing move for a com­ing-of-age com­edy, a state­ment of in­tent

Strik­ing Out (RTÉ One, Sun­day, 9.30pm), the lac­quered law drama now in its sec­ond se­ries, is set in Dublin in a par­al­lel uni­verse. Much of it is recog­nis­able, like the re­flec­tive sheen of the Dock­lands, touch­ingly rem­i­nis­cent of the his­tor­i­cal boom, or, in this episode, the crowded in­te­rior of a di­rect pro­vi­sion cen­tre, where Ire­land’s refugees ex­ist in a limbo of sta­tus.

But much of it is wholly strange, like the slow mo­tion Hol­ly­wood down­pour that ac­com­pa­nies a re-in­tro­duc­tion to its char­ac­ters, so style­con­scious that Strik­ing Out of­ten re­sem­bles an ad­ver­tise­ment for it­self. Or its be­lief that a burst of emo­tive or­a­tory can per­suade a judge ev­ery time. When the show strad­dles a line be­tween re­al­ism and fantasy, your at­ten­tion snags on oth­er­wise mi­nor plot points. Would the Law So­ci­ety re­ally “sell off” a de­ceased so­lic­i­tor’s out­stand­ing cases to the high­est bid­der?

To briefly re­cap the end of sea­son one, Amy Hu­ber­man’s roundly cheated so­lic­i­tor has been be­trayed by her breathy in­ves­ti­ga­tor Meg; her charm­ing young as­so­ciate Ray has been framed by the guards; and her firm has been evicted along with her dishy land­lord Pete, by her ex-fi­ancé’s law firm. Tara, a min­now in a lake of pikes, is re­ally up against it.

The fa­cial ex­pres­sion that Hu­ber­man em­ploys to break-up with Pete – half sor­row, half apol­ogy – is re­ally the only one the show re­quires of her, never al­low­ing Tara a mo­ment without worry. That in­forms the tone of the show, just as Hu­ber­man’s eyes, I sus­pect, in­form its en­tire colour pal­ette: a sooth­ing light blue, re­flected in the sets and cos­tumes, that makes her gentle sad­ness seem all-per­va­sive.

If Tara has prob­lems, the help­less sit­u­a­tion be­tween asy­lum-seeker Prom­ise (Stephanie Levi-John), due for im­mi­nent de­por­ta­tion, and love-struck farmer Daniel (An Klondike’s Owen McDon­nell) ought to throw them into sharp re­lief. But for Tara, an in­con­gru­ous vi­sion on the sheep farm in her retro shades and pen­cil skirt – part Tippi He­dren, part Cu­pid – there’s no ob­sta­cle that can’t be over­come by some smooth-talk and a dol­lop of nepo­tism.

As Prom­ise stir­ringly pro­vides the dic­tionary def­i­ni­tion of “mar­riage” to the county reg­is­trar, his hard heart thaws in the in­stant. Seek­ing a stay of de­por­ta­tion, Tara ap­proaches the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice (at a rooftop book launch in Tem­ple Bar, no less), whose hard heart thaws at the men­tion of Tara’s im­por­tant fam­ily con­nec­tions. When Prom­ise is re­prieved in Ter­mi­nal 2 by Tara bear­ing a Min­is­ter’s let­ter, you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh. But de­spite the stud­ied, brood­ing tone of

Strik­ing Out, its real iden­tity is as some­thing ut­terly weight­less. The world it de­picts is full of de­cep­tion and dou­ble-deal­ing, but at such gos­samer mo­ments Strik­ing Out seems most true to it­self.

The abra­cadabra of ro­mance

A few words of wis­dom are dis­pensed early in the first episode of the new se­ries of First Dates

Ire­land (RTÉ One, Wed­nes­day, 9.30pm), which, while hardly orig­i­nal, are key to un­der­stand­ing the show. “Just be your­self,” the suave Maître D tells one ner­vous suitor “and magic will hap­pen.”

Ad­mit­tedly, he does not spec­ify what kind of magic we should ex­pect – the abra­cadabra of ro­mance or the ho­cus pocus of a ma­nip­u­la­tive an­thro­po­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ment – but ei­ther way the view­ers get a “ta-da”.

Per­haps I’m wrong; per­haps the pro­gramme mak­ers, cast­ing per­son­nel and psy­chol­o­gists who ar­range these blind dates re­ally do hope ev­ery cou­ple will make a con­nec­tion. But when we meet Jackie, a larger-than-life Dubliner whose glit­ter­ing sil­ver dress is a few sizes smaller, then spy the dap­per, meek Car­low man Joey, who looks less like her nat­u­ral din­ner com­pan­ion than some­thing she might find on the menu, you could be for­given for think­ing the recipes here are specif­i­cally for dis­as­ter.

Ac­tu­ally, they get on like a house on fire, with Joey in the role of the house. The episode’s cuter in­no­va­tion is to bring two in­sep­a­ra­ble friends, Leigh and Ni­amh, both 18 and from Athenry, and see if they can be sep­a­rated. Ni­amh, who de­scribes her­self as les­bian and ve­gan, is paired with Iso­bel, who de­scribes her­self as bi­sex­ual and veg­e­tar­ian, and some­how these dif­fer­ences can be bridged.

At a ta­ble nearby, Leigh – whip­pet-thin, smartly dressed and mag­nif­i­cently coiffed – is paired with his re­flec­tion. Ac­tu­ally, this is Sa­muel, whose re­sem­blance is only pass­ing (Leigh, for­ever primp­ing and preen­ing, might have been hap­pier with the mir­ror).

Far more than the easy com­pat­i­bil­ity of Ni­amh and Iso­bel, Leigh and Sa­muel’s date is a

slow-mo­tion car wreck, with all the un­forced rap­port of an en­try-level job in­ter­view con­ducted through a for­eign lan­guage. “What do you feel is your best qual­ity?” asks Leigh, chin in hand, wait­ing pa­tiently to vol­un­teer sev­eral of his own. “I do think you’re a bit in­fat­u­ated with your­self,” Sam of­fers tersely. Leigh takes it in stride. “I’m so chill, I don’t even care.”

Their date can’t end fast enough, which is why the show strings it out for as long as pos­si­ble, gid­dily aware that this is what it looks like when magic is hap­pen­ing.

Against this – the in­can­des­cent grandeur of deep mu­tual loathing – you al­most miss the fact that Ni­amh and Iso­bel have hap­pily split the check and agreed to be mates, or that larg­erthan-life Jackie has re­jected Joey for one sim­ple rea­son: she is too tall for him. That this is con­tra­dicted by ca­sual ob­ser­va­tion, all forms of mea­sure­ment and even a loose ac­quain­tance with re­al­ity is no mat­ter. Be­sides, as any fran­chise dat­ing show knows, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

State­ment of in­tent Derry Girls

When (Chan­nel 4 , Thurs­day, 10pm) be­gan last week, Lisa McGee’s zippy new com­edy se­ries fea­tured a ter­ror­ist act in its open­ing mo­ments. Set in mid-1990s Northern Ire­land, when bomb threats were no joke, it was a fas­ci­nat­ing move for a com­ing-of-age com­edy, a state­ment of in­tent. For one brief sec­ond in the hec­tic home of Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Mon­ica Jack­son), fam­ily life is stilled by the morn­ing news. But it ex­plodes again im­me­di­ately af­ter.

“Does this mean they can’t get to school?” frets Erin’s be­lea­guered mother, Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill), while her aunt Sarah (the sub­lime Kathy Kiera Clarke), a wide-eyed ditz, wor­ries about miss­ing her tan­ning ses­sion: “They want or­di­nary peo­ple to suf­fer.”

It’s a sly joke about grow­ing up at a time of armed con­flict, and it be­comes sharper when Erin’s school friends assess the tal­ent of the Bri­tish sol­dier in­spect­ing their school bus. “Some of them are rides,” rea­sons Erin’s brassy friend Michelle (Jamie Lee O’Don­nell). When you’re a teenager liv­ing in the shadow of the Trou­bles, life still goes on.

Be­sides, McGee can find enough con­flict in the class­room, the music charts, or the strug­gle to be an in­di­vid­ual without need­ing to over-am­plify any po­lit­i­cal con­text. The plea­sure of the se­ries so far, di­rected with vim by Michael Len­nox, is too see the world through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl, where find­ing some pri­vacy, im­press­ing her crush, or ris­ing in pop­u­lar­ity stakes are more im­me­di­ate trou­bles than pos­sess­ing a broader sense of the world.

Told to raid their trust funds for a school trip to Paris by a fel­low pupil at Our Lady Im­mac­u­late Col­lege, they get a rude awak­en­ing. “Ac­cord­ing to my ma, we’re ac­tu­ally quite poor,” re­ports a per­turbed Clare (the ex­cel­lent Ni­cola Cough­lan).

Like her, the show’s re­la­tion­ship with re­al­ity can be hard to de­ter­mine, given to episodic ad­ven­tures – get­ting out of de­ten­tion to go to a gig, scrap­ing to­gether cash for Paris and win pop­u­lar­ity – and screw­ball twists that feel like nos­tal­gia for a time of sim­pler for­mats. That brings a per­for­mance style so car­toon­ishly ex­ag­ger­ated that Tommy Tier­nan stands out, as Erin’s dad, by do­ing very lit­tle, while a guest ap­pear­ance from Kevin McAleer, master of sur­real dead­pan, steals the show.

But his in­volve­ment feels like McGee’s witty trib­ute: while keep­ing a diary, lis­ten­ing to The Cranberries and Cyprus Hill, or watch­ing

Mur­der, She Wrote, Erin might have also seen McAleer on TV in the 1990s, lanc­ing the te­dium of the Trou­bles by sim­ply float­ing free from them. Derry Girls has a nec­es­sar­ily dif­fer­ent spin. But it’s part of that grand tra­di­tion.


Clock­wise from above: James Maguire, Michelle Mal­lon, Erin Quinn, Orla McCool and Clare Devlin in Derry Girls; Amy Hu­ber­man in

Strik­ing Out; Leigh from First Dates Ire­land

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