TV and Radio
In a debate that is neither frictionless nor open, Pat Kenny stokes worries about a hard border; the mafiosi of ‘Gomorrah’ are despatched routinely, but rarely given a chance to live; and the future is a bit too familiar in ‘Altered Carbon’
Screen and sound reviews
‘S eamless, frictionless and open.” As he crosses it by foot at night, Pat Kenny describes the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as though it was almost as suave as himself.
For the return of The Pat Kenny Show (TV3, Wednesday, 10pm), his current affairs broadcast has trekked to Blacklion in Co Cavan, a stone’s throw from Belcoo in Fermanagh, to discuss the threat of a hard border and the challenges facing rural Ireland, with a panel of politicians and political commentators.
To make this indigestible prospect more palatable, the programme kicks off in the kitchen of Neven Maguire’s McNean House restaurant. Maguire employs the same reassuring tones he uses to guide you through a casserole recipe, to consider, at Pat’s insistence, the “Doomsday” of a hard Brexit.
In a stately reception room, better laid out for genteel parlour games than political debate, a panel takes questions about rural affairs as though playing a round of pass the cliché.
“It’s not a hand-out we need, it’s a hand up,” says bullish Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.
“We don’t want hand-outs . . . ” insists defensive Fine Gael senator Michelle Mulherin, a little later.
“No, this isn’t about asking government for hand-outs, as has already been said,” notes assured Sinn Fein MEP, Matt Carthy.
The general argument is that rural Ireland has suffered unfairly from years of underinvestment and inadequate infrastructure, and, useful as it is, the exhausted slogan seems like an example.
Salient points are discussed at speed. Some, like Mulherin’s confused timeline for Fine Gael’s National Planning strategy over “the next two score years . . . twenty score years”, suggest the problem will be kicked down to our distant descendants. That actually seems quite likely.
Otherwise the automatic political impulse to seek favour and refuse blame exposes the tight seams of this debate, its predictable friction, its closed nature; a discussion with hard borders.
“The vacuum of political thinking is replaced by mood,” suggests pundit Joe Brolly, sitting casually with Pat on top of an outdoor picnic table. And while Brolly is unfazed by the threat of the return of a hard border (“Already it’s been made clear that that’s not going to happen.”) the show still entertains that fear: a mood of doom easily fills the vacuum of uncertainty.
The programme offers one final tonic with the appearance of frictionless cross-border singing sensation Brian Kennedy, who, to his credit, wants none of it. He performs Christopher Street, a song about New York, which seems like the show’s most trenchant comment.
Let’s get as far away from all this as possible.
One moment guaranteed to raise a smile in
Gomorrah (Sky Atlantic, Wednesday, 9pm & 10pm) – a show that is otherwise inclined to leave them buried – comes during its end credits. There the programme gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Napoli tourist board. If you’ve watched this brooding mafia drama, concentrated on the Scondigliano neighbourhoods where the Camorra clans of organised crime operate, you know what the tourist board must be thinking. What has
Gomorrah done for us lately? Based on the book by Roberto Saviano, which has since inspired a play, a film and the author’s full-time police protection, Gomorrah now enters its third series with a cast list subject to brutal revision.
The opening episode is taken up with the aftermath of Don Pietro’s assassination, dispatched, evocatively, at the foot of his own tomb, and conveyed, reverently, to a meat locker. His son, Genarro (Salvatore Esposito), a man with the gait of a rhinoceros and the hair stylings of a premiership footballer, blames Ciro (Marco D’Amore), his one-time associate and now mortal enemy. But the divisions within this Secondigliano crime family are far more potent. “You know what they say, Malammore?” Genny chides his father’s No 2. “The viceroy becomes the king’s worst enemy.” Malammore responds: “They also say the only one not weeping at the king’s funeral is his son.” Menacing aphorisms seem to be the weapon of choice.
The show is otherwise leadenly short on wit, a reflection more on the characters than the makers. Unlike The Sopranos, The Wire or even Love/Hate – shows with glancing similarities – Gomorrah’s Mafiosi rarely get a flash of
‘‘ ‘Seamless, frictionless and open.’ As he crosses it by foot at night, Pat Kenny describes the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as though it was almost as suave as himself
personality, too busy killing to ever just kill time. (This series, like the last one, flashes forward by a year, as though nervous of ever slowing down.)
If the series comes close to an arch comment, it is the sublimely tacky display of criminal wealth. Don Pietro’s coffin is gaudier than a Renaissance Pope’s and in a gold-plated home that King Midas might find excessive, even the security monitors sit inside gilt frame. Genny, a new father himself, and now in charge of the family business, seems to have a sliver of self-insight: “My father wasn’t murdered. What killed him was the poison we all carry inside.”
This is poetic, certainly, but not entirely true: he was actually killed by Genny, Ciro and a bullet to the head. You watch Gomorrah for its unswerving grittiness, for the anti-tourism of its cracked and broken city seen in sinister dark green hues. But if its plentifully assigned deaths don’t carry much weight, it is because the show never allows its characters any time to live.
Trans humanist detective story
Death is just an inconvenience in Altered
Carbon (Netflix, from Friday), though, as reversible as changing a stained shirt or restarting the level of a videogame. Based on the cult 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, and set in a distant future where consciousness is stored on a cortical stack (a glorified USB stick at the top of your spine), and bodies are so interchangeable they’re known as “sleeves”,
Altered Carbon is essentially a transhumanist detective story.
Part brooding neo-noir, part bright fantasy, part porn search, it pushes much of the action into virtual spaces, spaceships or strip clubs, pitched squarely at the cortical stacks of adolescent boys or whatever sleeves they roll up in.
For those who found it troublesome to see Scarlett Johansson play Maj Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost in the Shell, casting the chiseled Swede Joel Kinnaman as badass protagonist Takashi Kovacs will seem like a mean joke. Whitewashing may be part of the plot, but while a Latina grandmother might be “spun up” into the body of a white skinhead, or a black woman revived in the form of a slight white man, it never happens the other way around. Watching those body-swapping cameos feels like being asked to admire the versatile performances of those white sleeves.
Kinnaman, as versatile as an oak tree, does not seem to have been retained for his flexibility. Like a Philip Marlowe kept in deep-freeze, the wise-crack mumbling Takashi is revived after 250 years at the behest of a mega-rich client, Laurence Bancroft, and immediately turned into another working stiff.
“All I ask of you is to solve a murder,” says Bankroft. “Whose?” asks Takashi. “Mine!” says absolutely everybody watching. Subtlety is not Altered Carbon’s strong suit.
But what is? To make matters broodier, Takashi checks into an “AI hotel” called The Raven run by Edgar Allen Poe, whose deferential and violent assistance is the closest the show comes to comedy, and the furthest thing you can get from Edgar Allen Poe. (Its more hilarious manoeuvres, where full-frontal nudity is otherwise plentiful, is the absurd lengths it goes to conceal Kinnaman’s frontal.)
If the title itself seems to suggest that nothing is original, just variations on the same substance, that seems like the showrunners guiding logic. Each episode offers a further knots to the plot and a sensationally violent fight, over rain-soaked views of a sleazy neon city and a clutch of 1940s noir throwbacks.
Blade Runner meets Blade Runner meets Blade Runner. That’s the problem with the future, which is so seldom altered these days. We’ve seen it all before.
Joel Kinnaman in new sci-fi drama Altered
Carbon; Salvatore Esposito in series three of Mafia drama Gomorrah; Pat Kenny, returning to TV3 for a new series of his current-affairs show.