Phan­toms and zom­bies lurk, and the old­est pro­fes­sion gets a new li­cence

‘Ac­cept­able Risk’ plays it safe; cring­ing kids con­tend with zom­bie par­ents and other mor­ti­fi­ca­tions in ‘Drop Dead Weird’; and the sex in­dus­try recom­mod­i­fies in David Simon’s ‘The Deuce’

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Peter Craw­ley

To lose one hus­band in mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances is a mis­for­tune; to lose two looks like care­less­ness. “I’ve been here be­fore, bury­ing some­one I love,” ex­plains a shocked Sarah Man­ning ( Elaine Cas­sidy), ren­dered glib by sud­den grief, per­haps. “I know the ropes.” So does RTÉ’s ser­vice­able thriller

Ac­cept­able Risk (RTE One, Sun­day 9pm), whose ti­tle hints at the scale of its nar­ra­tive am­bi­tions. All risks taken here are kept sen­si­bly low and evenly dis­trib­uted. No­body wants to be too ex­posed.

When busi­ness­man Lee Man­ning is dis­cov­ered with a bul­let in his brain, his body dumped in Mon­treal, it ini­ti­ates a transat­lantic in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­tween Cana­dian po­lice and An Garda Síochána, within a drama co-pro­duced by Cana­dian and Ir­ish part­ners. Di­rec­tor Kenny Gle­naan rep­re­sents Mon­treal and Dublin through drone- eye views of t heir cor­po­rate ar­chi­tec­ture, all anony­mous steel- and­glass moder­nity. Nei­ther city gives much away.

In an­other sign of the times, one of its ma­jor char­ac­ters is not a per­son, but “one of the big­gest . . . most im­por­tant and pow­er­ful” firms in Dublin. Of course you are, Gumbiner- Fis­cher, with a cor­po­rate cul­ture mea­sured out in zeal­ous sur­veil­lance and heavy-handed ex­po­si­tion. “As head of se­cu­rity, I can per­son­ally guar­an­tee that,” says Ris­teárd Cooper, as the head of se­cu­rity. Sarah, a for­mer le­gal some­thing or other, is much missed for her “depth of ex­pe­ri­ence”, as Cather­ine Walker’s head of PR in­sists in awestruck tones, while its chief ex­ec­u­tive, The Killing’s Morten Su­ur­balle, will do what­ever it takes to get her back.

If writer Ron Hutchinson seems a lit­tle anx­ious with th­ese blunt in­tro­duc­tions – Sarah’s sis­ter, Nuala ( Lisa Dwyer- Hogg), even an­swers the phone with a short job de­scrip­tion – it makes the shroud of mys­tery around the de­ceased Lee ( also a stiff for Gumbiner- Fis­cher) feel rather forced. In her gleam­ing white pala­tial home, Sarah ad­mits to de­tec­tive Emer Byrne (An­ge­line Ball) that her hus­band is essen­tially a phantom, into whose void the show lobs var­i­ous spy- movie clichés, from a gun in his ho­tel safe to a track­ing de­vice un­der his car. “It’s like I mar­ried some­one who wasn’t there,” Sarah says. But how fleshed out is she? Char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion is not the show’s strong suit.

Ball’s per­for­mance, though – easy, un­forced, com­mend­ably un­der­played – makes her seem most at home with the drama’s un­hur­ried wari­ness, alive to its maze of de­flec­tive sur­faces. We first see her gaz­ing up into Sarah’s CCTV cam­era, glumly aware that this is a world of the watch­ers and the watched. Like her char­ac­ter, the pro­gramme has made its own work­man­like in­tro­duc­tions. The stakes may yet raise, the plot may thicken, the dan­ger may ma­te­ri­alise. Ac­cept­able Risk is just about good enough.

Ado­les­cent mor­ti­fi­ca­tion

Life would be hard enough al­ready for the three kids who have moved from Aus­tralia to Ire­land in Drop Dead Weird ( RTÉ 2, Mon­day, 5.30pm). First, there’s the ob­vi­ous cul­ture shock of dis­cov­er­ing that the B&B to which they have re­lo­cated, is a dead ringer for that im­pos­ing grey priest house on Craggy Is­land. Then there’s the first caller we meet, played by Pauline McLynn, whose scowls of Mrs Doylean sus­pi­cion mark her as the show’s trou­ble­maker. With ado­les­cent mor­ti­fi­ca­tion, her easy­go­ing son Der­mot ( David Rawle) re­alises he has been brought along as his mother’s wing­man.

Em­bar­rass­ments abound: teenager Lulu ( Sofia Nolan) awk­wardly fan­cies Der­mot, but can barely un­der­stand her pre­co­cious younger sis­ter Frankie (Adele Cosentino), her would- be YouTube celebrity brother Bruce ( Jack Riley), or her dod­dery grand­fa­ther ( Maelíosa Stafford). On the scale of teenage cringes, the fact that her par­ents are slaver­ing zom­bies, holed up in the base­ment, must rank some­where, but it’s hard to say how high. Life is un­fair, but the un­dead aren’t nec­es­sar­ily the worst.

An Ir­ish-Aus­tralian co-pro­duc­tion, the show makes a spry gag of an­tipodean in­ver­sions, where self- suf­fi­cient sib­lings must mind stum­bling par­ents who can’t con­trol sud­den changes in their bod­ies. Ever­body else, though, has some de­gree of adult sass and ad­vanced me­dia-savvy.

Lulu gets to address the cam­era, which oth­er­wise has the skit­tish mo­tion of mock-doc Mod­ern Fam­ily; Bruce ad­dresses his imag­ined fol­low­ers on his phone; McLynn uses the an­cient form of the videoblog to record her schemes; and as an­i­mated notes swirl around Frankie’s sci­en­tific zom­bie cure ex­per­i­ments, ev­ery­one ex­ists in a hy­per- me­di­ated world. Zom­bies only want one thing (pla­cated here with tomato soup), but the show clearly has am­ple brains.

Writ­ers Stephen Ab­bott and War­ren Cole­man pur­sue a broad spec­trum of hu­mour for the first episode, from the ex­as­per­a­tion of a put- upon teen and Mar­mite- re­lated cul­ture divi­sions to flail­ing slap­stick and straight-up fart jokes. And yet the keen­est mo­ment comes when the two teens aim their smart­phones at each other’s make- up- man­gled faces like du­elling pis­tols, with the prom­ise of mu­tu­ally as­sured In­sta­gram de­struc­tion, then slowly put down their weapons.

Maybe ma­tu­rity is con­ta­gious. Maybe the zom­bies don’t have to win.

Flash­ing weapons

Early in the first episode of The Deuce (Sky Atlantic, Tues­day, 10pm), David Simon and Ge­orge Pele­canos’s fan­tas­ti­cally con­ceived and beau­ti­fully made new drama, two lav­ishly at­tired New York pimps seem to be ad­dress­ing us di­rectly from 1971. Scan­ning the Port Author­ity Bus Ter­mi­nal for naive new re­cruits, their minds are on the lu­di­crous sabre rat­tling of a nu­clear power. Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon is a man of cal­cu­lated lu­nacy, one pimp ar­gues, el­e­gantly out­lin­ing the “mad­man the­ory”. “If I was him, I’d be flash- ing nu­clear weapons and shit.”

It’s a stealthy, eerily top­i­cal place for a de­pic­tion of sex and com­merce to be­gin. Mov­ing from the hus­tlers and hook­ers of sleazy Times Square to the be­gin­nings of the Amer­i­can porn in­dus­try, The Deuce pro­vides a fas­ci­nat­ing peep show into street- level en­trepreneuri­al­ism and the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of de­sire.

“It’s Amer­ica, right?” says Mag­gie Gyl­len­haal in a later episode, when her gim­let-eyed pros­ti­tute sees an op­por­tu­nity. “When did we ever leave a dol­lar for the other guy to pick up?”

If li­bido is like be­ing chained to a mad­man, James Franco plays both sides of its shackle in the roles of twin broth­ers, Vin­cent – a re­spon­si­ble, en­ter­pris­ing bar­tender – and Frankie, a charis­matic, de­struc­tive id. The con­ceit isn’t as show­boat­ing as Ewan McGre­gor’s re­cent dou­ble turn in Fargo: Franco’s twins are barely dis­tin­guish­able, but point­edly in­sep­a­ra­ble. And the trick­ery in pre­sent­ing them to­gether is as un­showy and ef­fec­tive as the stun­ningly au­then­tic recre­ations of grimy New York in its good old, bad old days.

Simon and Pele­canos, and first episode di­rec­tor Michelle MacLaren, are not on a mis­sion to tit­il­late with ei­ther skin or nos­tal­gia, though: like plenty of HBO shows, much flesh is ex­posed – as much of it male as fe­male – but it makes the cul­ture of sex work, its psy­chol­ogy and its econ­omy, more con­spic­u­ous. Gyl­len­haal’s Candy is a canny in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tor; other hook­ers are tox­i­cally en­meshed – even en­rap­tured – with their pimps; every­body is look­ing for a way up or a way out.

Like Simon’s su­perb drama The Wire – to which The Deuce bears favourable com­par­i­son – the show has a knack for es­tab­lish­ing its places and mi­lieu: the sex work­ers gather at dawn in the same diner; a clien­tele of mob­sters, pros­ti­tutes and cops are drawn to Vin­cent’s new bar; sex and pol­i­tics con­spire to change the area – 42nd Street – and pop­u­lar cul­ture for­ever.

With no judg­ment, lit­tle pruri­ence and a win­ning ob­ser­va­tion of char­ac­ter, the con­nected play­ers in this small neigh­bour­hood are shown as part of a new cap­i­tal­ist ex­per­i­ment. “No­body makes money off my pussy, but me,” Candy tells one head­hunt­ing pimp, as de­murely as the words will al­low, but she will soon ag­i­tate for an emerg­ing in­dus­try based on its me­chan­i­cal re­pro­duc­tion.

To­day, that i ndus­try is i n se­ri­ous de­cline, but the di­vided cul­ture it helped cre­ate – as lib­er­ated as it is dys­func­tional – is still in full swing. It has even made a show like The Deuce pos­si­ble. In the end, every­body is ex­ploited.

With no judg­ment, lit­tle pruri­ence and a win­ning ob­ser­va­tion of char­ac­ter, the con­nected play­ers in this small neigh­bour­hood are shown as part of a new cap­i­tal­ist ex­per­i­ment


Canny like­ness: James Franco as twin broth­ers in David Simon’s new drama ‘The Deuce’.

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