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’
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.
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.
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’.