TV & Audio
Sound and screen reviews
Good news. Blood (Virgin Media One, Monday, 9pm), the newest show from our newest television station, is, at root, one of the oldest stories in the book.
A parent in a respected family has died in suspicious circumstances. Suspecting foul play, one filial avenger digs for clues, but is doubted and discredited. The ensuing chaos threatens to tear everyone and everything apart.
This kind of revenge tragedy has occupied moody princes from Hamlet to Simba, and now the role falls to Cat Hogan, a woman with delicate features and a ferocious temper. In Carolina Main’s excellent, admirably understated performance, it fits well.
If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, the show’s creator and writer Sophie Petzal recognises with this confident display of high-stakes family drama. In a pleasingly fluid opening sequence, full of juddering tension and neat exposition, Cat is discovered drunk beside her car by a guard in the dead of night, but he recognises her family name and waves her on. (Besides, what harm can a falsified Garda breath test do?)
Destined for her family home, where her chronically ill mother has suddenly died – apparently by an accidental fall – this is not the only cover-up Cat will encounter tonight.
Petzal and director Lisa Mulcahy are not too hung up on suspense. Adrian Dunbar’s paterfamilias Jim Hogan, as thick set and formidable as an oak tree, already seems guilty as sin; slow to grieve and tripping over every conceivable question.
More arresting, though, is how the drama presents Cat: a flawed, impromptu detective nursing a childhood grievance, in the clear throes of self-destruction. One marvellous, disquieting shot, sees her waking up in the recovery position on the bathroom floor.
Like her drinking, Cat’s mental health is frequently invoked: “They always said you were mad,” says one woman. Some characters find that reason enough to make Cat’s convictions seem doubtful, and while the drama could do with a little more ambiguity, it is told from her perspective. Is there reason to doubt her?
Right now, there are plenty of reasons to watch Blood, from its fine casting of unfamiliar faces to its supple command of plot and pace. But one discreet appeal may be its refreshing approach to filming Ireland, not as postcard quaint or try-hard urban, but something more fascinating: a place old and new, gothic and green.
My favourite sequence in this absorbing opening episode is a car journey in silence (over Ray Harman’s sombre, evocative score) between a saturnine father and his anxious, accusing daughter. One is a picture of stone; the other as unsettled as a rippling pond.
If blood is thicker than water, what kind of splash will they soon make?
It feels more than deserved that that Amy Huberman – co-creator (with Rebecca O’Flanagan), writer, associate producer and star of the new comedy series Finding Joy (RTÉ 2, Wednesday, 9.35pm) – should now become author of her own television destiny. What’s more surprising, to those who have come to see her as Ireland’s Sweetheart, is that she should also be author of her own fart jokes.
To be honest, this comes as some relief; and not just to Joy, who more than once emits a nervous squeak in the way most studio notes would advise.
Huberman, a bright star with a maverick streak, had long seemed to chafe in the roles RTÉ deemed most appropriate for her: the wild spirit made glum in The Clinic, the immaculately-presented sadsack of Striking Out – anything in which the glamorous heroine must be humiliated to make her seem “relatable” – which made her baddie boss in Can’t Cope Won’t Cope seem like a holiday. Now we get to see her sense of humour. And it is satisfyingly filthy.
Like Joy, the show is stridently kooky – narrated, apparently, by her dog – but, like Huberman, it is determined to cut through the treacle with unexpected edge.
Comedy should be heedless, seeking laughs from places less visited, and Huberman doesn’t hold back. Woken by a deadpan delivery man (David O’Doherty) and fouled by her incontinent dog, Joy falls into brief consideration of being defecated on by a lover: “Can it ever be sexy?” she muses at the door. “I just feel, like, no? Never.”
What’s funnier? The shock of the gag, or the delightfully understated way Huberman takes a hatchet to her mainstream image?
There’s a politics to such pungent humour, long the domain of schlubby male comics and, until recently, rarely afforded to women.
Huberman brings a trace of Sarah Silverman and a heavier dollop of Sharon Horgan to an otherwise conventional set-up: giving scabrous and scatological shades to this story of a helpless, lovelorn gal feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
When Joy is asked to step in suddenly to present a vapid lifestyle show, The Happy Hunter, you may divine a more confessional joke, involving someone’s clear discomfort with what television bosses ask of her, but doing it anyway.
With a supportive best friend urging Joy towards apparently therapeutic, post-breakup tears – which Huberman tries to project like laser rays – there may be another echo of the commands of convention and admirable resistance. But the promise of the series is that
this Joy will be unrestrained.
“Excuse me, old woman,” she asks from the vertiginous heights of an abseiling platform in the rafters of the Aviva Stadium, “why are you here?” To seek a new thrill, the woman replies, “to replace my porn addiction.”
That is the mirth of the show in a nutshell; its deceptive sweetness full of gleefully nasty surprises.
Meanwhile, across town, in the conference room of an understandably troubled Dublin city newspaper, Laura runs through her forthcoming column ideas. Is anxiety the new depression? Is the epidemic in infidelity worse than we previously thought? Are we suffering from decision fatigue?
Laura, who might as well be described as the centre of Women on the Verge (Thursday, RTÉ Two, 10.30pm), a maelstrom of a comedy, knows whereof she pitches. In the slight and agitated figure of Kerry Condon, she reels through personal, professional and family encounters, unsure of her prospects, bathroom-sex deep in an affair with a colleague, chronically unable to either make or stick with the right choices. In short, she’s a scream.
Based on Lorna Martin’s novel (itself based on the author’s adventures in therapy), Martin and Sharon Horgan’s comedy follows in Horgan’s reliable mould, sympathising with characters who are at least sincere in their flaws. “It’s not you, it’s me,” her friend Katie (Nina Sosanya) tells her fertility doctor, backing out of insemination. “You’re the first man in a while I would want to put a baby in me.”
To judge from the uncanny similarities between Aaron McCusker’s Martin, tall, dark, broad and shambling, and Horgan’s Catastrophe co-star Rob Delaney, I suspect Horgan has a type too. (Jonathan Forbes, who plays her deadpan acerbic brother in Catastrophe, also makes an appearance.) It’s equally gratifying to see the wonderful Eileen Walsh return to another of Horgan’s dry comedies of dysfunction, as Alison, a blasé cynic who summarily undumps Martin in order to have a baby. “You used to encourage him to go climbing on his own without his phone,” Laura says of the news. “You told him ropes were for wimps, remember?”
The show excels in that kind of badinage. Did Martin sleep with more than two women during their break-up, Alison asks. “In a good week, yeah,” he replies. That everyone seems to speak with Horgan’s voice, though – so wry and so sussed – makes it feel more like an exercise in fine comic writing, than fine comic characterisation. Otherwise it picks away at modern neurosis the way you pull at a loose stitch, or the quick of your thumb – with the funny, fierce instinct that everything, and everyone, is steadily unravelling.
Amy Huberman in Finding Joy; Carolina Main in Blood; Sharon Horgan in Women on the Verge.