TV & Au­dio

Sound and screen re­views

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

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?

Sat­is­fy­ingly filthy

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.

Un­der­stand­ably trou­bled

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.

PETER CRAWLEY

PHO­TO­GRAPHS: RTÉ; VIR­GIN ME­DIA/ COM­PANY-PIC­TURES

Amy Hu­ber­man in Find­ing Joy; Carolina Main in Blood; Sharon Hor­gan in Women on the Verge.

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