TG4 drama deserves a big audience, says Pat Stacey.
n a domestic television landscape which for years now has been dominated by vanity-driven chat shows, parochial talent contests, endlessly regurgitated reality, health, lifestyle and self-help drivel, and a succession of cookery series so derivative of one another that they eventually coalesce into a single, doughy mass, TG4’s output frequently feels like a lungful of fresh, bracing Galway air.
I’m not a huge fan of the Irish language. Whatever few words I picked up in school, I’ve long forgotten. I don’t think Irish should be a compulsory subject, either. But I have nothing but admiration for TG4.
I won’t pretend to like everything the channel puts out. My life will be considerably enriched if I never again accidentally stumble upon a trad musician in need of a shave belting a bodhran or torturing a fiddle to death in front of a blazing fire with a stylishly blackened kettle resting on the hearth. But I like enough of it to regard TG4 as an undervalued cultural jewel.
Take comedy, for instance. Where the majority of RTE’s lamentable efforts struggle to raise so much as a smile, TG4 has quietly and consistently been making the kind of offbeat comedies that give Irish humour a good name. If the likes of Rasaí na Gaillimhe, Paddywhackery, An Crisis and it’s sequel, Crisis Eile, had been made in English, you can be sure they would have attracted a much larger audience.
The channel also has a fine record on documentaries. As I pointed out in this column back in 2012, TG4’s Waking the Titanic, which recounted the heart-rending story of a small Mayo village that lost a large proportion of its population in the sinking of the liner, was the most moving programme in the bloated season of commemorations. It’s worth noting that the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which has showered money over some unspeakable rubbish in the past, refused to give the production a red cent in funding.
But it’s in the area of drama that TG4 has really punched above its weight, often knocking bigger, better-financed broadcasters to the canvas with the likes of The Running Mate, the supernatural tale Na Cloigne, and the thrillers Scúp and An Brontonnas, which finished its run last week.
That strong tradition continues tonight with the second season (the first was in 2011) of Corp + Anam (Body and Soul), starring Diarmud de Faoite as unscrupulous television crime correspondent Cathal Mac Iarnáin, who will go to any extreme, including hacking the phone of a 17-year-old rape-murder victim and endangering the life of his own wife, played by Maria Doyle Kennedy, to expose the rottenness at the heart of the legal system.
Corp + Anam is not perfect. Like most dramas with journalists as their protagonists, it tends to play fast and loose with the reality of life in a newsroom. It’s hard, for instance, to see a real TV reporter getting away with what Mac Iarnan does without finding his P45 in his next pay packet. But it’s tense, tightly scripted, well acted, has a nice Euro-noir buzz and moves along at a fair old clip.
It will never draw the audiences that Love/Hate did, or even the risible Fair City does. It might even struggle to pick up as many viewers as the lowest-rated RTE2 programme on any given night. No matter how many awards they win abroad, and this season of Corp + Anam has already been nominated for the Prix Europa, this is sadly the fate of subtitled Irish dramas on their home turf.
It and its TG4 predecessors deserve better.
Corp + Anam is on TG4 at 8.30pm tonight Thursday November 27. Available later on TG4 player.
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