Darragh McManus: Charlie, Red Rock, Brontannas and even Fair City - why it's a good time for Irish TV drama
The top-three trending things on Twitter last night were all TV3 shows – old stalwart Vincent Browne, The Restaurant (ex-RTE) and new drama Red Rock.
This is significant in itself, and heartening for the Ballymount operation, mere days after UTV Ireland launched in direct competition.
More significant, perhaps, is that Red Rock looks set to be another in a pleasingly long list of fine Irish dramas over recent years. Originally billed as a soap, it’s really more of a crime drama, with one-off mystery stories blending into a longer “family feud” arc.
Reviews have been very positive on the whole, as they have been for another major January debut, RTE’s Charlie. With Aidan Gillen leading a stellar cast, and a real-life story so outlandish it was almost stranger than fiction, Charlie has also been warmly received.
These are great times for Irish television, times which would have scarcely seemed believable to anyone in, say, 1990, when good-quality shows were as rare as the proverbial hens’ teeth.
Indeed it’s really only in the last decade, or less, that Irish productions have properly taken flight, albeit with isolated masterworks such as Bachelor's Walk filling the void sporadically.
Since the late noughties we’ve enjoyed good-to-excellent dramas like Amber, Raw, The Clinic and Single-Handed on RTE. Love/Hate, of course, towered over the rest for the last five years. TG4 has made a number of cracking shows too: from crime stories like An Bronntanas and Corp agus Anam, to the satirical Rasai na Gaillimhe and even horror in Na Cloighne.
And now TV3 is coming onboard, with the ambitious, big-budget Red Rock. They’ve also produced The Guarantee, the film version of Irish Independent theatre critic Colin Murphy’s play about the 2008 banking crisis, which airs tonight.
Even the often-derided Fair City, now chugging away for 25 years, continues to deliver exactly what it says on the tin – kitchen-sink soap, several times a week – to a decent standard and huge audience.
Is it going too far to describe this as a Golden Age of Irish television drama? I can already imagine the cries from naysayers, about how The Wire and Mad Men are so much better.
That’s open to debate, but what isn’t in question is the colossal discrepancy in budgets between Irish productions and US or UK competitors. Even shows like Love/Hate and Red Rock, while lavish by domestic standards, still operate on a relative shoestring. Yet they manage to deliver TV of consistently high quality.
So is it a Golden Age? Couldn’t tell you. But it’s a pretty good time for fans of Irish drama – long may it continue.