Tuesday 12 December 2017

Television: Amy is arresting but RTÉ's legal drama must get its brief in order

Dublin legal eagles: (from left) Rory Keenan as Eric, Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Meg, Amy Huberman as Tara, Neil Morrissey as Vincent and Emmet Byrne as Ray in new RTÉ drama Striking Out
Dublin legal eagles: (from left) Rory Keenan as Eric, Fiona O'Shaughnessy as Meg, Amy Huberman as Tara, Neil Morrissey as Vincent and Emmet Byrne as Ray in new RTÉ drama Striking Out

John Boland

As the lead character in Striking Out (RTÉ1), solicitor Tara Rafferty is a vivacious young woman, but she's clearly not too quick on the uptake. Arriving at fiancé Eric's flat just before their nuptials, she finds a naked woman astride him in bed. "What is this?" she asks incredulously as the woman hurriedly dismounts. "Are you having an affair?"

Eric weakly insists that "this means absolutely nothing" while the interloping woman, scrabbling for her clothes, snarls "Oh, leave me out of this", but Tara (Amy Huberman), who by now has sussed that something carnal has indeed been taking place, exits both the apartment and her office in the prestigious legal firm run by Eric's daddy. Instead she immediately sets up office in a back room provided by an obliging restaurateur (shades of Better Call Saul and his Korean nail parlour pals) and arrives the next morning in court, where she manages to secure continued bail for a likeable young petty fraudster called Ray.

She does this after assuring a credulous judge that Ray has now found gainful employment, which is a fib, but then Tara, who has a heart of gold, immediately hires Ray as her assistant, both in her makeshift office and in court. I'm not too sure what the Law Society would think of that, and indeed I wasn't too sure about the plausibility of most things in this opening instalment of a four-part drama created by James Phelan and co-written by himself and Rob Heyland.

What, for instance, were we to make of private-eye hacker Meg, soul sister of zany computer geek Abby in US series NCIS and magically able to determine the culprits behind a blackmailing sex tape? And would Tara's main legal adversary the morning after the night before really be the young woman who'd just been shagging Eric? Come to that, who is grey-bearded English barrister Vincent (Neil Morrissey from Men Behaving Badly), who starts handing Tara urgent assignments?

Perhaps things will start to cohere over the remaining three episodes, but this week's opening hour was all over the place, though it looked good - even if most of the sleekly cool locations seemed left over from that dated Celtic Tiger saga The Big Bow Wow.

Huberman, who has demonstrated her comic chops throughout various series, was a commanding lead here, though Rory Keenan's charmless Eric seemed quite unworthy of her more anguished moments, and I fervently hope she doesn't get back with him. That must mean I'll continue to watch it.

I'll do the same with Sherlock (BBC1), which is altogether more assured than Striking Out, if not always more plausible - there's a sleight of hand in Mark Gatiss's furious plotting and pell-mell editing that distracts you from the plain fact that the storylines sometimes don't make an awful lot of sense.

However, this week's 'The Six Thatchers', based on a Conan Doyle story called 'The Six Napoleons', was bracingly coherent and also found emotional depths you don't normally expect from this Benedict Cumberbatch-Martin Freeman confection.

The violent death of a major character was the cause, though to reveal more would spoil the impact for anyone who hasn't yet got round to watching it. Suffice to say that real feeling, rather than the usual smart-aleckry, lent the episode a quite distinct and affecting aura. "Stay close to me and I will keep you safe," Sherlock had promised, but it was not to be.

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright, To Walk Invisible (BBC2) told the story of how the three Brontë sisters struggled to cope both with the additively self-destructive behaviour of brother Branwell and with the publishers of the masterpieces they wrote while purporting to be male authors.

As portrayed by Adam Nagaitis, Branwell was so whingingly self-obsessed that you wondered why anyone put up with him even for an instant, but when the drama focused on the sisters, it became utterly absorbing - not surprising to anyone who has marvelled at Wainwright's depiction of the women characters in both Happy Valley and Last Tango in Halifax.

Chloe Pirrie was a gauntly spirited Emily, Finn Atkins a determinedly steely Charlotte, and Charlie Murphy had a lovely presence as the gentler Anne, with fine support from Jonathan Pryce as the father of these three geniuses and of the intolerable Branwell.

In Titanic: The New Evidence (Channel 4), Irish journalist Senan Molony posited a theory based on pictures of the doomed liner that he acquired at a 2012 auction. These photos, taken before it set out on its fateful transatlantic crossing, showed a dark mark along the ship hull.

The argument was that a fire in a huge coal bunker near where the iceberg hit had already been blazing, weakening the ship's structure from the outset, and that this had been hushed up by those in charge. It made for an intriguing film that would have been even more arresting at half its length.

Revolting (BBC2) is a spin-off from the satirical series The Revolution Will be Televised and features the same writer-performers. A tabloid journalist called Dale Mailey exposed a hippie festival as a terrorist cell, while in another sketch, ISIS wives dithered about what to wear at a beheading.

There were echoes here of Chris Morris's scabrous Brass Eye series from the 1990s, though I was especially struck by an NHS hospital trolley sketch, which came just after an RTÉ news bulletin had informed viewers of the 612 patients on that night's Irish trolleys.

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