Wednesday 21 March 2018

Television: 'Fargo' makes clean break from RTÉ crime drama

Poor show: Clean Break's finale made no sense whatsoever.
Poor show: Clean Break's finale made no sense whatsoever.

John Boland

Remember Amber? Of course you do. How could you forget the RTÉ1 crime series about a teenage girl who vanished or was abducted or murdered and you spent four whole episodes wondering what had happened to her and at the end the filmmakers didn't bother telling you?

Well, Amber was a masterpiece compared with the same channel's Clean Break (RTÉ1), which has now come to its close and which made no sense whatsoever - either in terms of character, motivation or basic plotting.

So the odious bank manager was complicit in the kidnapping of his wife and stepdaughter, and all because he wanted a commemorative James Connolly postage stamp that was supposedly worth zillions. Did I get that right?

And the stepdaughter, whom for some unexplained reason he hated, learned all about his complicity and was present when he bludgeoned a man to death but didn't bother telling the Gardai or even her mother. Or am I missing something there, too?

And then the bank manager got away with it all, and we last saw him lovingly tending to his precious stamps of Collins, Connolly, Pearse and De Valera, while his alienated stepdaughter was elsewhere in the house.

What was that all about? Oh God, don't tell me there's a second season being planned.

Methinks scriptwriter Billy Roche (who has done much finer work) and director Gillies MacKinnon (who allowed some very dodgy acting here) should take a crash course from Vincent Gilligan of Breaking Bad or indeed Noah Hawley of Fargo, whose second series has just started on Channel 4.

Taking its cue and snow-bound Minnesota locale from the Coen brothers' 1996 movie, the first season of Hawley's blackly comic saga had devilish playing from Billy Bob Thornton as a blithely murderous psychopath and a cheering turn by Allison Tolman as doggedly methodical policewoman Molly, daughter of retired cop Lou.

This time around we're way back in 1979. Molly's just a little girl and Lou (Patrick Wilson) is the young cop investigating a bloodbath at a remote Minnesota diner. He's assisted by father-in-law Hank, played by an almost unrecognisable Ted Danson, while also in the loop is ditzy housewife Peggy (Kirsten Dunst), who has just crashed into the fleeing coked-up killer and rushes home with his dying body still on her bonnet.

Dire complications are already ensuing in this first episode, but the marvel is how Hawley manages to juggle various plot strands, maintain a darkly droll tone and come up with terrific set pieces - the cack-handed massacre here is wonderfully shot and edited and is both ghastly and disturbingly funny.

But then that's to be expected from filmmakers who know what they're doing and who last season devised an office slaughter that was all the more terrifying by not actually being seen - the camera languorously panning up the outside windows while shrieks and gunfire were heard from within.

Daniel O'Donnell got his dancing licence revoked in Strictly Come Dancing (BBC1), an outcome that wouldn't have surprised the various couch potatoes who had viewed one of his earlier terpsichorean efforts for Gogglebox, which (along with First Dates) is among Channel 4's most-entertaining shows.

"Aargh!" was one reaction to his impersonation of John Travolta in Grease. "Shit!" was another, as was "He's just walking!", "Oh no, Daniel", "That's how he gets all the old biddies" and "Daniel O'Donnell with a quiff - that's not right!" Ah well, there's still the singing.

What's with British television's military obsession? Already on Sky we've had to endure Ross Kemp's attempts to show he's got what it takes, and recently on BBC2 former cricketer Freddie Flintoff presented Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week.

Hell for the uninvolved viewer anyway, and now on Channel 4 we have the five-part SAS: Who Dares Wins, in which 30 civilian wannabes submit to "the world's toughest job interview".

On the evidence of this week's opener, this involves being roared at by bearded, black-garbed men with such names as Ollie, Foxy and Ant, whose grim visage didn't suggest he was pining for Dec.

In keeping with the relentlessly macho approach, no women were selected as volunteers, but I'm sure most women have better things to be doing than being yelled at and having hoods thrown over their heads for sessions of "tactical questioning". Yes, I know that toughness, endurance and resilience are required of elite forces, but that doesn't mean I want to be there.

In the first episode of The Geansaí (RTÉ1), teams from various water-surrounded outposts gathered on Inishturk for the annual All-Island Football Tournament.

"If the rain stops, it will be great," one islander said hopefully. The rain didn't stop.

Over on TV3, coverage of the Rugby World Cup had a startling innovation: a woman on the studio punditry panel. And Fiona Steed was so fluently knowledgeable that her gender was irrelevant, while Sinead Kissane has been playing a blinder in her reports from the various cross-channel venues.

A pity, though, about last weekend's outcomes and their likely effect on viewing figures.

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