Saturday 19 October 2019

The mystery of Mr Mercedes remains a must-see puzzle

 

Memorable characters: Justine Lupe, Jharrel Jerome and Brendan Gleeson in Mr Mercedes
Memorable characters: Justine Lupe, Jharrel Jerome and Brendan Gleeson in Mr Mercedes

John Boland

Mr Mercedes (RTÉ2) is back for a third season and once again the question arises: why does no one know about it?

Well, RTÉ does, and all credit to it for bringing it to our screens, though no doubt the central presence of Brendan Gleeson as retired Ohio detective Bill Hodges had something to do with our national broadcaster's decision.

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But no one else has taken it up, except on French and Polish cable channels, and you'll search in vain for it in the Guardian's just published list of 'The 100 Best TV Shows of the 21st Century', which finds space for many drama series that you'll have trouble recalling if you bothered watching them at all.

So its absence from mainstream channels remains a mystery, especially when you consider how brilliant the first two seasons were as Bill pitted his wits against terrifying psychopath Brady Hartsfield (Harry Treadaway) before victim Lou (Breeda Wool) finally put paid to her vicious assailant.

That scenario came from Stephen King's Mr Mercedes novels, while the new season focuses on one of that trilogy's subplots: the murder of a famous elderly writer (an arresting cameo from Bruce Dern) and the theft of his unpublished manuscripts.

Things swiftly go wrong for the killer and seem likely to get worse for him when Bill, an avid fan of the dead writer, takes up the case, while he also seeks suitably humane treatment for Lou, who's awaiting trial for Hartsfield's killing.

Back on the scene, too, are Bill's young private eye helpers Holly (Justine Lupe) and Jerome (Jharrel Jerome), as well as kindly neighbour Ida (Holland Taylor), though as key players have sometimes met shocking ends in this series, you constantly fear for their welfare. These are memorable characters and are given terrific dialogue, though holding it all together is Gleeson's charismatic turn as the crotchedy but decent Bill, intent on doing the right thing in his dogged pursuit of truth and justice.

So why isn't this series as globally admired as Breaking Bad, The Wire or many others on the Guardian list? Stephen King, who's an executive producer on Mr Mercedes, must be just as puzzled as I am.

Meanwhile, there have been oodles of hype about Temple (Sky One), which posits the daft notion that an eminent London surgeon funds research into his wife's terminal illness by performing secret life-saving surgery on injured criminals - all of it conducted in the hidden bowels of Temple tube station.

This premise was no less dotty in the 2017 Norwegian series, Valkyrien, whose scenario has been lifted lock, stock and barrel by Mark Strong, both as producer of the new series and also its main actor - a task he performs in his customary granite-faced manner.

Maybe it will all get more believable as it goes along, but that was what I also thought about the first episode of Valkyrien and then I forgot about it entirely.

Of course, I could be missing something and perhaps I should also have been more impressed by Cyprus Avenue (BBC4), adapted by David Ireland from his much-praised play and raved about here by Kirsty Wark in her introduction to the drama. "Truly shocking," she called it, along with "from laugh-out-loud funny to deeply disturbing", not to mention "fearless and unforgiving".

All I encountered, though, was a lunatic loyalist bigot who murdered his daughter for giving birth to a baby girl that, in his mind, looked exactly like Gerry Adams and who then murdered the offending infant as well.

Both of these killings were graphically enacted on the stage set and, yes, they were shocking and, yes, the viewer was also asked to ponder such notions as the role of religion, the importance of reconciliation and the lingering legacy of hatred and violence, but the central character was such a one-dimensional cut-out that he soon became tiresome.

Stephen Rea's playing was a tour de force of sorts, the actor making much of his lugubrious, hangdog tics, while also eliciting laughs, if mainly nervous ones, when trying to explain and justify himself to his female psychotherapist. "I'm not a racist," he assured her, "I'm just not used to being around blacks."

That elicited a titter from the studio audience, but there wasn't much to lift the spirits or even to maintain interest in a figure so far beyond the pale as to forfeit any degree of sympathy or even recognition.

The second helping of Comedy Showcase (RTÉ1), a three-part offering of pilot sitcoms that may or may not go any further, was called Bump and was a bit more intriguing than last week's Head Cases, which was set in a hair salon and had nothing going for it beyond its title.

In Bump, written by Dale Longmore and John Quinn, infertile Liz (Charlene McKenna) persuaded hopeless slacker sister Ciara (Gemma-Leah Devereux) to be a surrogate birth mother. This had the germ of something, and a cast that included Aoife Duffin, Keith McErlean and Seán McGinley made it watchable, but the set-ups were too obvious and most of the one-liners fell very flat.

Still, new legal sitcom Defending the Guilty (BBC2) wasn't much better, despite the presence of Katherine Parkinson, who was so funny as The IT Crowd's Jen, as a seen-it-all barrister. Ho hum.

Laura Brennan: This is Me (RTÉ1) chronicled the last months of the 26-year-old who campaigned passionately for the HPV vaccination programme that could have saved her from dying of cervical cancer last March.

Her love of life and her love of family came through vividly in a film that was often hard to watch.

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