Thursday 12 December 2019

TV: It's murder out there in the land of serial dramas

Explosive: The finale of Love/Hate season five on RTE1 was full of violent mayhem
Explosive: The finale of Love/Hate season five on RTE1 was full of violent mayhem

John Boland

In this week's explosive season finale to Downton Abbey (UTV/TV3), Lady Mary was gunned down on the steps of her stately home by a suitor she had spurned, the dowager countess was tortured to death with a kitchen appliance by a crazed Mr Carson and the Earl of Grantham was raped in the shower by resentful junior butler Thomas, who was wielding a billiard cue.

No, wait, I'm mixing it up with the explosive season finale to Love/Hate (RTE1), or did I miss the scenes in the latter where Siobhan was being wooed by a wealthy toff, Fran quietly mourned the death of his beloved dog and Nidge spoke movingly at a memorial for the fallen dead?

Say what you like about Love/Hate (and I plan to), in terms of incident it knocks Downton Abbey into a cocked cravat. Indeed, the two most thrilling incidents in this season's stately-pile saga were when Lady Mary announced to her parents that she was going upstairs to take off her hat and when the Earl's four-legged mutt expired from the ailments of old age.

This latter development was probably a good move on the part of creator and screenwriter Julian Fellowes, given that five seasons ago he had given the mutt the unfortunate name of Isis, which meant that all through the current season you kept waiting for it to blow itself up, along with every aristocrat in its vicinity.

Meanwhile, there was mayhem aplenty over in the mean streets of Love/Hate, which, in terms of violence, upped the ante even further as a way of trying to hide the plain fact that its murderous male characters were no more interesting than the scumbags you'd run under a bus to avoid in real life.

As for the female characters, I heard RTE drama commissioner Jane Gogan insisting on Monday's edition of Morning Ireland that they were of such psychological complexity as to be unmatched in any drama anywhere in the world - whereas most of the women I'd witnessed in the series were shallowly-sketched stereotypes of victimhood or venality. Maybe there's a parallel version of Love/Hate somewhere out there that only Jane has seen.

And, as for the violence, I'm grateful to creator-writer Stuart Carolan for not actually depicting the death by power-tool torture of Janet, but he merits no thanks for the extended shower scene in which Fran was graphically raped with a snooker cue.

Indeed, the most chilling couple of minutes I've watched this year occurred in the TV version of Fargo, with Billy Bob Thornton entering an office building and slaughtering everyone inside, though all the viewer heard were shots, screams and pleas for mercy as the camera slowly panned up the building's facade. Why don't other filmmakers learn about the power of suggestion?

Anyway, Nidge is dead, which means that Love/Hate is dead, too. Except that, apparently, a new season is being mooted, and maybe Nidge isn't really dead, either, which would make Patrick a cluelessly incompetent assassin. Oh, enough already.

I'm beginning to feel the same after just one episode of the second season of The Fall (RTE1/BBC2), though I was also feeling it at the end of the first season, which had begun brilliantly but had badly unravelled.

The basic problem was that haughty superintendent Stella (Gillian Anderson), brought over from the Met to solve the stranglings of young women in Belfast, never actually solved anything, and it was left to serial killer Paul to finally give her a phone call in which he revealed himself as the killer and told her he was leaving for good.

But, of course, he hasn't gone away, you know. Though it took an awfully long time in this opening episode for him to return from exile and start seeking out new victims. Meanwhile, Stella was as clueless as ever, and as glacial, too, as she solemnly delivered such supposedly profound insights as, "He's driven by huge amounts of rage" and "He takes his fantasies and he turns them into reality".

The same psychobabble has been standard stuff in every serial killer movie and TV series since The Silence of the Lambs, and you'll find it yet again in Stalker, which premiered this week on Sky Living and which has got a drubbing from most American reviewers - Maureen Ryan in the Huffington Post deeming it exploitative, misogynist trash" of which its makers and cast "should be ashamed".

She's not wrong, though she's getting overly worked up about a series that should be derided more for its cackhandedness than its offensiveness. Indeed, as played by the glowering Dylan McDermott, the lead male in this anti-stalking unit of the LAPD was almost laughably cartoonish in the opening episode as he ogled his female colleague.

Somewhat more entertaining was the pilot episode of Forever (Sky One), in which Ioan Gruffudd plays a New York police medical examiner who, for reasons I couldn't quite fathom, is immortal - unknown to his colleagues, and especially to Alana de la Garza as his cop sidekick, he gets killed in every episode but then miraculously comes back to life to solve more cases.

Oh, don't ask, but at least it's a bit of fun, though not as much fun as Elementary, which amiably pairs Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as a latter-day Holmes and Watson - which for its part isn't as much fun as the BBC's Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, though here the plots gets so knotted as to be frequently incomprehensible.

By contrast, The Missing (BBC1) has remained true to its simple storyline of an English boy who vanished from a French village and the obsessional need of his father to find out what happened to him.

The action moves back and forth between 2006 and the present day and by the end of this week's episode, we were still in the dark about the boy's fate while becoming aware of possible suspects in his disappearance.

This is a drama that is content to take its time, both in furnishing us with tantalising clues and in exploring the make up of its principal characters, especially that of father Tony, played with raw intensity by James Nesbitt. Let's hope it maintains our trust throughout the next five episodes.

The online geek and the airline

Michael O'Leary got his phenomenally successful online booking website for less than €20,000, while Aer Lingus turned down the chance to get a similar service for a mere €100,000.

Not many people know that (I didn't anyway), but this week's episode of The Insiders (RTE1) provided all the facts, as well as a chat with John Beckett, who was a 17-year-old computer geek when O'Leary took a chance on his suggested website.

Other companies, we were told, routinely fork out up to €10 million for expert advice on such matters, which means that Irish Water might have saved itself zillions if it had trusted in schoolboy techno nerds rather than expert consultants.

In a quirky, informative programme, Beckett jokingly reflected that he might have got up to €30,000 from Ryanair if he'd pushed a bit harder on the deal.

But he seemed happy enough.

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