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the yawning gap in the IFTA shortlist

I LIKE the RTE Guide's movie man, Michael Doherty. I know him to talk to, from our paths crossing at press screenings back in the days when I was the Irish Independent's film reviewer.

He's a thoroughly nice guy, loves and knows his movies, and writes excellently about them for the Guide. After hearing him tell Morning Ireland on Thursday that all five of the best TV drama nominations in this year's Irish Film & Television Awards were worthy of a place on any awards list, however, I considered taking a spin to the local GP to have my ears syringed.

Come on, Michael, has somebody in the RTE canteen been slipping hallucinogens into the coffee?


Of the five, two of them, The Fall and Game of Thrones, would certainly be shoo-in contenders at a television ceremony anywhere in the world. I'll be surprised, in fact, if The Fall (starring Gillian Anderson, right) doesn't make several showings at the BAFTAs in May, while GOT has been consistently picking up awards like a black overcoat picks up fluff.

It would be inconceivable to imagine Love/Hate being excluded from the nominations, given it's been such a ratings triumph. And yet, nobody would pretend the fourth season was anything other than a major disappointment.

After a blistering opening episode, the scripting in the subsequent ones was too often slack and aimless, the newly- introduced characters unconvincing, and the finale, a dog's dinner. It was as if writer and creator Stuart Carolan, under pressure to deliver the goods again, hadn't quite thought through where Love/Hate was headed next.

As for the remaining two nominations, well, as John McEnroe used to put it in his racquet-smashing prime: "You cannot be serious!"

Vikings is a romp, nothing more, nothing less, and I doubt its makers – the same people who gave us those wacky historical comic books The Tudors and The Borgias – would make any loftier claims for it than that.

But, if anything highlights the yawning gap between quality and quantity that's typified the IFTAs since their inception, it's the inclusion of Quirke, a misfiring attempt at Dublin noir from which virtually no one involved emerges with any credit.


With screenwriters Andrew Davies and Conor McPherson adapting the novels of Benjamin Black (aka John Banville), Gabriel Byrne, who's also in Vikings, starring as the eponymous hero, Michael Gambon playing his father (let's politely overlook the mere 10-year age difference ), and a strong supporting cast that includes Nick Dunning, Geraldine Somerville and Stanley Townsend, Quirke, set in a suitably gloomy 1950s, should have had a lot going for it.

But it's shockingly bad. Dreary, plodding scripts; cliches piling up like cigarette butts; plots as lifeless as a corpse on a mortuary slab, and performances of wildly varying quality.

Even Byrne, usually a riveting actor, is well below his best and can't seem to restrain his accent from wandering between Mount Street and Manhattan.

For this, by the way, he's been nominated in the Best Actor category. If these were any awards other than the IFTAs, Quirke wouldn't catch a second glance.

On that same edition of Morning Ireland, a representative from the IFTAs spoke enthusiastically about how film and television production in Ireland is in a very healthy state. If you're a lighting technician, a production designer or a jobbing actor, I'm sure it is. Viewers, on the other hand, might not be so inclined to think there's a lot to celebrate.

Ripper returns: In news that will delight both the local television industry and viewers, Ripper Street, which was filmed in Dublin and gave gainful employment to Irish talent including Charlene McKenna (pictured above), has been saved from extinction by Amazon.

The company is financing a third series, which will be shown on its Prime Instant Video streaming service.

For those who still prefer their television from a box in the corner, BBC1 will be showing it at a later date.

Eerie revival: The anthology series, a format that spans everything from The Twilight Zone in the US to Comedy Playhouse in the UK, was long a staple of television before falling out of favour.

Could the success of BBC2's Inside No 9 (think Tales of the Unexpected, with added weird) spark a revival of interest? I do hope so.

Drama delights: February was a gem of a month for drama. House of Cards, which dropped onto Netflix on Valentine's Day like a big, black heart of darkness, is every bit as wickedly entertaining as last year.

The arrival of the astonishing True Detective on Sky Atlantic rescued Saturday nights from the disappointing ordinariness of Salamander.

But the biggest and most pleasant surprise of all has been the superior second season of Jed Mercurio's magnificent Line of Duty on BBC2 (starring Vicky McClure, left).

The writing and performances are superb. The twists, turns, reversals and switchbacks in this week's episode were so dizzyingly fast and unexpected, you didn't dare take your eyes off the screen for a second.

If it came from Sweden or Denmark, the dinner party set would hail it as a masterpiece of suspense.

Which is what it is. Only with no subtitles.