Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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Great TV you’re missing: Archer.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 30, 2019 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

archerIf you like spy shows, politically incorrect humour and sexual vulgarity, Fox’s cartoon show “Archer” is for you.

It’s based around brilliant but incredibly self-centred and over-sexed agent Sterling Archer, operative of ISIS (Yeah, they’ve since changed that. Ahem.), and his battles against the KGB, terrorists, his domineering nymphomaniac mother/boss (played by the brilliant Jessica Walter of “Arrested Development” fame), his fellow agent/ex-lover Lana Kane, his dysfunctional/sociopathic/perverted co-workers and people who stole his Black Turtleneck Is Cool look.

Try it. But be warned. This is not one for the kiddies or the faint hearted. Think “The Man from UNCLE” but with a lot of dick jokes.

 
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Cult TV: Bergerac.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 29, 2019 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

bergeracFrom 1981 to 1991 mention the island of Jersey to anyone watching British television and they’ll almost certainly mention “Bergerac”. The detective show, set on the island, starred John Nettles as recovering alcoholic detective sergeant Jim Bergerac of the Bureau des Etrangers of the Jersey police, a special unit that dealt with tourists but more often with the many very wealthy foreigners who lived on the island.

By today’s standards, the Jersey of the 1980s all looks a bit naff, but at the time the wealth of the island, its sunny location and the French connection made it all seem very exotic and even glamorous indeed, and for ten years it was a Saturday teatime favourite.

As with many successful shows, Bergerac had a breakout character, Charlie Hungerford, played by veteran character actor Terence Alexander, who was a north of England bovver boy made good, a sort of Arthur Daley who had done very well for himself, thank you very much. One of the running jokes of the show was that Hungerford seemed to know absolutely everybody on the island, or at least was connected, often without his own knowledge, to every criminal enterprise on Jersey.

The show was a huge hit, and was responsible for boosting tourism to Jersey, with Nettles himself heading up the campaign.

Nettles went on to achieve a rare success for an actor in having played a household name for a decade as Jim Bergerac then went on to do it again for over a decade as Chief Inspector Barnaby in “Midsomer Murders”.

 
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Coming soon to HBO*: “Threadneedle Street”

bank-england-logoWhen the governor of the Bank of England dies suddenly, and his obvious successor Sir Guy Acheson (Rowan Atkinson, in a surprising straight role) is ruled out because of a shares scandal, brilliant but maverick economist Steve Darblay (Episodes’ Stephen Mangan) finds himself appointed Governor of the Bank of England, in the middle of a currency crisis, by the ruthlessly ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer Tom Parrish (Hugh Laurie.)

For Darblay, his appointment not only places him in the driving seat in dealing with everything from interest rates to the future of the euro to who goes on the new £5 note, but also a target for Acheson who feels bitterly wronged but also that the new governor is not exactly from the right side of the tracks.

With his former Cambridge tutor Bill Burke (Roger Allam-The Thick of It) and even more brilliant economist (and former girlfriend) Yves Cassidy (Lenora Crichlow-Sugar Rush) at his side, Darblay gets ready to take his seat at the most elite of the world’s councils.

Guest starring Delaney Williams (The Wire) as US Fed Chairman Matt O’Malley and Sidse Babette Knudsen (Borgen) as ECB President Martina Delacroix.

Special appearance by Stephen Fry as the Prime Minister.

*I wrote this as a joke, but as I wrote it I thought “Jesus, I’d watch this!”

 
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Why Peggy Carter is the greatest Marvel TV/Movie universe hero.

Posted by Jason O on Jun 27, 2019 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

Agent-Carter-poster-570x760Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen “Captain America: Civil war” then read no further. You have been warned.

******

There’s a scene in the movie where Steve Rogers is informed that the love of his life, SHIELD agent Peggy Carter, has died, probably aged around 100 years old. She gets a military funeral, and watching the scene I found it surprisingly touching, especially as the image of her used on the coffin is a current image of Hayley Atwell in character from the TV series “Agent Carter” set in 1946.

What struck me was that, watching her funeral, we realise that she is one of the few characters we have seen in her entirety, starting out as a much disparaged (by men) WWII intelligence officer who grows to become, as one of the key leaders of SHIELD, one of the most powerful people in the world.

But what really warrants her status as their greatest hero is the fact that she isn’t a superhero. She doesn’t have a super-serum coursing through her veins, or incredible intelligence matched to huge inherited wealth.

She’s just an ordinary woman, and a woman growing up in an age where for most of her life her looks count against her and discrimination based on her sex is the norm and in many cases the law. Then, as if that isn’t enough, she loses the love of her life, believing him to be dead well into her 90s.

And yet, despite all that, through a mixture of intelligence, hard work and competence, by the 1980s she is one of the leaders of the most powerful organisations in the world, and one of the most effective intelligence operatives ever.

Peggy Carter is the character every little girl can aspire to be, and that’s why she’s the greatest.

 
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Things I’ve learnt from US TV drama.

Posted by Jason O on Mar 20, 2019 in Cult TV

1. You have to be professional model hot to be a female Assistant District Attorney.

2. It is the job of senior politicians to stick their jaws out and tell their juniors to “expedite” things.

3. No one who can grasp complicated scientific or technical concepts is allowed head an elite law enforcement unit. They have to demand other people “speak English” instead.

4. US intelligence and law enforcement agencies have legal standing everywhere in the world except Iran, Russia, Cuba and North Korea.

5. If a hero cuts corners, it’s ok. If some else cuts corners they’re not doing their damn job.

6. Sex between two beautiful people always makes the moon shine through the window.

7. If a working joe is decent and loves his family, his wife will always be at least two points higher on the hot scale than he is.

8. Every single piece of information in the world is just six key strokes away from US government employees.

9. People who threaten to “have your job” never manage to.

10. Americans don’t know that Christmas lasts longer than a single day.

11. Officials who say “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists” are alway wrong.

12. As are military or police leaders who never listen to the ordinary working cop/soldier on the ground.

13. Every terrorist has been on the hostage negotiation course, and has read the “Dealing with a hostage situation” manual.

14. Reciting someone’s CV to them in detail when you first meet them doesn’t make you sound clever. It makes you sound like a dick.

15. Every major company in America is run by either an asshole or a guy who worked his way up from the mailroom.

16. There are far, far more ex-Navy SEALS and ex-special forces people at work than there are people in the special forces of the world.

17. There seems to be some sort of system for allocating the title of “Hottest new restaurant/club in town”.

 
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Great TV: The Irish RM

Posted by Jason O on Aug 26, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

the-irish-rm“The Irish RM”, which ran for three series from 1983-85, has unfairly been dismissed in recent years as a bit of paddywhackery about the clever English been driven to despair by the stupid ways of the pre-independence Irish of 1897 to 1905, when it is set. I have to admit that until I rewatched the series on DVD recently I held that view myself, based on vague memories of it on TV as a child.

Watching it now, however, reveals that the show was much more subtle and balanced in its portrayal of the two countries and their views of each other. Indeed, if one is being honest, it’s arguable that there is one only episode, its final one, where the English score a clear victory over the Irish. As Yates himself discovers, what looks to an outsider like a bit of Irish stupidity is almost always revealed to be hiding some scheme behind it.

Set in a rural Cork district in 1897, the series tells in comedy drama form the tribulations of Major Sinclair Yates (Peter Bowles), a decent if unimaginative new appointment as the resident magistrate. Yates finds that not only does he have to deal with the Machiavellian smoke and mirrors of the local Catholic rural poor, but also the Protestant Anglo-Irish ascendancy who are often hand in glove with the Catholics against the stiff rule of Dublin Castle.

The show was well received in its first broadcast, not only for its entertainment value but also for the fact that it was one of the few major TV drama productions filmed in Ireland in the mid-1980s, and provided a platform for a Who’s Who of Irish acting talent including Bryan Murray in a career-defining role as the roguish but lovable Flurry Knox, Niall Toibin as his equally roguish henchman Slipper and Anna Manahan as the terrifying Mrs Cadogan. Everybody else from Mick Lally, Noel Purcell, Frank Kelly, Joe Lynch, Alan Stanford, Lise Ann McLaughlin, Pat Laffan, Eamonn Morrissey, Brendan Conroy, Virginia Lawless, David Kelly, Jonathan Ryan and others all got their bit.

In fact, it’s quite possible that no one in Ireland over 40 has not met someone who was in it at some stage. Off the top of my head I can think of three people I’ve met who had roles in it. Retweet this if you’ve met one of them!

The humour is gentle, and there is a little bit too much chasing a goose around a garden type shenanigans for my liking, but it is a charming show with some top class performances. Worth another look.

 
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Imagine if The West Wing had been written from a conservative, right-wing perspective.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 14, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, Not quite serious.

The West WingOn tonight’s episode of “The West Wing”, President Bartlet becomes greatly concerned that poor people have too much access to healthcare, and worries that not being terrified of one of your children getting sick might weaken their moral fibre.

Toby and Leo have a blazing row over the administration’s policy on Israeli settlements, with Toby worried that Palestinian homes aren’t being bulldozed fast enough. The meeting breaks up in acrimony as Leo objects to being in the same room as “one of those people”.

Sam is spurned into action after meeting a lonely old billionaire whose heart is broken when he discovers that he pays more tax than his gardener.

The episode ends with a touching scene where a sobbing orphan thanks President Bartlet for making sure her mother didn’t get the treatment she needed, because if she had she might have thought life was fair and would have become a socialist. Or even worse, French.

Hilarious hi-jinks ensue when Fox News reveals that CJ isn’t blonde.

The White House is put on lock down after a young black man is seen.

 
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Frasier: The Greatest Sitcom of All?

Posted by Jason O on Mar 3, 2018 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

frasierIt’s funny how TV shows can be forgotten. “Murphy Brown”, a sitcom starring Candace Bergen about a tough TV journalist ran for ten seasons (1988-1998), yet is practically forgotten. When was the last time you saw it repeated? Yet this was a popular show that was well known and well watched for most of its broadcast life and is, curiously, looking at a reboot(!).

“Frasier” hasn’t quite been forgotten. It is repeated on satellite channels, and still has its fans. But it never quite received the heights of pop culture endorsement that “Friends” did.

For the benefit of those who don’t know the show well, “Frasier” ran for 11 seasons from 1993-2004. It’s a spin off from “Cheers”, which was a massive sitcom which also ran for 11 years from 1982-1993. “Cheers”, set in a Boston bar, was a huge ratings winner, very much “must see TV”. People stayed home to watch the finale, and it made the careers of many, including Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Shelley Long, and of course Kelsey Grammar who started out as a minor character, Dr Frasier Crane.

Like many, I was surprised when I first heard that the “Cheers” spin-off would be Frasier, as he was not a particularly loved character. Indeed, most “Cheers” fans would have expected if there was to be a spin-off it would be of the two greatly-loved barfly philosophers, Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin.

But the producers had been right: Norm & Cliff would have been a “Cheers” carry-on, whereas “Frasier” told a whole new story about Frasier returning home to Seattle to work as a radio psychiatrist and live with his working-class father Martin (John Mahoney) and see his prissy brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce).

As a concept, it could easily have been a one season experiment that didn’t work. Remember the “Friends” spin-off “Joey”? No? Good for you.

But “Frasier” worked, on an extraordinary level. The cast worked on an ensemble level which was not dissimilar to  “The West Wing”, where characters and actors gelled together almost perfectly. You believed this was a family. All five main characters could communicate with a single look.

The scripts were sharp, swinging from cultural zingers to almost slapstick physical West end farce comedy. Just watch David Hyde Pierce’s Mr Bean style brilliance in the episode “Three Valentines” where he nearly burns the apartment down. “The Ski Lodge” is another, almost “Noises Off” in its door slamming mania.

Whilst the scripts were very strong, what really made “Frasier” work were its cast, and the fact that for sitcom characters there was surprising depth. Frasier was a man of great charm and erudition, yet in perpetual mid-life crisis, essentially lonely. Niles was wracked with indecision between staying in a cold but socially ascendant marriage with his bullying (never seen) wife Maris and his genuine hidden love for Daphne. Martin was the old style blue collar father struggling with his own aging, his sons’ social notions and the fact that he still missed his dead wife. The two women in the main cast, Daphne and Roz, were if anything underwritten and as a result even more of a credit to the two actresses who played them, Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin.

The show was also hugely aided by a string of brilliantly cast recurring secondary characters such as Dan Butler’s boorish Bulldog Briscoe, Harriet Sansom Harris’ brilliantly amoral and coquettish agent Bebe Glazer (a running joke was that she was the devil), or Edward Hibbert’s snooty food critic Gil Chesterton.

As to the claim that “Frasier” is the greatest (English language) sit-com, I can think of a dozen sit-coms that could make a play for the title, from “Porridge” to “Father Ted” to “Only Fools and Horses” or “One Foot in the Grave”. Yes, “Seinfeld” was great.

But’s here’s why I think “Frasier wins:

1. It hasn’t really aged. Unlike “Murphy Brown”, which was so full of current political references as to destroy it in syndication. It’s about a family, and about men getting older and looking for love.

2. It maintained a consistent quality over 11 seasons and 264 episodes.

3. It’s non-comedic elements were genuinely moving, such as the relationship between Daphne and Niles and the revelation (spoiler alert!) that Frasier and Niles’s sainted mother Hester had cheated on Martin.

If I were to be trapped on an island with one boxset, “Frasier” would be it.

 
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Great TV: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Posted by Jason O on Jan 30, 2018 in Cult TV, Great TV you have probably missed, Movies/TV/DVDs

Repost: Recently browsing through my obscene DVD collection (I mean in size, not in content) I was reminded of the fact recently that if I never bought another

Sherlock Holmes BrettDVD again I would not be too troubled. I was also reminded that I have some treasures that I have not watched in ages that are such a treat. Granada Television’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” is one such gem. It’s available on DVD, and stars the late Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke and Edward Hardwicke respectively as Watson.

Just as every generation has its James Bond, Batman and Doctor Who, for my generation, growing up in the 1980s, Jeremy Brett WAS Sherlock Holmes, and for two words: Pure Quality.

The period details are great, including an entire life size Baker Street set. It’s mainly true to the original Conan Doyle stories, but the real meat is in the performances of Brett and his two co-stars.

Brett, who suffered terrible psychological illnesses later in life and died at a mere 61, is just stunning as Holmes, creating an eccentric, captivating character around the framework created by Conan Doyle. Every scene with him leaves you unable to take your eyes off him, with every twitch and flamboyant hand gesture and flinging of himself onto the floor of grand country houses looking for clues adding to the character’s depth.

Both Burke and Hardwicke could easily have been blown off the screen given Brett’s performance, but both instead create a calming, grounding and very human foil to Brett, leaving the viewer with a very clear understanding that Holmes could not be Holmes without Watson, who although is not his intellectual equal, brings to the table human skills that Holmes does not possess, in particular Watson’s skills with women, a fearless willingness to get physical if necessary, and simple human decency. Burke and Watson are pretty much responsible for the repairing of Watson’s reputation after Nigel Bruce’s bumbling fool during the Basil Rathbone years. Today it’s normal to see Watson as equal if differently skilled to Holmes thanks to both men. It was easy to believe Holmes and Watson were genuine friends.

The series was made over a ten year period beginning in 1984.

 
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Great TV you may have missed: Occupied.

occuied“Occupied” is a thriller brought to us by Norway’s TV2. It tells the near future story of a new Norwegian prime minister, in response to an environmental disaster, ending Norway’s oil and gas industry. This causes an energy crisis in the rest of Europe, which leads to the EU conniving with Russia to seize the Norwegian oil platforms with Russian troops, and for Russia to deploy special forces into Norway itself. NATO having dissolved some years earlier, Norway finds itself friendless.

This isn’t Red Dawn in snow. It’s much more subtle, and much more political, as the prime minister tries to navigate between the Russians, who threaten more military power, and patriotic Norwegians who regard him as another Quisling.

One aspect the show does very well is its portrayal of the EU, which is selfishly pursuing its own interest yet embarrassed by its own actions, but unwilling to respond militarily to Russian provocation.

Funnily enough, although it was made in late 2015 it actually is more believable in the Trump era. It was made on a reasonable budget, and Norway looks great in it. It also has a very catchy theme song by Norwegian singer Sivert Hoyim.

The first season is available on Netflix, and a second season was broadcast recently. It’s in Norwegian with subtitles, but the characters all use English to speak with non-Norwegians in yet another example of how good some education systems are! Once again, I can’t understand why RTE can’t do political drama like this.

 

Copyright © 2019 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.