Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
0

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.

 
0

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.

 
0

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.

 
1

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.

 
0

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.

 

 
0

Time to recast “Sherlock”?

Posted by Jason O on Jan 23, 2017 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs

sherlockWith the recent finale of the fourth season of “Sherlock” looking very much like a series end, the question of the future of the show must surely be up for debate. The reality is a bizarre one. The idea that two relatively modestly known actors (Freeman being the more famous, if anything) would become globally recognized film stars is a pretty far-fetched one, and yet that was what the show did for the two of them. Both went from earning a living as working actors and being That Guy From That Thing to, well, them.

The rest is history: “Sherlock”, although a globally successful TV show, is still run on a relatively modest budget and you can’t expect two guys to turn down the opportunities now open to them in Hollywood.

That’s not to say they haven’t shown loyalty to the BBC, because they have. But the reality is that the show deserves to survive even if, for whatever reason, its two stars can’t commit to anything more than the odd TV movie.

Plenty of fans would like to see more of “Sherlock”, and that leads to the awkward question. To recast?

There are those who say that it’s impossible, but I can tell you, as someone who thinks of Jeremy Brett and David Burke or Edward Hardwicke when I hear the names Holmes & Watson, it’s not. I love “Sherlock”. I got goosebumps when I saw the first episode. But I’m not a wacko purist who thinks that somehow the thing I loved can be damaged or changed by something that comes after it. Even George Lucas didn’t managed to destroy the good “Star Wars” movies.

“Sherlock” can continue, and if you don’t like it without Cumberbatch and Freeman, then don’t watch it. But what about Julian Rhind-Tutt or David Tennant as Holmes, and Stephen Mangan as Watson? Or, and here’s one out of left field…what about Lars Mikkelsen and Toby Jones as an older pair? 

Or failing that, if a recasting is too radical, what about The Adventures of Mycroft & Irene, with cameos from our favourite inspector, landlady and pathologist?

Of course, the one thing I would ask is that they solve a few sodding mysteries this time…   

 
0

Lovejoy: In defence of gentle television.

Posted by Jason O on Sep 27, 2016 in Cult TV

lovejoyFrom 1986 to 1994, Ian McShane played the near-always described “lovable rogue” antiques trader Lovejoy (“Not Mister. Just Lovejoy.”) in the BBC series of the same name.

The series was a comedy drama about Lovejoy’s adventures as a “divvy”, someone with an innate ability to tell whether an antique was genuine or a forgery. Although ethically supple, Lovejoy was careful never to lie to his clients, and along with his henchmen Eric Catchpole and Tinker Dill, and his will they/won’t do relationship with the very posh Lady Jane Felsham, (Phyllis Logan, later Mrs Hughes in “Downton Abbey”) spent every episode pursuing a valuable antique around the home counties for his commission but also for his love of the pieces themselves.

Such was the show’s success and widespread appeal that when McShane appeared in the gritty crime drama “Sexy Beast” as vicious homosexual crime boss Teddy Bass, some joked that the sub-title of the movie was “that film where Lovejoy gets it up the arse.” Charming, I know.

I’ve always been surprised it’s never been remade. Most of the cast are still alive (Malcolm Tierney, who hammed it up as Lovejoy’s wealthy but not quite as clever rival Charlie Gimbert is no longer with us) and could certainly provide a wealth of support to a new Lovejoy son or daughter. And antiques seem to be bigger in the public mind now than they were back then, certainly if TV is to be judged.

But what made “Lovejoy” was that epitome of gentle family television, without being boring. Although it had the odd murder, it was safe, entertaining and oozing with charm helped by Lovejoy’s habit of breaking the fourth wall to address the audience on a plot point or detail about antiques.

It reminds one, as one gets older, that not all TV drama has to gritty and psychologically disturbing. “Lovejoy” is in the same stable as “Midsomer Murders”, “Death in paradise”,”Minder”, or “Monk”. Not quite as formulaic as “Murder, she wrote” but not going to have you wake up at night screaming either.

Sometimes all you want is a cosy murder with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit.

 
0

University of Chicago Institute of Politics Political TV Festival: The West Wing

Posted by Jason O on May 8, 2016 in Cult TV, Movies/TV/DVDs, US Politics

 
0

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

Posted by Jason O on May 4, 2016 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.

 
0

Scandal: Incredibly irritating yet curiously addictive TV.

Posted by Jason O on Apr 5, 2016 in Cult TV

The first time I saw political drama “Scandal” I found it both irritating and ridiculous. The basic idea, about a political fixer named Olivia Pope, is certainly a solid concept. Kerry Washington, who plays Pope, is an attractive and capable actress. So what annoyed me so much?

First of all, Olivia Pope’s SOP seems to be sass-sass-cry, bitch slapping Washington’s finest then having a good cry because she is the president’s on-again off-again mistress. The president and the first lady, by the way, are both awful self-centred elitist snobs. There’s also the basic theme of the show, which is that the American public are absolute morons who will change how they vote based on the First Lady talking about being “an ordinary mom”. Yes, I know, this is the age of The Donald but still.

The show is based on a woman constantly trying to cover up the fact that her clients might reveal what they are really like to the voters. Nearly all of her political clients are shallow sociopaths. Her team are quite happy to stab each other in the back if the job requires it, with every one of them, including Pope, existing for work and leaving behind a list of failed relationships caused primarily by their obsession with their jobs. Did I mention that every character seems to believe it is OK to carry out absolutely horrible betrayals of people they love as long as they apologise after?

So why do I watch it, then? With it’s absolutely madcap plotlines? Because it is a guilty pleasure. It’s very watchable and almost every episode ends on a “Feck! Now I have to watch the next one!” reveal. Also Jeff Perry, who plays the Republican president’s openly gay and married, and incredibly Machiavellian chief of staff Cyrus Beeme and Joshua Malina (Bill Bailey in The West Wing) who plays a senior Justice Dept official David Rosen. Both are very watchable, by far the most watchable thing in the show.

There’s also an interesting conspiracy storyline running through it.

It’s also a show (now in it’s sixth season) that has figured out a way of getting different audiences to watch the same show. For me there’s the political conspiracies. For others it’s the story of a hard working woman in a difficult relationship.

Me? I just fast forward through the scenes of Olivia putting away huge volumes of wine alone in her very swish apartment whilst having a good cry to herself.

Copyright © 2018 Jason O Mahony All rights reserved. Email: Jason@JasonOMahony.ie.