Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics
 
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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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Cult TV: 1990

Posted by Jason O on Aug 25, 2018 in Movies/TV/DVDs

One of the curiosities about recent TV and movie drama set in tyrannical futures is that they tend to be set in an overhyped right-wing future, dominated by fascism, the religious right, or big business. It’s quite rare that, with the exception of Orwell’s 1984, which could just as easily be about fascism, you come across a fictional portrayal of a recognisable left wing tyranny dominated by, say, the unions and an overbearing state. In today’s climate, the idea of union leaders actively dominating a country’s political system is pretty far fetched, but in the 1970s in Britain, it wasn’t that radical an idea to extrapolate past the industrial chaos of the 1970s into a Socialist dominated Britain.

Ironically, it was that bastion of liberalism, the BBC, which produced the concept. “1990″, starring Edward Woodward as a rebellious journalist facing down the government’s menacing Public Control Department, ran for two seasons in 1977/78. Like most drama produced in the 1970s, it’s studio bound talkiness can be quite irritating to a modern TV audience used to speedy plot progress, save maybe for “Mad Men” fans, of course. I can’t say that I really recommend it as entertaining (You can find most episodes on Youtube and make your own judgement) but as a political concept piece it’s quite interesting for its novelty.

The show is set in a fictional 1990, seven years after the economic collapse of Britain leads to the coming to power of a hard left union dominated government in a general election where only 20% bother to vote. The government implements all the classics: nationalises nearly all business, introduces penal taxation, taxes imports and luxury goods and bans overtime (to create job sharing). It deals with the “rich fleeing high taxes” problem by introducing an East German exit visa system. You simply can’t leave, and a lot of the show is about Edward Woodward’s resistance leader Jim Kyle trying to help mostly talented people, or political dissidents, get over the English channel.

What’s interesting about “1990″ is the subtlety. The country is still nominally a democracy with a parliament (although fresh elections are indefinitely postponed), and there’s still a few non-state owned newspapers, but try to print anything overly critical of the state and the union shop stewards basically refuse to operate the printing presses. It’s an very right wing dramatic viewpoint that is hard to imagine on television today. The Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD) basically operate as a relatively non-violent Stasi, sending opponents of the regime off to Adult Rehabilitation Centres where they’re electroshocked into being good citizens.

The state doesn’t like open Soviet style violence, because of the poor publicity it causes in the rest of Europe and the US, and so pressures people in more imaginative ways, such as Automatic Systematic Harassment, where an individual is targeted and subjected to every single legal inspection possible. Your car is constantly checked to ensure it’s legally compliant. Your taxes are scrutinised. Every form you have ever signed is gone over to see if you made any errors and therefore possibly broke the law. Your bins are checked to see if you are dumping things you shouldn’t be dumping. All legal, and individually all reasonable actions even in today’s society, but taken together it’s “the slow steamroller of the state”.

The cast isn’t bad, with Woodward (who shared the show’s conservative anti-tax philosophy) beginning to develop that shouty acting style he would later bring to “The Equalizer”. But it is very slow. Apparently, by the way, the concept of the show came to writer Wilfred Greatorex after his house was raided by VAT inspectors!

SPOILER ALERT***

If you are going to watch the series, don’t read this, because I wanted to comment on how the series concludes.

Right, you’ve been warned. One of the basic premises of the show is that high ranking civil servants, although nominally under political control, are actually in charge. In the final episodes the Home Secretary Kate Smith (played coquettishly by the late Yvonne Mitchell, in her final role, and portrayed as a cross between Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher), a supporter of the regime, begins to realise that the public is tiring of the PCD, and betrays the PCD on television, announcing that the cabinet are shocked are the abuse of power by senior PCD officials. She actually leads a mob of angry citizens on a raid on PCD headquarters, but makes sure that they don’t destroy the PCD’s vast computer database because it’ll be allegedly needed for the trials of the PCD officials she’s only been instructing days previously. It’s a wonderfully cynical performance, and although it does herald a return to normal civil liberties and politics, it ends the series ominously.

 
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Where Eight Bells Toll: When Anthony Hopkins was an action hero.

Posted by Jason O on Aug 20, 2018 in Movies/TV/DVDs

hopkinsBefore his breakthrough role (all less than 20 minutes of it) in “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991, Anthony Hopkins had been a successful if moderately well known actor. In 1971, he starred as British secret agent Commander Philip Calvert in the film of Alastair Maclean’s “Where Eight Bells Toll”, which was intended to have been the first in a series of movies about Calvert.

The film is noticeable for being a very low-key thriller, a sort of modest budget 007 about Calvert investigating the disappearance of ships carrying gold bullion off the coast of Scotland. Hopkins, like Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer, plays the role as a tough but workaday johnny just doing his job. It’s a pity they didn’t do any more of the movies, as the character is actually quite likable. He’s rude, shouty towards his boss, vicious in fights, yet has a moral compass. The late Robert Morley is superb as his boss, who expresses shock at the possibility of a member of his club being a baddie: “But he’s on the wine committee!”

I posted the below scene, which is the last scene in the movie (it does not really ruin any plot) because it highlights the character, and the theme tune which will bounce around your head for days afterwards.

 
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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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Why I love Moonraker.

Posted by Jason O on May 27, 2017 in Movies/TV/DVDs

Moonraker“Moonraker”, Roger Moore’s fourth 007 movie, has a bit of a reputation. Rushed into production after “Star Wars” became a massive hit (For Your Eyes Only had been announced at the end of the previous movie), it’s mocked as the movie that finally took Bond over the edge into full self parody.

As it happens, I hate all that self-parody crap that became a feature of the Roger Moore films. There’s one scene in Moonraker, where Bond escapes by driving a hovercraft gondola through the streets of Venice, which is possibly my most loathed scene of all Bond movies. It’s not funny, it’s just moronic. Slapstick, even.

Yet as a movie I love Moonraker. Why?

Because it has all the features that I love of the Bond movies.

It has Hugo Drax, arguably the best Bond villain of all time, with his dry delivery and his “Look after Mr Bond: see that some harm comes to him.”

His own fortune, based on a private space exploration programme, is a concept decades ahead of its time.

His plan is the ultimate in dastardly evil, plotting to murder billions of people.

There’s not one but two huge baddie bases. There are spaceships, and there’s the bit I think is missing from the Craig movies: the goodies arriving in force to blow the crap out of everything, in this case the US Marines with jetpacks and laser rifles.

Then there’s Roger Moore.

As a cynical teenager I came to despise Roger Moore’s Bond as a pisstake. But as I got older I got to see his performance for what it was. He wasn’t playing James Bond. He was playing Roger Moore, and Roger Moore is very watchable.

I’ve always thought there were two things you could do to Moonraker that would radically change the perception of it.

The first was to remove all references to James Bond and replace them with the actor Roger Moore doing a favour for MI6. It would suddenly be a great one-off action adventure.

The second was to edit out the silly stuff like the gondola and (yes) Jaws. The humour in Bond doesn’t come from the gimmicky jokes. It comes from Moore himself, right down to his “A woman?” on meeting a female astronaut. It doesn’t need flying gondolas.

There’s another reason why Moonraker has intrigued me as a movie…

How the hell did Drax convince anybody to go along with the plan?

“Right…I want all you nubile girls to put on these skimpy costumes and come into space with me as we murder all your families using nerve gas….don’t cry dear….oh, by the way, if any of you have ugly children we’ll be throwing them out the window….right…who’s on?”

Finally: bear in mind that Moonraker has probably the best and smuttiest line of the whole series.

Cue: disco version of Shirley Bassey’s theme song.

 
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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…   

 
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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

 
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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.

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