Towering Gabriel Byrne can’t save BBC’s “Quirke”.

Gabriel Byrne as Quirke.

Gabriel Byrne as Quirke.

The must see tele­vi­sion of the last decade or so, The Sopra­nos, The Wire, Mad Men, Break­ing Bad, Dead­wood, Board­walk Empire, or for that mat­ter Buffy, Friends, The Simp­sons, South Park, Curb Your Enthu­si­asm, Girls and Louie — even Let­ter­man, ear­ly Conan or The Today Show  — all have one thing in com­mon; their writing.

On the one hand it was their abil­i­ty to draw you in with pre­cise­ly delin­eat­ed sto­ry­lines that stretched across entire series and beyond. And on the oth­er, it was the care and craft that was invest­ed into each and every one of their episodes.

So it’s huge­ly dis­ap­point­ing that instead of pri­ori­tis­ing the scripts for their col­lab­o­ra­tions on Quirke, RTE and the BBC invest­ed all their time and effort on its sets and cos­tumes. The first of the three fea­ture length episodes had too much plot, the sec­ond not enough. The whole thing could be summed up by that adver­tis­ing slo­gan from a few years ago;

we won’t make a dra­ma out of a crisis”.

A series of inci­dents hap­pened one after the oth­er, with­out ever amount­ing to dra­ma. Some of them Quirke man­aged to piece togeth­er, oth­ers he all too eas­i­ly chanced upon.

The epony­mous pro­tag­o­nist – whose name was repeat­ed end­less­ly in much the same way that old school sales­men begin every sin­gle indi­vid­ual sen­tence by repeat­ing your name at its begin­ning – was played by Gabriel Byrne, who was by far and away the most impres­sive thing about Quirke. If any­thing, his tow­er­ing per­for­mance some­what imbal­ances every­body else’s.

Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold in Entourage;  happier times.

Jere­my Piv­en as Ari Gold in Entourage; hap­pi­er times.

But it was the clunk­i­ness of the plot­ting and the pre­dictable man­ner in which each of the scenes unfold­ed that real­ly bogged the whole thing down. It looked great, but to absolute­ly no end.

Per­haps I was expect­ing too much. After all, the man they got to write it, Andrew Davies, is the BBC’s go to man for san­i­tized and secure­ly safe ver­sions of Jane Austen, And the chap ITV turned to for its replace­ment for Down­town Abbey, with the mon­u­men­tal­ly dull Mr Sel­f­ridge star­ring poor old Jere­my Piv­en, who deserves so much more. Next up, Davis is apply­ing his mid­dle brow met­rics to War And Peace. Oh dear.

And the source mate­r­i­al is just John Banville in mufti. I sup­pose real­ly it was exact­ly the sort of thing one ought to have expect­ed to find at half past nine on RTE1 of a Sun­day eve. Not to much The Sopra­nos,  more the Onedin Line.

Quirke was lit­tle more than a slight­ly dark­er Down­town with a bit  more swear­ing and whiskey with an E.

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