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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