Archives for July 2021

‘The Alienist’, Hurray for Hollywood! (it’s a living)

The Alienist.

Despite being set in New York at the turn of the 20th century and being filmed in Budapest, The Alienist boasts a plethora of Irish talent. Amongst the cast we find David Wilmot, Michael McElhatton, Peter Coonan, Gavin O’Connor, Sean McGinley, Maurice Byrne and Paul Reid. The principle directors of photography are Cathal Watters and PJ Dillon, Dermot Diskin edits and Philip Murphy is on set décor. 

Much of that is thanks to the arrival of Stuart Carolan and David Caffrey. Carolan was brought in as show runner in 2020 for season 2, and asked Caffrey to direct many of those season 2 episodes for him. 

Getting work in Ireland on film and television is, to put it mildly, a precarious pursuit. One producer once summed it up memorably to me when he said, striving to get a project off the ground in Ireland was like “trying to fuck smoke”. 

Love/Hate. Here’s looking at you kids.

And you learn very early on that what semblance of stability there exists is to be found in television. And, very quickly, what you really hope for are the regular payments that a series can provide you with. 

You don’t just get paid for a number of episodes. Thanks to the vigour of the muscular unions, you also have to get paid out for any possible repeat screenings, often in multiple territories and on different platforms.

All of which means that what you secretly dream of more than anything else is getting that call up for a Hollywood series. So it’s hardly surprising that Carolan should have leapt at the chance to join the Alienist as show runner, albeit for season 2. 

After all, with around $5 million per episode, he had considerably more money for each individual episode than he did for an entire season of Love/Hate, an episode of which was said to have cost around €600,000. 

Heaven’s Gate, Lord above.

Just to put all this in perspective. Every single one of the cast and crew would have greeted those five seasons of Love/Hate, with  €600,000 an episode(!), as all of their Christmases coming at once. 

The fact that, once it got over its teething problems in season 1, Love/Hate then evolved into one of the most exciting and dramatically taut series ever broadcast on Irish television was very much but an added bonus.

So the prospect of joining a bona fide $5m an episode, prime time Hollywood drama series – $5m an episode! – would, literally, have been a dream come true for cast and crew alike. And it’s genuinely thrilling to see so many seriously gifted actors and film makers involved in such an opulent affair. The end product is very much neither here nor there.

And, in fairness, season 2 of the Alienist is no worse than season 1 was. The opening episode of that first season looked like a very early draft of the first assignment of a 1st year film student after spending his very first weekend watching nothing but Michael Cimino films. Well, specifically, a Cimino film – see my earlier review of Heaven’s Gate here.

It’s all so busy. There’s stuff everywhere, And you keep waiting for it to take that final step from just plain bad to so-bad-it’s-good. But, for whatever alchemical reason, it somehow fails to ever make that triumphant transition from pants to kitsch and camp.

Never mind. It’s fantastic to see so many talented individuals so gainfully employed, and I very much hope that season 3 gets given the green light. After which, I’d love to then see them all get their teeth into something with a little bit more bite.

You can see the trailer for season 2 of The Alienist here.

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