Archives for September 2022

2 Things to Watch out for on Irish Television

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, The Laughing Boy

There was a new documentary feature screened recently on TG4, and a 3 part documentary series on RTE, and both were excellent. 

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, or The Laughing Boy tells the unlikely if entirely true story behind Brendan Behan’s most famous song. After hearing about how helpful Michael Collins had been to his mother when she had been pregnant with him, the teenage Behan penned the Laughing Boy, in Irish, in his honour.

Twenty years later, he translated it into English and used it as the centre piece for his play, The Hostage. And when that play was then performed in Paris, a couple of Greek ex-patriots saw it and were determined to stage it in Athens. And they commissioned Mikis Theodorakis, the most celebrated Greek composer of the 20th century, to provide the music for their production.

Theo Dogan, right, on his own personal Greek odyssey.

And, improbably to say the least, that adaptation of Behan’s song then became the unofficial national anthem for Greece, after being taken up as the song Greeks sang to protest the military dictatorship that ruled there between 1967-74. So, literally, every single Greek boy and girl grew up singing it in the 1970s and 80s as a symbol of their resistance. 

Directed by Alan Gilsenan and presented by the poet Theo Dorgan, it’s one of the few films to actually benefit by not being too rigid in its structure or focus. Instead, the film is left free to wander and gently meander, as it embraces its sprawling themes. Fusing music with poetry, film and theatre, to explore history, politics and culture, examined and expressed in Irish, English and Greek.

Impeccably realised, it’s a film that, for once, lives up to its lofty ambitions.

The Island is a 3 part documentary series on RTE and the BBC, and it too delivers on its commendable ambitions. So many of these sorts of things reveal themselves to be little more than thinly veiled commercials for the tourist industry. The Island was, impressively, very much a science-led series. 

Liz Bonnin, on The Island.

This, you feel sure, is down to it being presented by Liz Bonnin, who is chalking up an impressive record in popular science programmes for the BBC. It promised and then duly gave us a 1.8 billion year history of the island of Ireland, with an array of wide-ranging  academics and instructive graphics, which were used to clarify and illuminate without ever over-simplifying.

It still looks ravishing of course. But for once, the images are given a purpose and a context.

What a joy to be treated like an adult for a few stray hours.

You can see The Laughing Boy on the TG4 player here:

https://www.tg4.ie/en/player/play/?pid=6311320763112&title=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&series=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&genre=Faisneis&pcode=622980

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Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is the real deal

Apple TV’s “Severance”

Things have been quiet of late, in this the much heralded golden age of television. There has been plenty of perfectly watchable, eminently adequate fodder on offer from the various streaming services and their terrestrial brethren. But very little to write home about. 

So it was with a slight sense of wariness that I sat down to watch Severance, notwithstanding all the noise it’s generated. But for once, that hype was entirely justified. Happily, it’s the real deal.

It’s a high concept, Big Idea series. A nefarious and implicitly evil tech corporation has invented a chip that allows you to separate, sever, your work-you from your home-you. So as you work through the mindless chores at the faceless office where you work, you’ve no idea what you do or who you are for the rest of the day when you’re at home. 

The same neck of the woods.

As you descend in the elevator at the end of the day, the chip kicks in, and you step out on to the ground floor as your home-you, or what they call your ‘outie’. And after you get back into the elevator as your outie the following morning, you emerge on the ‘severance’ floor as your ‘innie’. Completely oblivious as what you might have got up to in between. 

Why would anybody want that? Well, Mark has recently lost his wife in a car crash. And, he figures, at least for 8 hours a day he’ll be spared the bottomless grief he’s floored by during the other 16.

It’s avowedly left of field and off kilter, and veers from the surreally mundane to menacing and back, often in the same scene. Think Charlie Kaufman meets David Lynch, where both have had their wings clipped to rein their flights of fancy in. Which is, respectively, both good and bad.

Everything about Severance is impeccably crafted. The art direction is pristine, the directing, by Ben Stiller, is foot perfect and the acting is exceptional across the board. 

All the gang on the Severance floor.

Adam Scott takes the lead as Mark, and is impressively abetted by Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, John Turturro and, improbably, Christopher Walken, all of whom are outstanding as his increasingly rebellious co-workers. But Patricia Arquette manages to somehow steal the show, as the nearest thing to a plausible and genuinely terrifying realisation of the wicked witch of the West. 

And, rather than addressing them head on, it sensibly flirts around the philosophical questions that it raises about the self, purpose, meaning, work-life balance and agency. Most impressively of all, it builds momentum and raises the stakes continually, thanks to the perfectly meted out parcels of story. And the increasingly compelling cliff-hangers that each episode concludes with.

It might not quite be up there with series 1 of Twin Peaks, and I hope it does a better job than that show did of maintaining its momentum into series 2. But it’s comfortably the best show to grace our screens since Bojack pursued and fed his demons (reviewed earlier by me here).

You can see the trailer for Severance here:

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