A hilarious, surreal and nostalgic ride into 1980s Roscommon
TV REVIEW: IT HAS TAKEN UNTIL September for my comedy of the year to come along. I know there’s still time for something better to appear, but my bet is that nothing will top Moone Boy (Sky1, Friday).
Chris O’Dowd’s semi-autobiographical drama about growing up in Boyle, Co Roscommon, in the mid-1980s is charming, funny and whimsical and has just enough daft, off-kilter scenes to take the familiar set-up – small-town childhood, bullied at school, ignored at home – and give it a hilarious, surreal edge.
“Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the west of Ireland?” says O’Dowd as Seán Murphy, the voiceover and imaginary friend, as he lopes around the town with young Martin Moone (terrifically played by David Rawle).
The dreamy, gormless, cartoon-drawing boy has a bully-magnet woolly hat and a wide-eyed, optimistic outlook on life despite being picked on by the Bonner boys, Conor and Jonner. Martin lives with Mum (Deirdre O’Kane), put-upon Dad (Peter McDonald) and his three older sisters, who ignore or persecute him. “You were a mistake,” snipes one. “An accident,” reassures his imaginary friend.
In the first episode he turns 12. Spying his gift-wrapped bicycle, his imaginary friend voices his inner fears and hopes, as usual. “I hope it’s not a bicycle-shaped pair of socks or a bicycle-shaped kick in the arse but a bicycle-shaped bicycle.”
And he does a deal for protection with the school’s hard man (“inventor of the Cambodian burn, more painful than the Chinese burn” – honestly, the nostalgia of it all ) in return for organising a feel of his sister’s breasts.
The Gay Byrne Show signature tune is one of the many home-grown cultural references in Moone Boy that will sail over the heads of most Sky viewers. Layering on the laughs, a pan-pipe version of Unchained Melody plays under a hilarious scene in which Martin’s dad confronts the bully’s dad (a never better Simon Delaney).
There’s 1980s and early-1990s music throughout, including Where’s Me Jumper? from The Sultans of Ping, which is as upbeat as the drama itself. Unsurprisingly, a second series has already been commissioned.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED to The Thick of It (BBC Two, Saturday)? The first series of Armando Iannucci’s multi-award-winning comedy was nil-by-mouth stuff: you couldn’t eat or drink anything while watching for fear of spraying the lot all over the place as one raucous laugh caught up with another. And underlying all the quips and wordplay was the deliciously wicked sense of a brilliant political satirist at work.
The first episode of the much-anticipated second series was big on clever one-liners, the sort you think to yourself are funny without actually laughing.
“Sorry, darling, I have to go. I think the bailiffs are coming to take away my will to live,” says the lugubrious Tory minister Peter Mannion (Roger Allam).
Or, as the dreadful press secretary Terri remarks to over-the-hill aide Glenn: “You look like a week-old party balloon. I just don’t want you ending up as one of those ‘before he turned the gun on himself’ guys.”
They kept falling like pebbles into a tin bucket. The government has changed since the last series, and it’s now a coalition. “You’re basically a couple of homeless guys we invited to Christmas dinner. Don’t bitch if we don’t let you carve the turkey,” says the Tory handler, summing up coalition politics in one smart satirical line, but so much else, including the portrayal of the minister as a pompous, out-of-touch Luddite, or “digitard” racist, strayed too far into caricature.