A hilarious, surreal and nostalgic ride into 1980s Roscommon

Sat, Sep 15, 2012, 01:00

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.

It used to be just Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker belting out the sweary insults and jibes, but now there are so many in the cast – few look like being memorable – and they are all nasty and equipped with sharp putdowns. The first episode was too noisy for satire to cut though.

NOW TO TWO excellent examples of reality TV – no, not the brain melt of Celebrity Salon (TV3, Monday), though tune in to see if you recognise a single, ahem, celebrity, but programmes from which you come away with a greater insight into a slice of someone else’s real life. The Secret Millionaire (RTÉ One, Monday) is the second in the walk-in-my-shoes series in which a rich person is landed in an underprivileged community and, having discovered what various voluntary groups actually do, then donates some of his or her own money.

Jim Breen, a 42-year-old global tech entrepreneur with the sinewy hungry look of a triathlete and an unassuming air – he seemed mortified by even saying “I am a secret millionaire” – was sent to a deprived part of Finglas, in Dublin.

It’s a community where local groups have sprung up to try to tackle some of the huge problems endemic in the area, such as depression and suicide, the isolation of those with brain injury, and the boredom and sense of uselessness that unemployment brings.

Quite apart from the humbling experience, for both the viewer and the millionaire, of watching the selfless work of the volunteers, there’s a freshness about it because these are people who don’t usually get to tell their stories on TV.

Even if you are as uneasy as I am with the underlying idea of a rich person publicly dispensing largesse, and only when the poor have laid bare their needs, The Secret Millionaire does offer a revealing window into modern Ireland. Interesting, too, to see how Breen, who hinted at his own battles with depression, reacted to his new environment, which was different from anything he’d ever experienced.

THE QUIRKY AND unexpectedly insightful documentary Apartment Kids (RTÉ One, Tuesday) offered another revealing slice of contemporary Ireland.

It touched on many issues through the lives of young families living in a range of apartments. It featured a couple who bought when they were newly-weds but, two small children later, are stuck in negative equity. There were children, including one who was rather ill, living in damp social housing that’s long overdue refurbishment, and a family in a new development in Clongriffen that has fallen far short of its sales-pitch promises.

The star was Ashton, a bright-as-a- button nine-year-old growing up in Crampton Buildings, in Temple Bar, the sixth generation of his family to do so. Looking through his eyes, there was none of the Dublin’s left-bank stuff: his apartment block, he said, was filthy, rundown and noisy. Articulate and perceptive: expect to hear more of him.

Get stuck into . . .

Frocks, aristos, a bit of upstairs- downstairs hanky-panky and Shirley MacLaine, going quip to quip with Maggie Smith, in Downton Abbey (UTV, Sunday, and TV3, Wednesday)

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