Patrick Freyne: Tom Hardy’s mumbling Trustafarian hipster is the ultimate Taboo

Taboo’s a complicated man and nobody understands him but his woman, who’s also his sister. Herself is up to her old tricks. And Code Black is jumping the shark bites

Mumblecore: Stephen Graham and Tom Hardy in Taboo

Mumblecore: Stephen Graham and Tom Hardy in Taboo

 

Tom Hardy hates sound recordists. As a child, one wronged him and he vowed revenge on the whole profession. His plan was simple: he would become one of the most sought-after actors of his generation. Then, as soon as he was on set, he would mutter and mumble and grunt and enunciate his words weirdly in a manner resembling a bad recording.

“HA HA HA!” Hardy would laugh, as another pleading recordist was fired. Of course, Hardy’s laughter sounded more like this “Murr hurr mmf!” because at this point, he had completely forgotten how to say words, much like Brando or the Swedish Chef.

Still, he’s always a memorably charismatic presence. Who can forget his Heathcliff: “Mfff, ba, hubbub, murr, whoof, Cathy.” Or his Bane from Batman: “Wooo, mfff, raagh, blub, Batman.”

His character on Taboo (Saturday, BBC 1), who I initially hoped would be called something like “John Taboo” (following the banal-first-name-plus-random-noun nomenclature beloved by TV producers), has clearer diction but similarly strange enunciation.

It’s the olden days and his real name is James Delaney and he is a swaggering Trustafarian hipster who has tribal tattoos and has returned from his gap year (okay, years in the tropics) in order to inherit his mad father’s fortune, sleep with his sister (ideally), flash diamonds around the place, pioneer male cosmetics (well, generic war paint), gentrify the brothel district in which he rents rooms, and, when appropriate, stab people and eat their flesh.

That sounds like plot enough to me, but it’s only the beginning. Delaney has also inherited a faraway island that is separately coveted by the East India Company, the Prince Regent and the newly established American state.

And what is the “taboo” if not the character’s name? Well it could be a number of things. It could be the incestuous relationship with his sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin), or that his mother was supposedly a slave (a dubious backstory for a character played by a white actor), or that he is rumoured to have dabbled in black magic and cannibalism and slave trading. Frankly, there isn’t a taboo going that James Delaney hasn’t seen and liked.

Taboo has a comic-book sheen to it. It’s populated by scarred and tattooed grotesques who cackle and grimace and speak in heightened Shakespearian profanities (it’s like The Irish Times canteen). Mark Gatiss plays the prince regent as an obese boil-infested wreck (an idealised view, historians might argue). In an interesting parallel to Delaney’s rumoured lust for flesh, the East India Company’s chairman Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) has not seen a piece of scenery he did not want to chew. Delaney’s sister is one repressed, masochistic gasp away from ripping her bodice off. And Taboo himself (to hell with it, I’m just going to call him “Taboo”) likes nothing better than to get naked and roll around the floor having wailing flashbacks to a sinking slave ship and a mysterious woman in a lake. You know yourself.

The man just foments melodrama. The most common reaction to Taboo entering a room is a sharp intake of breath because he is meant to be dead or he has an unorthodox proposal or he is so hunky or because of his outré fashion choices (a stovetop hat with those boots?). He’s a complicated man and nobody understands him but his woman, who’s also his sister.

By the end of episode three, Taboo has played the East India Company and torture-inclined American agents against one another, saved his father’s secret wife, set fire to a ship, ripped the throat out of a sword-wielding assassin, blackmailed a friend and been reprimanded by his Alfred-from-Batman-like servant, Brace (David Hayman) for his recklessness. Taboo somehow achieves a masterfully daft plausibility, largely because of the ridicule-proof conviction of Tom Hardy, who also co-created the series. If by the next instalment, Mark Gatiss isn’t beaming a Taboo-signal into the skies of London I will be very disappointed.

Southsiders drinking lattes
Striking Out (Sunday, RTE1) is not, as I thought, a documentary about southsiders drinking lattes but RTÉ’s attempt at creating a legal procedural like The Good Wife. I always said that an Irish version of the Good Wife should be called Herself so I’m going to call it Herself.

The always appealing Amy Huberman plays the eponymous Herself (really Tara Rafferty), a solicitor shocked into self-development after witnessing her fiancé doing a bit of “taboo” with another woman. Herself “strikes out” on her own and assembles a misfit team – Ray, a cheeky client-turned assistant (talented Emmet Byrne), a paternalistic barrister (Neil Morrissey), a bearded yank with a houseboat (being a boat tramp is cool now), and an ultra-chilled-out investigator (Fiona O’Shaughnessy), who delivers her lines as though lying down and on horse tranquilisers (she should get together with Taboo).

In the fourth and final episode (my title: Herself meets The Poor), Herself stops the State taking a child into care by getting the unemployed father a child-friendly job and a flat (Tara’s friend had a spare investment property) because, you know, that’s so easy in Dublin. Then it turns out that one of her quirky team of misfits™ has betrayed her, which we don’t really care about, to be honest, because we’ve just met them.

Striking Out has all the pieces of something good, but it tries to do 22 episodes of plot in four weeks – an overarching political subplot, a weekly legal story, a personal melodrama – which is tiring.

In fact, the most interesting thing about it is that there’s little evidence Herself is any good at her job. She coasts on the good work of her colleagues, gets work referred by friends and often uses her connections, not her skill, to put clients in a favourable position. They should forgo a longer story arc for more self-contained stories premised on the idea that Herself is a mediocre solicitor. Not a hero. Not an anti-hero. Just someone with a job. Now, that would be a TV drama revolution. Mediocrity is the ultimate taboo (excluding John Taboo, of course).

Hugs and learning
Everyone in Code Black (Wednesday/Thursday, RTÉ1) is good at their jobs. A medical procedural that mixes hugs and learning with extreme close-ups of hospital procedures, this week’s episode features a man falling from a spinning helicopter, Rob Lowe being charming, a woman inflating with air, Rob Lowe pumping foam into a butchered abdomen, bickering siblings united in grief, a shark attack, a close-up tracheotomy, a moving speech from a long lost father, and Rob Lowe drilling a hole in someone’s head.

As a hypochondriac, I am now worried I am a) inflating with air, b) need a hole drilled in my head and c) have been bitten by a shark.

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