Birth, death, tears: Earwigging on emigrants’ Skype calls

A gripping new TV series observes the Irish diaspora bridging the gap between home and abroad

The Flood family: dad John Joe, mum Ann, Stephen and his mum Johanna, Gemma and her son Lucas

The Flood family: dad John Joe, mum Ann, Stephen and his mum Johanna, Gemma and her son Lucas

 

Other people’s lives can be endlessly fascinating. Who hasn’t earwigged on a conversation between people sitting in a cafe, or pretended to look away while hanging on every word of a one-sided telephone call made on a busy train or bus?

In Missing You, a six-part series starting on RTÉ One on Wednesday, June 7th, viewers get to listen to, and watch, both sides of the conversation.

In what the programme makers are calling “the first series in the world to be created exclusively from video calls, user generated stills and videos”, a carefully representative Irish diaspora cast are observed using technology to bridge the gap between home and away.

Oceans apart

The minutiae of daily life in places as far apart as Ballyvolane and Boston are relayed in a series of video calls taking place across the globe, as the friends and families try and pretend for the duration of their calls, that they aren’t oceans apart.

It’s more gripping than it sounds. Birth, death and everything in between is fair game as the unfiltered, unscripted stories play out, complete with fuzzy images, and the inevitable “Can you see us?”, “Yes, can you see me?” dialogues.

The “observational documentary” – is that another, more respectable, way of describing reality TV – is strangely fascinating. In the first episode we meet, or rather we stalk, via her video calls home, Gemma Flood, who has been living in Sydney for 10 years. She is about to have her first baby, and she wants her mammy there with her, so Ann and John Joe are preparing to leave Pearse Street in Dublin to join their daughter in Australia in time for the new arrival.

Family dynamic

The family dynamic between mother of eight Joanna Golden, who runs an English school in Libya, and Fazel Patel, her husband of two years, who lives in Gloucester in England, is less traditional. The couple met online after Golden’s marriage broke down, and married within half an hour of meeting in person for the first time.

In Boston, 23-year-old child bride (she’s not of course, but she is very young), Holly Austin shares the Tayto and chocolate care packs her mother Regina sends from Cork with her soldier husband Keith, who she met while in the US on a J1 visa. Send more Galaxy Caramel bars, and US sausages aren’t a patch on Irish ones, are keynote topics in the touchingly mundane mother/daughter chats.

Advice from afar

Ken Scully left Dublin to be with his partner Keith in Arizona, but he still keeps in regular contact with mates Jeff, John and Sam, back in Capel Street, issuing fashion advice from afar, and keeping tabs on “the lads”, who rather sweetly cosy up on the sofa for the video calls from their friend.

The accidental walk-into-shot role is played by the new boyfriend of Adrienne Moran, who left Ireland for Melbourne with her family when she was 11, but still keeps in contact with school friend Suzanne Sheerin. Moran has given him the seal of approval, so he gets to say g’day to her friend of 40 years as they bond over boyfriends and ‘back in the day’.

Cole Delaney on a video call with his sister Romy in London
Cole Delaney on a video call with his sister Romy in London

Some of the most poignant, sometimes a little uncomfortable, footage in the first episode is in the conversations between new mother Romy Delaney, in London, and her younger brother Cole, in Dublin. The pair are from a large, tight-knit family and grew up in Co Laois. They recently suffered the loss of their brother Fionn.

Fionn was to be baby Arlo’s godfather – “Would you still have named him Fionn as a middle name anyway, if he hadn’t died?” Cole asks.

“We couldn’t not do that,” Romy says.

“It’s weird calling someone else Fionn,” Cole replies.

As the cameras roll, Romy repositions her screen as she breastfeeds the baby while chatting to Cole; little brother looks bashfully relieved. Baby Lucas sheds his umbilical cord stump while mother and uncle talk – mother regards it as a pivotal moment, uncle just doesn’t get it.

It’s moments like these that make this a series worth watching.

Missing You starts on RTÉ One on Wednesday, June 7th at 8.30pm

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