As regular readers of this column will know, there's nothing I like better than a television protagonist with a random noun or verb as a surname that can then be re-appropriated as a dramatic title. Enter Strike, the invention of JK Rowling. Like Rowling's other famous character Harry Potter, who was not a potter, and thus was forever disappointing teenage crockery fans, Cormoran Strike is not a union official, but is instead an army veteran turned detective. Nor is he a misspelt cormorant but a human man (if you want a story about a collectivist leftist seabird you must wait for something else).
However, the name is fitting in other ways. Like my own television detective Dick Punchfist from my as-yet-unmade television programme, Punchfist: The Punchening, Cormoran Strike (Tom Burke) is not averse to striking people when the need arises. And oh, the need arises. He delivers a tasty headbutt in episode two.
Luckily, Strike and Robin are distracted from their smouldering desires by a new case
Like Batman and Winnie the Pooh, both of whom he resembles, Strike’s sidekick is called Robin (Holliday Grainger). The new series of Strike aka Strike: Lethal White (Sunday and Monday, BBC1) begins where the last one ended, with Strike dramatically appearing at Robin’s wedding covered in unexplained cuts and bruises before smouldering sexily then falling asleep at the afters. Yes, we’ve all done it and it works for Strike. “Ooh, matron! I could have this relatively clean man, or I could lust after this wounded narcoleptic hunk,” thinks Robin, loudly enough for her new husband to hear.
Then we cut to a year later when both Strike and Robin are back working as private investigators whenever they're not gazing at each other longingly. People who work together are often deep in steamy lust, certainly on the television. Think of Cybil Sheppard and Bruce Willis on Moonlighting, or Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog on The Muppet Show, or Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on the other Muppet Show, or all of the Smurfs. Luckily, Strike and Robin are distracted from their smouldering desires by a new case that begins when an emotional, knife-wielding man breaks into their office and starts rambling incoherently about an ancient, unreported child murder. This leads the duo to track down the man's anarchist, political squatter brother before being hired by a Tory MP with the excellent name Jasper Chisel (he should have his own show, really – although his name is actually spelled "Chiswell") to foil blackmailers, one of whom happens to be the protesting brother of the unsettling knifeman from a few lines back.
It’s reasonably gripping. There’s undercover work, and chases and a bit with some angry dogs. As is Rowling’s wont, many of the secondary characters are broadly drawn types. The Chisel (Chiswell) family are presented as ghastly entitled toffs who may or may not have been involved in some sort of weird child murder. Meanwhile, the anarchist squatters are presented as crude, boorish upstarts with disgruntled clown politics who may or may not be involved in blackmailing the Chisels over child murder. This is, as you know, both ends of the political spectrum. The only complex characters, really, are Strike and Robin, who sit at the reasonable centre of the plot, which is where Rowling presumably sees herself.
As classic centrists, neither Robin nor Strike seem to have politics themselves. They do have some personality, though. Plucky Robin has a terribly toxic husband but she really fancies Strike. She also has PTSD, presumably due to all the awful things she has seen as a consequence of her job with Strike, and it's possible that her longing for him is a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
Meanwhile, as a disabled war veteran, Strike is tough but vulnerable and his character traits include fancying Robin and really liking a good dinner. They make a bit of a thing about Strike liking a good dinner. In episode one he loudly calls for extra potatoes in a fancy club and in episode two, before infiltrating a fancy do, he says, “I heard there was a buffet.” He’s the most gluttonous detective since the Famous Five bankrupted the farmers’ wives of Dorset with their Louis XIV-style picnics.
There's nothing we Irish like more than Yanks being delighted with us and our studied eejitry
Strike desists from his gorging from time to time to solve crime, though sometimes I think they could lean into it more. “Strike, take your head from your nosebag and help me disarm this villain!” I can imagine Robin saying in the next episode. Or, maybe, “Strike, put down that lamb shank for a moment and help me examine the body!” There will surely be another body. The second episode ended with one. There will surely be more crimes and menus in future episodes. Perhaps they could throw recipes into the closing credits?
The 2 Johnnies Do America exemplifies a hybridised form that blends two subgenres: “Americans: aren’t they mad?!” and “The Irish: a great bunch of lads”. Yes, there is a time in every television producer’s life when he/she just gives in and sends some weaponised culchies to America, where the Yanks are, of course, delighted with them. There’s nothing we Irish like more than Yanks being delighted with us and our studied eejitry.
The Johnnies are popular podcasters and they're likeable, funny and quick, but their shenanigans here are a bit tired on all two of the programme's levels. Back when Clive James and others were pioneering the "Americans, aren't they mad?!" genre of documentary, they could safely rely on big cars, eccentricity and having more than one option in life to amaze and entertain an audience that could remember rationing and war. Nowadays, watching the Johnnies skim the surface of roller-skating, recording hip-hop tracks, playing volleyball and visiting poor neighbourhoods, it feels like RTÉ could have just sent them to any Irish city and got the same results.
And when is Ireland's engagement with the planet going to rise above the "Oh, don't mind us, we're just big eejits from Ireland!" approach to diplomacy? I know that's traditionally been how Irish politicians wield our soft power abroad, but at some point the rest of the world is going to realise how relatively good our GDP is and that we actually have the internet and therapy, not to mention hip-hop, rollerskating and volleyball, and then they'll call bullshit on our loveable hick shtick. And, frankly, the 2 Johnnies seem like they could handle something meatier and more challenging. I'm not expecting to see The 2 Johnnies Realise Their Place in the Western Economic Hegemony or anything . . . Although, on reflection, why not?
RTÉ, make that show. I’ll send on the pitch document for it and Punchfist.