Ireland has come late to prestige television, and it’s an open question if we’ve even made landfall yet. There was Love/Hate, which was slick and sweary but also insubstantial. And now there is Virgin Media’s Blood (Monday, 9pm), which returns for a second series.
As with season one, its calling card is Adrian Dunbar, taking time away from playing the avuncular Ted Hastings in Line of Duty. Jed Mercurio's crooked-copper blockbuster is convoluted to a fault, and the same charge can be made of Blood.
Suffocating tension is clearly a priority for the series' showrunner and writer, Sophie Petzal, but she goes overboard so that everyone is uniformly miserable, every conversation, shared meal and random interaction freighted with dire portents.
Dunbar plays Jim Hogan, a midlands family doctor who has faced awkward questions over the death of his wife. With the matter now laid to rest, he’s back and staying with his daughter Fiona (Gráinne Keenan).
Something is rotten in the country estate where she lives, however, and it has to do with the megabucks landowners and their Inbetweeners-esque son, who has fallen in with a gang of local cocaine dealers. Fiona has issues of her own and is suffering from some form of PTSD after a car crash. And then there are unresolved tensions between Hogan and his son Michael (Diarmuid Noyes).
Dunbar is one of the most watchable actors on television, and he does his best to elevate a plot that occasionally sparks to life but often plods along. Keenan is great, too, as a woman on whom the world is falling in but whose shrieks of anguish go unheard.
Where Blood perhaps falls down is in tapping into the more baroque and unfettered aspects of Irish rural life. All great small-screen thrillers, from Broadchurch to the best Scandi noir via season one of True Detective, take an everyday setting and then drill into its darker qualities. A psychosphere exists in Ireland as surely as one does in Louisiana or England’s Jurassic Coast. All that is required is the right show to get under its skin.
Blood was filmed around the Dublin commuter belt despite being ostensibly set somewhere more rustic. Yet it fails to do anything interesting with a backdrop that, if conjured with properly, could serve as a window into the Irish soul.
If anything it achieves exactly the opposite: anyone coming fresh to rural Ireland (the series has done well on Channel 5 in the UK) will conclude that the country is grey, bland and fundamentally unexciting.
Things may pick up in future episodes. For now, Blood simply doesn’t do enough to get the heart pumping.