Chewing over the drama

 

TV REVIEW: RawRTÉ1, Sunday ZenBBC1, Sunday Kidnap and RansomUTV, Thursday John Healy: You Have Been WarnedRTÉ1, Tuesday Driving Me CrazyTV3, Wednesday

Raw

So in the first episode of the third series dozy Shane (Keith McErlean) falls for new barmaid Kate (Kelly Gough), bitchy cousin Ellen (Marcella Plunkett) arrives and before you can say “what are tonight’s specials?” Bobby (Liam Garrigan) has the hots for her. Even sour-faced restaurant boss Fiona (Aisling O’Sullivan), who stomps around like a reverend mother heading for the bicycle shed to catch the bold girls smoking, proves irresistible to smarmy new duty manager Ray (Padraic Delaney).

Other puzzles included chef Jojo (Charlene McKenna) and her fella buying their first home. In this market! Are they crazy? These people shouldn’t be trusted with sharp knives. How come they bought the mankiest-looking Rathmines bedsit? And why did the editor or director keep hitting the fast-forward button (last used to best effect by Benny Hill circa 1979) so that the action was speeded up at the oddest times and for no apparent reason except perhaps for some comic effect? It jarred with the otherwise sophisticated contemporary pacing. That apart, the camerawork, with plenty of expensive street shots from all angles, was so good you could eat it.

Jojo is still the best thing in Raw, which is saying something, because she has stiff competition from the universally excellent cast (though O’Sullivan could do far more if she was given a less one-dimensional character). It looks and, with its rocking Irish-music soundtrack, sounds good, but the storylines as teed up in episode one were on the thin side, though maybe that will change. It’ll be worth tuning in to see if it does – it’s slick home-grown stuff – and there are still five episodes to go.

SADLY, THERE’S ONLY one more episode of Zen, the BBC’s quality adaptation of Michael Dibdin’s best-selling crime thrillers. It’s a bit of europudding that took some getting used to in the first episode.

Set in Rome, it features the English actor Rufus Sewell as detective Aurelio Zen, the Dubliner Stanley Townsend as his boss, English actors as all his colleagues in his Roma police station and Italians as his mother and his love interest. Every time a new character appeared it was distracting to wonder whether they’d be speaking in a Yorkshire burr or with an irresistible Italian accent.

By episode two all that confusion was set aside: it helps that you can’t but be dazzled at every turn by the visual treats that are Sewell, with his sharp-suited nonchalance, his mesmerisingly gorgeous lover, Tania (ex-Bond girl Caterina Murino), and the crumbling backstreets of Rome.

This week’s intricate multilayered plot was pure Dibdin: to solve a murder, Zen, the only honest cop in the force (as we are repeatedly told), must fight corruption, and, as ever, it is when corruption is on the inside, in the police and in government, that it’s most difficult to tackle.

A man jumped, or more likely in Zen’s view was pushed, into the Tiber, and Zen uncovers a web of intrigue involving a government minister, a sinister robed church figure, a mysterious cabal and a doomed love affair. And he still finds time to drink endless little cups of espresso and woo the girl. It says a lot for Sewell’s screen magnetism that his Zen is devastatingly attractive even though he still lives with his mammy. Her first words this week were, “I see everything.” Even an ex-Bond girl would find that challenging.

WHILE ZENIS three stand-alone episodes, the other new thriller is very much a series, with episode one of Kidnap and Ransomending on an unexpected cliffhanger, making tuning in next week a must.

Written by Patrick Harbinson, whose credits include ER, 24, and Law and Order: SVU, it stars Trevor Eve as Dominic King, an international hostage negotiator. Haunted by the failure of a recent negotiation when the hostage was handed over dead – a memorable and disturbingly realistic opening scene – King heads to South Africa to negotiate what he believes will be a straightforward return of a female scientist kidnapped while working for a large pharmaceutical company.

“Most kidnappings are simple transactions,” says King, in his low-key, pragmatic way. “You just give them what they want.”

The handover of money for hostage goes dramatically wrong, however, and a real baddie, Willard (John Hannah), whose motives seem to go beyond money, appears all guns blazing. It was what a thriller should be – full of underlying tensions – and, shot mostly in South Africa, it looked hot, dusty and entirely believable.

PAUL DUANE’S QUIETLY powerful documentary looked for truth in a life that has been stranger than fiction. Born in London of Irish parents, John Healy was lost to alcoholism from his early teenage years, and his career as a petty criminal resulted in several spells in prison. On one of his spells inside, a fellow inmate taught him chess, and he became so good he quickly gained a reputation in the chess circuit.

Realising he’d left it too late to become a grandmaster, he dropped the game and began writing his memoirs. For a short while in the late 1980s John Healy was feted in the London literary world for his memoir The Grass Arena, about his brutal 15 years living rough in London. It won a prestigious prize and was made into a movie – and then he blew it all by arriving at his publisher, Faber, shouting the odds, threatening to chop off the managing director’s head with an axe.

What he was trying to find out was when he’d be seeing his royalties, but as he was not quite up on the social niceties he went about it the wrong way. The genteel publishing house had an attack of vapours and dropped him like a hot potato.

His then editor, Robert McCrum, looking at times defensive and oddly disengaged from the story, admitted he was in fact never physically threatened by Healy. That didn’t stop a raft of stories doing the rounds at the time, and there was an air of “you’ll never work in this literary fishbowl again” about the incident – or that’s how the film presented it, anyway.

“I went from being a genius one week to a psychopath the next,” said Healy. It was the end of a brief literary career that, now sober, he is trying to revive. Duane’s patient, revealing documentary, which he filmed over four years, captured the dislocation of being second-generation Irish in London and the ravages of alcoholism, and gave an insight into the creativity and intelligence of a most enigmatic man. Satisfying as it was, though, there was a sense it wasn’t telling the full story.


Reckless driving I'd like that half hour  of my life back, please . . .

Well, what did I expect from Driving Me Crazy, TV3’s new teatime reality show? Top Gearfor girls? Thelma & Louise? I know what I got: a half hour of TV so lacking in entertainment value that it made me want to drive out to TV3 and demand that 30 minutes of my life back. Repeatedly poking a gear stick into my good eye would have been more pleasurable.

Here’s the pitch. Two Irish celebs (God help us) are teamed up for a road trip. They swop hilarious banter, have mad adventures and the air is filled with biting repartee with just a frisson of underlying tension. Or not.

In the first episode (is there really going to be more?) the veteran journalist Nell McCafferty, with her relentlessly charmless TV persona, is teamed up with Lisa Murphy, a most personable super-glamorous woman, but, well, who is she? They must find their way from Dublin to Galway. The camera is on the dashboard to catch their shockingly boring conversation. “Take a left here,” or, “Are we near Kinnegad?” was the height of it.

You’d overhear more entertaining chat on the number 11 bus.

tvreview@irishtimes.com