Normal People has come and gone, leaving us with nothing but fading memories and lingering PTSD after the global fashion industry's embrace of Paul Mescal's O'Neills shorts. Yet now come glad tidings for fans of heartache, misery and unlikely plot twists with Irish accents tossed in as garnish.
The really good news is that this vision is brought to our screens by John Carney. The Once film-maker has a far sweeter outlook than Normal People director Lenny Abrahamson.
Carney is executive producer and showrunner of Modern Love, Amazon Prime Video's wildly popular adaptation of the New York Times column and podcast of the same name, the second series of which is streaming from today. The pitch is binge-watch crossed with meet cute. Each bite-sized helping explores love in the 21st century in all its messy incarnations.
In addition to bringing us Normal People with regret and wrinkles, John Carney is staging a covert reunion of his series Bachelors Walk – and he's getting Jeff Bezos to pay for it
But season two contains a departure: two episodes set in Ireland and directed by Carney. On a Serpentine Road, with the Top Down stars Minnie Driver as a sort of middle-aged version of Daisy Edgar-Jones's character from Normal People.
She plays a posh Wicklow doctor called Stephanie, who is married to sensible Niall but whose real passion is her wheezy, ancient sports car. She whizzes around Enniskerry and over the Sally Gap, talking to herself and listening to Lir and Van Morrison.
Modern Love is, of course, made for Americans. But you can tell Carney is winking at us across the Atlantic. Niall is played by Don Wycherley. And when Stephanie feels she has no choice but to sell her ailing auto, the prospective buyer is portrayed by Simon Delaney. So, in addition to bringing us Normal People with regret and wrinkles, Carney is staging a covert reunion of his series Bachelors Walk – and he's getting Jeff Bezos to pay for it.
Strangers on a Train, meanwhile, is a tale of lockdown love that begins on the Galway-to-Dublin intercity train. Kit Harington and Lucy Boynton are star-crossed singletons who strike a connection just as the pandemic is shutting down the world. Harington pulls off a surprisingly convincing Dublin lilt. (Boynton is an old hat at the accent, having starred in Carney's Sing Street.)
The story later shifts to Dublin. Boynton’s hipster, Paula, of course lives in Stoneybatter; in Inchicore, Harington’s Michael is shacked up with his idiot brother, Declan (a hilarious Jack Reynor). There is also a cameo by Seána Kerslake, bringing us the most definitive on-screen garda since Brendan Gleeson.
Ireland lives up to its end of the bargain by brooding magnificently. Don Wycherley and Simon Delaney, for their parts, seem quietly astonished to be starring in a prestige streaming series
Both instalments showcase Carney’s strengths and weaknesses. He is an old-school romantic, which can be refreshing amid so much cynicism. Alas, he isn’t immune to schmaltz – or to using the soundtrack to tell viewers how they should feel.
Still, Ireland lives up to its end of the bargain by brooding magnificently. Wycherley and Delaney, for their parts, seem quietly astonished to be starring in a prestige streaming series. Good for them – and good, too, for viewers who enjoy ripe melodrama unfolding under the grey skies of the old sod.