The gardaí of Red Rock (TV3, Monday, 9pm), a brooding seaside town near Dublin, have had their fair share of mysteries, from murders and missing persons to corruption and drug crime. But their biggest cliff-hanger of all involves the fate of the series. Postponed abruptly last August, with 23 episodes nearly ready to go, it now returns after its rude interruption with little clarity over its future.
Although widely watched, variously awarded and latterly picked up for broadcast by Amazon Prime and the BBC, the show has never been a cash cow for TV3, which commissioned the series to fill a void left by Coronation Street and Emmerdale – both of which have since been reacquired.
Hopes for its long-term survival were dealt a blow when the Player Wills cigarette factory, where it is filmed, was sold for redevelopment, and soon reports began to circulate that even its props were being sold off. (That seems farfetched. Who in this country would have a use for fake breathalyser tests?)
Such ambiguity makes Red Rock's central mystery all the more poignant, because it's always been hard to say where the show belongs. It's almost too substantial, pacy and considered to count as a soap opera, too tortuous and hot tempered for straight drama, and far too witty for its own good. Expertly made and very well written, Red Rock doesn't have difficulty in containing those disparate energies, though, and that makes its latest episode, which we may as well consider a new series, a pleasure to watch.
Take the moment Johno (Paul Hickey), a garda sergeant, finds a small packet of cocaine on his outwardly respectable squeeze, Patricia Hennessy (Cathy Belton). "Someone must have put it in my bag," she shrugs, none too convincingly. "At a drugs awareness ball?" he deadpans.
There is a proper procedure for everything in Red Rock, and though nobody really follows it, the show respects you enough to admit it.
The discovery of a missing woman, a prostitute found dead in the woods, spins her tearaway teenage daughter Aoife (Lorna Meade) into immediate jeopardy. That Paudge Brennan (Patrick Ryan), a compromised cop and desperate landlord who has dabbled in arson, is the garda who tries to find her alternative shelter is one of the ironies of the show; he doesn't have a good track record with accommodation.
Still, the kid needs a place to stay, he needs redemption, and so when Paudge and Aoife shyly meet eyes after an unhelpful consultation with social services, the show dares you to call its bluff. No situation is so dire that it can’t find a flash of fun.
That may be the guiding logic to the series, whose characters – rarely wholly bad, never wholly good – are always caught up in moral dilemmas, and may go either way.
Superintendent Kevin Dunne (Conor Mullen), already compromised by the missing woman's death, is now becoming directly implicated; Patricia is making her own deal with the devil (Barry O'Connor's vulpine junior minister and cocaine pusher); Stephen Cromwell's abusive drug dealer Keith is being extorted; and Chris Newman's detective Rory Walsh is, quite literally, getting away with murder.
It would be a shame to wind such a series down. These waves of calamity and reversal could roll on forever.