Television: Bilingual rebellion in Irish teens’ big-time dreams

Review: ‘Eipic’, ‘Life Before the Rising’, ‘Bridget & Eamon’

They’re with the band: stars of ‘Eipic’,  Fionn Foley, Cian O’Baoill, Fionnuala Gygax, Roisin Ni Cheilleachair and Daire O’Muiri. Photograph: Bryan Brophy

They’re with the band: stars of ‘Eipic’, Fionn Foley, Cian O’Baoill, Fionnuala Gygax, Roisin Ni Cheilleachair and Daire O’Muiri. Photograph: Bryan Brophy

 

When the final appraisal of 1916-related TV programmes is done, Eipic (TG4, Thursday) will surely be the most lateral. In the drama, set in a fictional west of Ireland town where nothing much happens, five teenagers form a band in the hope of winning an online talent competition. If they win they will play at a music festival in faraway Dublin.

The quintet are a random bunch of teen types: the town’s bad lad, the posho, the giddy blonde, the slightly goth girl and the geek. It’s Ros na Rún meets Misfits. (Eipic is written by the Corkman Mike O’Leary, who was involved in the Channel 4 series.)

I suspect many a teacher who advised students to watch in order to prepare for the upcoming Leaving Cert Irish orals will have to now advise it’s best not to use much of Eipic’s dialogue, such as “tá se hillairballs, seriously hillairballs” or the one that translates as “I’m so bored around here I feel like huffing a bag of glue.” And there must not be an Irish word for “wank”, because in the first scene in Eipic that stays as is.

But what’s all this got to do with 1916, I hear you say – a thought that might have struck the commissioning editor at TG4 while searching for a 1916 drama when Eipic was first pitched. Well, it’s a bit of a stretch: in his dreams the band leader Sully (Fionn Foley) has trippy conversations with a man in military uniform in the woods – an idealistic Irish Volunteer from the past, perhaps? And Sully’s great plan is to take over the town’s long-closed post office (get it?) for a gig – a music revolution. The show features Irish-language versions of songs by FKA twigs, LCD Soundsystem and The Smiths.

I am so far outside the target demographic for this drama that it should be a trial to even watch – but it isn’t. Eipic has its own subversive humour, the direction is snappy, there is some top-quality acting, and it’s bursting with energy and craic. It also subtly raises serious issues such as youth unemployment and lack of hope, the death of the small rural town (those empty streets, that closed post office) and the cosmetic attempts by officialdom to pretend everything is all right.

“This town doesn’t need any more morale-boosting shrubbery,” says a local “sean-timer”. Béarlachas abounds in Eipic.

A more immediately recognisable 1916 offering is Life Before the Rising (RTÉ One, Monday) – and it is terrific. This is an accessible, engaging exploration of what life was like for the citizens of Dublin – the second city of the British Empire and a major tourist destination – in 1915. It ranges easily from what people ate to the changing demographics that saw Catholics rising in the professions and moving out to the new suburbs while some other people lived in shocking poverty and deprivation in the city.

Presented by Catriona Crowe of the National Archives of Ireland, and filmed in several Dublin locations, every scene conjures up images and delivers intriguing nuggets. Food scarcity caused by the first World War meant that the Shelbourne Hotel allowed guests to bring in their own food (usually game shot on their estates) for the hotel’s chef to cook.

And there was a servant shortage (young women were finding work elsewhere), so household appliances began to be advertised to take the work out of housework. There is a hilarious example of a new-fangled vacuum cleaner made from solid oak, which must have been like dragging a sideboard around.

Life Before the Rising is framed by a love story. Susan Fitzgerald, a Protestant, and Michael Gorman, a Catholic, met in 1912 and began a long courtship, despite the opposition of their families. It is told by their 88-year-old son, Michael Gorman, who discovered dozens of Rising-era letters written by his parents.

Many historians are interviewed. (It seems Diarmaid Ferriter isn’t the only telegenic one in the country, although he is interviewed too.) With so much material, as well as a presenter with such an accessible manner, this one-off documentary has the material for a six-part series.

You could sit around for ages laughing at the mad things your ma and da did in the rubbish 1980s. (Depending on your age, feel free to replace the decade, because all offspring are wired to think that way.) Jennifer Zamparelli and Bernard O’Shea have already donned the shiny tracksuit and oatmeal-coloured pants and wrung humour out of that decade through their creations Bridget and Eamon, in their sketches for RTÉ’s Republic of Telly. Now they’ve taken the same characters and turned their retro world into a six-episode series – a big stretch from a three-minute sketch.

Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy mines the same territory – growing up in rural Ireland in the 1980s – with a gentle nostalgia that translates into universal laughter, so it can be done. Bridget & Eamon (RTÉ2, Monday) is not so gentle in style: it’s a touch overwrought, a bit frantic, more like Leave It to Mrs O’Brien, an actual 1980s RTÉ, ahem, sitcom. It even has a camp priest, that stock character from ye olde TV land.

In episode one Bridget is hosting a Tupperware party, except that instead of plastic lunchboxes what arrives from England is a great big box of condoms. Seeing an opportunity to earn some cash, she sells the contraband and hides the money in several Trócaire boxes in the “good room”. Then, when the priest comes around to collect the Trócaire box, he . . . (actually I’ve lost the will to type the rest of this sentence).

But the characters are funny. Zamparelli plays it way over the top, O’Shea a little more low key, and there are gags, both visual and verbal, from wall to wallpapered wall. (The set and costumes are terrific, recognisable from the time that taste forgot.)

Maybe it’s a testament to its authenticity, but Bridget & Eamon could be an actual 1980s-made RTÉ series. There’s no knowing layer from the two main performers (who are also the writers), no distance that might give it an edge. And I wonder: who is it for? It’s on RTÉ2, a channel aimed at the under-35s, who will surely be slightly mystified instead of tickled by the carry-on.

Perhaps Bridget & Eamon should be on RTÉ One, for viewers who actually remember the 1980s. It could be a companion piece to that wildly successful documentary about Glenroe screened at Christmas.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

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