If there’s one thing the Kinsella family from Kin (Sunday, RTÉ One) love doing, it’s crimes. It’s their main thing, now that I think about it. Crime. Crime. Crime. It’s always crime with them. If they’re not actually in the process of criming, they’re talking about crimes of the past and crimes they want to do in the future. They’re like one of those GAA families or those parents who believe that their children are very talented. (Not you, obviously. Your kids are very talented.)
If my wife and I were invited around to the Kinsellas’ for a dinner party, I fear we’d have to steel ourselves for a lot of crime talk. We might end up pretending to be really into crimes ourselves. And then they might catch us out. “Is Silencey 3000 really the name of a silencer? Are you really a hit man?” they’d ask, and I’d look ashamed and admit that I haven’t killed even one measly person.
Or maybe, instead, I’d snap and go, “Look, Amanda, not everyone is as into crime as you. Could we talk about something else? Has anyone been to the cinema recently? Cate Blanchett is a triumph in Tár.” The Kinsellas would look sad and start muttering ominously to one another because they haven’t seen Tár. And my wife and I would have to send an apology card and a gift token and, maybe, promise to go on a heist with them.
If there’s another thing the Kinsellas love doing, it’s muttering ominously to each other. They are a very low-voiced clan. At first, I thought the premise of the show was that they all had laryngitis. I rubbed my hands in anticipation of plots revolving around secret shipments of Strepsils and gang members with tinnitus who keep mishearing their instructions and kill the wrong people. But they don’t have laryngitis. They are muttering ominously to reinforce the fact that they have ominous stuff worth muttering about.
Beyond crime and muttering, I initially felt there was a troubling lack of specificity to the Kinsellas. Their world seems weirdly frictionless and contextless. There is a haziness about the wider community out of which this crime empire has arisen. They all wear generically high-quality coats, drive generically high-quality cars and have generically high-quality decor in the generically high-quality cul-de-sac where they all live together, like Smurfs. They are upwardly mobile, aspirational early-risers with children in good schools, a disruptively tax-efficient wholesale business and a lot of debt.
In the Sopranos, the ur-gangland show, the various members of the family were painted with a lot of particularity. They talked about things that had nothing to do with the plot and they weren’t just obsessed with crime. They had hobbies. Bobby collected trains. Sal did impressions. Tony himself liked to watch documentaries on the History channel. He even owned a racehorse for a while, until it went on fire. Yes, in Kin, Jimmy (Emmett J Scanlan) collects snakes but that’s kind of crime-adjacent, in that he’ll probably eventually feed people to them. He might as well collect stripey jumpers and domino masks and bags with “Swag” written on them.
In that earlier wave of television, crime shows were never just crime shows – they usually had something idiosyncratic to say about the human condition or human society. A lot of newer “prestige” shows, however, seem to be significantly more thematically and psychologically straightforward. I guess people were getting tired of TV creators Trojan-horsing in bigger notions. A mob boss who is really an avatar for a very American crisis of masculinity? We’ll take the first half, thank you. A police procedural that’s really about the decay of the American city? Cut the last bit. A gangland drama that’s really about the trauma of laryngitis? Just wishful thinking, Patrick. In Kin, the gist is “Crime is exciting!” and, if there’s a subtext, it’s just “Crime is probably bad, actually.” It’s quite clearcut.
And I’m beginning to think that “Crime is exciting!” with a subtext of “Crime is probably bad, actually,” might be enough sometimes. I’m enjoying the new series of Kin a lot more than the last, partly because I’ve learned to accept the narrowness of the premise. It’s also partly because the new antagonist, the formerly prison-bound patriarch Bren (Francis Magee), is a sociopathic corrective to some of the unspecific technocratic crimebossing that bothered me initially.
Out of prison and taking the shouty-not-muttery Viking (the excellent Sam Keeley) under his wing, he injects a very specific hot-blooded terror into proceedings. He runs about corrupting youth, smashing people over the head with bottles and commissioning murders (using the Silencey 3000, no doubt). He’s generally someone who needs to have a meeting with HR. (I can fully believe the Kinsellas had a HR department in series one.)
This all happens as the Kinsellas’ de-facto chief executive, Amanda (Clare Dunne), is trying to balance her family traumas with her artisan crime business, which owes €90 million to the woman leader of a Turkish cartel. (They will eventually do a Ted Talk together #girlmobboss.) Look, it’s still a show with tight parameters but having actors as good as Dunne, Charlie Cox (an Englishman whose Irish accent is better than mine), Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aidan Gillen all responding to this chaos makes for entertaining television.
What I’m saying is, I’ve learned to stop worrying and just enjoy the violent crime.
When I heard that there was a new RTÉ show called Ireland’s Smartarse, I instantly applied. Then I realised it was a bare-bones quizshow called Ireland’s Smartest (Sunday, RTÉ One) and withdrew my application.
In this programme, Claire Byrne stands at a podium behind which strange symbols swirl and asks contestants intense questions like, “What word meaning ‘chaos’ originated in John Milton’s Paradise Lost as the name of the capital of hell?” or, “The River Boyne meets the sea at Meath and which other county?” It’s basically homework. They should have called it Homework. I fear it will give young nerds unrealistic expectations about the benefits of knowing stuff, given that we now have the internet and terrifying AIs that speak in the first-person singular and secretly want to wear our bodies like coats. Frankly, there’s no need to ever know stuff ever again. RTÉ must know about this technology. I mean, it clearly used ChatGPT to come up with this format. And it already looks like a quaint artefact from another age, much like a Hands documentary about a family of weavers or, perhaps, a whispery family who like to do crimes.