The Gone: Is RTÉ taking licence-fee payers for fools by passing this off as Irish drama?

Television: At what point does an ‘Irish’ thriller cease to be Irish? The Gone is really a New Zealand tale with a passing Irish involvement

With hindsight, the success of Love/Hate was one of the worst things to happen to RTÉ. The show’s popularity – more a result of its surface-level slickness than of the quality of its writing – has convinced the broadcaster that, when it comes to drama, crime is the only game in town.

Hence, a conveyor belt of so-so shoot ‘em ups featuring wall-to-wall Dublin accents (that it is possible to tell gritty urban stories outside of the capital is a possibility that remains lost on Montrose).

But if Dublin isn’t an option, what about New Zealand? The Gone (RTÉ One, Sunday, 9.30pm) is a co-production with TVNZ, though you wonder who’s fronting up the cash because it’s really a Kiwi tale with a passing Irish involvement. Much like the Rugby World Cup, you could say.

In fact, it’s been streaming in New Zealand since May, where it has been received as a solid slice of Kiwi noir. There’s nothing wrong with Kiwi noir. Does it, however, deserve prime Sunday night billing on RTÉ?


The other big issue is the somnambulant pacing. The Gone is a missing persons drama, in which a grizzled garda detective (Richard Flood) goes to New Zealand to track down an Irish couple gone mysteriously AWOL. But nobody seems in too much of a hurry to work out why they’ve disappeared – and if it might be connected to the fact that the missing woman’s mother (Game of Thrones’s Michelle Fairley) is a Special Criminal Court judge who put away a big Irish crime lord several years previously.

It’s a potentially engaging premise – but one in which The Gone doesn’t seem too interested. After opening with a cliched depiction of Dublin as dank, boozy and violent – one scene starts in a pub and ends with a scuffle in the gloom – it’s off to New Zealand’s North Island and the fictional town of Mount Affinity. There, Flood’s detective Theo Richter – The Gone wins the prize for least authentic garda name of all time – teams up with local cop Diana Huia (Acushla-Tara Kupe).

She’s Maori, and much of the tension in the first episode springs from her relationship with her community. This is undoubtedly an important subject – but the nuances around interactions between the New Zealand state and its Maori citizens will be lost on most Irish viewers. Put it this way: can you imagine TVNZ signing off on a drama in which an Auckland cop flies to Tullamore and gets entangled in community tensions? Or might they laugh you out of the room?

None of which is a slight on Flood, who comes to The Gone after three years playing a charming Irish doctor on Grey’s Anatomy. He does his best with Theo Richter. Alas, the character, forever lurching between tortured and smug, feels about as authentic as his moniker.

Drama is horrifically expensive and it is understandable that RTÉ should partner up with an international collaborator. But at what point does an “Irish” thriller cease to be Irish? The Gone is a serviceable New Zealand whodunnit and is to be commended for its respectful depiction of Maori culture. However, to pass it off as Irish drama is to risk taking licence-fee payers for fools.