While Father Ted will forever be cherished in the hearts of every man, woman and child from Ireland, Irish television has produced numerous shows that have somehow been forgotten by most. Here is a list of 5 shows that have somehow gone under the radar of the modern Irish audience.
This criminally forgotten show from the start of the century probably remains the finest comedy ever produced by RTÉ. The programme follows Jeremy (Brendan Coyle) and Rats (Michael McElhatton, who also wrote the series), as they try to reintegrate back into society haven been released from Mountjoy Prison on the same day. Shot in the mockumentary style, one of the earliest uses of the format on television, with a fly-on-the-wall camera crew following the two characters, the show is a glorious send up of the stereotypical image of Dublin’s Northsiders (Rats) and Southsiders (Jeremy).
Jeremy, a distinguished gynaecologist from Blackrock convicted of dangerous driving, and Rats, a lovably idiotic knacker who has been in and out of prison throughout his life, both lead markedly different, yet hilariously tragic, lives. For Jeremy, his medical license is revoked following his conviction which leads him to pursue the release of his controversial book, Women: Inside Out. Rats, with all the charm and vulnerability of the endearing knacker who starts a conversation with you on the bus, writes poetry (“Daylight comes crashing to my room, like an angry bride whose lost her broom, me head it throbs, my mouth is dry, thank God I’m straight, not homo or bi”) and attempts to bring his brilliantly awful band, ‘Spermdotcom‘, into the mainstream.
While the two leads are pitch perfect in their portrayal of the archetypal North and South Dublin man, the shows strength is in its range of hilarious supporting characters. Be it Helen (Deirdre O’Kane), Jeremey’s snobby and pompous wife, who likes to display nonchalance and normality despite Jeremy’s increasing mental breakdown, or Tomo, Rat’s foolish best friend and bandmate, who when talking about going to Belfast replies “I’ve never been abroad Rats. Get a few cans and some Factor 8”. While fans were only given a paltry six episodes to feast on, in 2003 a feature film, Spin the Bottle, was released but the silver screen adaption failed to the heights of its predecessor. Despite the disappointment of the movie, Paths to Freedom remains a worthy competitor to Father Ted as one of Irelands greatest ever TV shows.
RTÉ’s award-winning Bachelors Walk proved that Ireland could make comedy-drama’s on par with anything being produced on the other side of the Irish Sea. First broadcast in October 2001, the show ran for three years and ended with a Christmas Special in 2003, it was perhaps the first Irish show that portrayed a modern, cosmopolitan Ireland and was as nuanced and sophisticated as anything else on television at the time. The programme revolved around Barry (Keith McErlean) who was always on the lookout for get-rich-quick schemes, Raymond (Don Wycherley) the film critic and Michael (Simon Delaney) the would-be barrister and the house they shared on Dublin’s Bachelor’s Walk.
Co-created by John Carney, director of the Academy Award Winning Once, the key success to Bachelors Walk is in the fact that it actually made Dublin seem cool. Ireland’s capitol looked bright and breezy, a city that looked like it was worth being proud of, something that not to many shows have managed to do. At its heart, Bachelors Walk was about three lads as they made their way through life in Celtic Tiger-era Dublin, but managed to instil charm, humour and a sense of real life to create a show that remains a cornerstone of Irish television.
While many may recognize David O’Doherty due to his various appearances on panel shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats or QI, few watched his gloriously quirky show The Modest Adventures of David O’Doherty when it was broadcast in 2007. While in the intervening years, O’Doherty has established himself as one of Ireland’s leading comedians, back then the Dubliner was a wonderfully strange new voice on the Irish comedy scene. The late-night, low budget documentary series followed O’Doherty as he attempt to achieve a modest goal which he set for himself. These ranged from such random achievements like his attempt to have “a minor hit”, preferably charting at number 27, resulting in the brilliant fake-tan mocking “Orange” to trying to make a short film about Ernest Shackleton’s reasons for trekking to the Antarctic which heavily featured penguins.
Irelands answer to Flight of the Conchords, with a bit of Irish imagination thrown in, TMAODOF saw RTÉ (surprisingly) produce an abstract show and for that credit is deserved. Much like O’Doherty’s stand-up routine, the show featured hysterical songs, dry observations and presents the affable O’Doherty as a lovably unusual person. Although some people may be baffled by episodes that feature him cycling from Dublin to Galway in one day to do a gig or concocting bizarre schemes to pay his rent, for many this has become cult television. While it may have been unfortunately stuck on the RTÉ schedule late at night, meaning most missed the chance to see it, for those looking for a show that has no other aim but to amuse you, let the wonderfully weird and hilarious David O’Doherty show you the modesty of Ireland’s funniest comedian.
Aired in 2007 during the intoxicating and delusional days of Celtic Tiger Ireland, this four part mini-series from Adam & Paul creators Lenny Abrahamson and Mark O’Halloran, was a sobering, downbeat affair focusing on characters for whom the surge of property bubble money floating around the country did not trickle down too. The title is more painfully ironic than an accurate description of the characters, as the disaffected characters wander around the grey streets of Dublin, isolated from the shifting culture and isolated from each other. Prosperity tells four powerful, moving and funny stories set on the same day, with each episode examining the life of a single character. Stacey, (17), a single mother, kills time walking the streets with her infant daughter, pinning her hopes on a hopeless relationship; Gavin, (14), bullied and bullying, takes out his aggression on his vulnerable best friend; Georgie, (42), is separated and struggling with a drink problem, as he tries to gain the respect of his young son; Pala, (31), an African immigrant, separated from her child, finds her hunger for human contact becoming increasingly desperate.
While each story stands alone, across the series, the subtle connections between these characters are eventually revealed to the audience. Prosperity aims to deliver to an Irish television audience the same spare and arresting style of the writer-director team’s previous collaborations, conveying an exceptionally caring and compelling portrayal of four characters on the margins of Irish society. This affecting drama wasn’t ignored by critics, winning two Irish Film and Television Awards out of six nominations. The show displayed ambition, something to often lacking in most Irish television shows. The show endured some criticism due to its slow pace but such was the nature of the characters. They weren’t living a fast-paced lifestyle, they were simple existing in a state of fluctuation where even the modest pillars on which they stood were collapsing beneath them.
Pure Mule takes a modern day look at the goings on in a small rural town in Ireland. It’s a midlands market town, unnamed, but utterly familiar. Each of the six episodes is a self-contained story focusing on the weekend of one particular character with themes covered included binge drunkenness and casual sexual intercourse. Although the focus moves from one character to another with each episode, they weave in and out of each other’s stories as the series progresses. In each story, disillusion and fear hover behind smug bravado as the characters desperately signal for attention. At times sexy, violent, comical and mournful, the series expresses the frailty and longing that is at the heart of each booze-fuelled weekend. This drama was rich in language, loss and the edgy exchanges that can turn a night out into one of magic or misery.
The show was able to capture Ireland at a certain time, perhaps best encapsulated in the character Scobie, a bricklayer who wondered if there’s life beyond breakfast rolls and boozy Saturday nights. Characters like Scobie are a permanent fixture in the pubs of rural Ireland; the big-mouthed gunslinger in a one-horse town that wakes up one day to find he is, at once, too old and too immature to do anything else with his life. Scobie provided a mournful snapshot of Ireland before the downturn: when an entire nation was suddenly swimming in cash and still weighed down with a melancholy it couldn’t quite articulate. Pure Mule deserves credit for not attempting to portray any life changing events or shoehorning drama into the script. Instead, it portrayed a realistic depiction of small town Ireland, letting real life situations provide entertaining and fascinating television.