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Bodkin review – a funny Irish thriller for Only Murders in the Building fans
Culture TV and Radio

Bodkin review – a funny Irish thriller for Only Murders in the Building fans

I have rarely been as ungripped by an opening episode as I was by that of Bodkin. However, my sense of professional duty required me to stick with it, and by the third I was having a splendid time. Which was a lovely surprise, but is a risky game to play and not one I suspect the makers of this seven-part comedy drama (backed, incidentally but disconcertingly, by the Obamas’ production company) were going for.

But I am here to tell you that if you can make it through what you may find an uninspiring hour, you too may be pleasantly surprised by what you find on the other side of the hill. Which is a few hours spent in the company of a darkly comic thriller shot through with whimsy; a show that clearly hopes to capture the vibe and success of Only Murders in the Building and occasionally succeeds. That it doesn’t ever quite catch fire in the same way as that highly idiosyncratic show is unfortunate, if predictable, but not fatal to enjoyment.

Will Forte (SNL regular, creator and star of The Last Man on Earth and, most importantly to some of us, Jenna’s boyfriend – when not on sexual walkabout – Paul L’astnamé in 30 Rock) plays podcaster Gilbert Power. Having had one hit by documenting his wife’s cancer, he is now looking to move into the true-crime genre – and explore his Irish roots – by heading to the small town of Bodkin, in west Cork, where three people went missing from the annual Samhain (think of it as Gaelic Halloween) festival 20 years ago. He takes his earnest young researcher, Emmy Scissor (Robyn Cara) – a name as painfully effortful as that of the fictional town Bodkin itself – with him. They are reluctantly joined by investigative reporter Dove (Siobhán Cullen), whose editor is demanding that she takes some time off and keeps her head down after the whistleblower who was her central source for a story about an NHS scandal is found dead, apparently by his own hand. Dove is clearly mardy at the best of times, and this is not the best of times but Emmy worships her as a journalistic role model regardless of how many times Dove tells her to fuck off. (This makes me feel the great lack of people worshipping me as a journalistic role model despite telling almost everyone I meet to fuck off, but I shall think about that later.)

The locals are, at first, much as you would expect. There is a garrulous pair of old codgers, Barry and Cathal (John Olohan and Brendan Conroy), a happy-go-lucky lad Sean (Chris Walley) as their hopeless taxi driver, a formidable landlady at their B&B, Mrs O’Shea (Pom Boyd, recently seen as alcoholic clan mother Bernie in funny, clever The Dry), a shady fisher with a history of smuggling, Seamus Gallagher (David Wilmot), friendly farmer Darragh (Pat Shortt), bruiser Frank (David Pearse – also currently Brother Edwig in Shardlake, who is also a bit of a bruiser so you shouldn’t get too confused), sensitive blacksmith and angelic singer Teddy (Ger Kelly), blustery old-school garda Sgt Power (Denis Conway) and local bullied boy made good and come back (to start up the Samhain festival again) Fintan (Charlie Kelly) – also known as Shitpants after a school incident because “we’re a very literal people”. And nuns, of course. Some drinking Guinness in the bar, some running a desanctified nunnery as a wellness retreat for the cash.

Gradually, the plot unfurls, the characters’ backstories and current stories are revealed, connections between them emerge and it becomes clear that at least half the time the quaint Irishness that enchants Gilbert is an act designed to deflect his questions and derail his inquiries into the missing trio. Dove remains clearer-eyed and it is thanks to her – and the occasional borderline criminal acts of Emmy – that they uncover several interlinked mysteries that need solving and that may give Gilbert the hit show he desperately needs.

It all works, in the end. By the third episode, Bodkin has found its groove and settled into it. There is enough credibility to the mystery, enough jokes to keep it from becoming a straight thriller (including small touches like a singalong starting to Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow at a wake) and enough oddity to keep things interesting without unbalancing the whole. It gains in pace, charm (and in dead bodies) and that first hour turns out to be an investment worth making.

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Source: theguardian.com