We Are Family?

We hear a lot about the last 20 years being a Golden Age for television and with some justification.

But right now it really feels like a Golden Age for Irish TV comedy and drama.

After years of developing directing, writing, acting and film production talent, stories set in Dublin and Cork are really making their mark.

Sharon Horgan’s Apple TV+ black comedy ‘Bad Sisters‘ was last year’s most exhilarating new show.

RTE and AMC’s crime drama ‘Kin‘ with Clare Dunne, Charlie Cox and Aidan Gillen has returned for a second series after a superb debut in 2021 which really raised the bar for Irish television storytelling.

Peter Foott’s BBC3 and RTE sitcom ‘The Young Offenders‘ is currently filming a fourth series around Cork.

BBC Four has imported imperfect but fairly decent RTE shows like ‘Hidden Assets‘ and ‘North Sea Connection‘ .

And with ‘Derry Girls,’ ‘Three Families‘ and ‘Blue Lights‘ making waves for the industry north of the border, indigenous talent in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland is really getting a chance to shine – even if everything produced isn’t gold.

Had ‘Bad Sisters’ not come on the scene last year, more people might have been talking about ‘The Dry’.

The show’s been available on Britbox since last May but now the streaming service’s co-production with ITV and RTE has gradually made its way onto those channels’ terrestrial television and streaming platforms, RTE1 and ITVx.

Conceived by playwright Nancy Harris, it’s a caustic tale of a recovering alcoholic navigating a very messy family life in Dublin.

It’s also wickedly funny.

Roisin Gallagher plays Shiv Sheridan, a thirtysomething woman who returns to her family home from London supposedly for her granny’s funeral but who actually stays for much, much longer.

Shiv is hardly welcomed, though, back to the family home with open arms.

Her heavy drinking in the past has burned a lot of bridges.

But living with her dysfunctional family is hardly conducive to an easy recovery.

Shiv’s parents, Pom Boyd’s Bernie and Ciaran Hinds’ Tom Sheridan have a rather unorthodox marriage.

Ant, her gay brother, played by Adam Richardson, lives in an outhouse in the back garden where he smuggles in lovers and smokes pot.

Caroline, her uptight sister played by Siobhan Cullen, is a doctor involved with Eoin Duffy’s seemingly straightlaced, fitness obsessed schoolteacher Rory.

However she also has the hots for  Stephen Hogan’s senior consultant Dan.

Returning to Dublin means Shiv also having to handle the big love of her life, Moe Dunford’s hat wearing, bohemian man about town, Jack while remaining sober.

To help her stay off the drink, Shiv finds a no nonsense sponsor at an inner city branch of Alcoholic Anonymous, Janet Moran’s Karen who’s always on her case.

But she’s also acutely conscious of the class difference between them.

Over the course of the series, Shiv finds work in an art gallery.

She has to delicately handle Jack’s romantic advances, discovers big secrets about her dad and granny, has to chronicle for Karen all the dreadful things she’s done in her life and address the consequences of the death of another sibling.

Can she navigate all of this successfully without falling off the wagon?

Harris and director Paddy Breatnach deliver a sharp, pacy and often bawdy family comedy with a rich gallery of characters.

Anchored by Roisin Gallagher’s wonderful performance as Shiv, it is nevertheless an ensemble piece that revels in the many flaws of its characters.

And so we have Tom’s amorous exploration of the world of alternative Chinese therapy.

There’s Bernie’s amateur sleuth fixation with the disappearance of a neighbour’s wife.

Meanwhile Ant juggles a messy love life with a promising job in an estate agency run by a rugby jock until both worlds inevitably collide.

Caroline sneers at Shiv’s messy love life while risking driving her own relationship over a cliff.

Jack also takes a devil may care approach to his relationship with Shiv, eventually revealing some uncomfortable truths.

Throughout it all, Harris and Breatnach superbly land comic set up after comic set up.

Gallagher turns in what should be a star making performance in as Shiv.

It’s a sparkling performance as a character who feels like she has strayed out of a Sharon Horgan sitcom.

Hinds and Boyd are terrific as parents who are far from role models.

Richardson and Cullen are excellent as Shiv’s hypocritical siblings.

Dunford is spot on as the vain, swaggering Jack, while Moran impresses as Shiv’s AA Jiminy Cricket.

Duffy, Hogan, Dagmar Doring as Shiv’s boss Kristen, Emmanuel Ojoye as Ant’s lover Max and Helene Patarot as the acupuncturist Mina also fare well.

Breatnach is a great choice as a director, stewarding the show with imagination and verve.

Like ‘Kin,’ Cathal Watters’ cinematography plays to Dublin’s strengths as a European capital.

But it is the solid foundation of Harris’ mischievous script that makes all this possible, as she delicately balances the comedy and drama.

And while ‘The Dry’ delights in the snarkiness of characters who really shouldn’t be throwing stones, it also knows how to deliver moments of real poignancy.

With writing as strong as this, it is heartening to know that a second series from Harris is already in the works.

Keep to this standard and Harris will undoubtedly have a comedy drama classic on her hands.

(Another, slightly different version of this review appeared on the They’ll Love It In Pomona film and television blog)

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