Moone Shine

Ireland’s television network became the latest in Europe to make the switch from analogue to digital yesterday. I much prefer the higher quality of picture and the greater choice of channels that digital TV offers, though there are also certain things about watching the telly before the arrival of digital that I’ll miss. The first TV set that arrived in my family home, a black and white Ferguson 21-inch, didn’t get a lot of use for the first few years. You see, we only had the one channel until a second one appeared in 1978. RTE had been going since 1961 and programmes didn’t start until about five in the afternoon and finished well before midnight. I remember watching lots of cartoons, cop shows and sitcoms around that time and all in black and white. We got our first colour telly around 1985 and a VCR a few years later. I didn’t get access to the BBC and Channel 4 until I moved into Limerick city about twenty years ago

Nevertheless, I got to see all the classic BBC comedies on Irish television. RTE’s small budget meant that they screened a lot of British and American shows. In the case of comedy, this was a good thing because RTE have yet to produce a situation comedy that’s actually funny. In the past, I sat through the likes of Leave It to Mrs O’Brien and Upwardly Mobile and wondered why a nation with so many funny people couldn’t come up with some funny characters and make them say funny things and put them in funny situations. Recent years have seen commercial and critical success heaped on the likes of Killinascully and Mrs Brown’s Boys. Why? I’ve seen one episode of the former and didn’t laugh once and I’ve yet to be drunk enough to watch the latter. Of course, there is one Irish sitcom that’s as funny as its British counterparts. That comedy is Father Ted and its three seasons following a trio of priests and their housekeeper on a small island is right up there with the best that the British television channels ever produced. Perhaps that’s because it was produced by Britain’s Channel 4

Fortunately, it seems that Father Ted finally has a rival for Best Irish Sitcom Ever and it’s come from an unlikely source. No, it’s not RTE, but the British satellite broadcaster, Sky. The show is called Moone Boy and is set over twenty years ago in the small Irish town of Boyle in Co Roscommon. That’s where the show’s co-writer and leading actor grew up and Chris O’Dowd (pictured above with banjo) has based the series on his younger years in the village. It’s basically Roddy Doyle‘s Barrytown Trilogy meets US sitcom The Wonder Years. The Moone family is silmilar to many of the best fictional working-class families that have graced our screens since the end of the eighties (the Simpsons, the Conners and the family in Malcolm in the Middle). The stories are not so novel and focus on familiar coming-of-age concerns as well as the influence of religion, politics and the television in an Irish context. Nevertheless, each episode is well-written with witty dialogue and the era is captured nicely by using the fashion of the times as well as particular music and scenes from TV shows of the time

The casting also hits all the right notes. Everybody keeps it natural and understated, particularly Chris O’Dowd, who’s probably just playing himself anyway. Peter McDonald and Deirdre O’Kane are quite convincing as the parents of three teenage girls and an 11-year-old boy named Martin. Martin is in his final year of primary school and reveals his innermost thoughts to Seán Murphy (O’Dowd). You see, Seán is Martin’s imaginary friend and the witty repartee between these two is one of the show’s highlights. Newcomer David Rawle (pictured above beside Chris) was chosen from hundreds of youngsters to play Martin and he is quite impressive in his first role. O’Dowd revealed that he was impressed by how quickly David understood the script and didn’t need to have any of the jokes explained to him. Like Father Ted, everybody involved in the production of Moone Boy is Irish except for the TV company that has commissioned it. It’s surely a good thing that RTE didn’t get their hands on the show. They would surely have removed most of the wit, written out the imaginery friend, and replaced the excellent cast with their regular troupe of usual suspects

As I mentioned, the show’s use of Irish and British hits from around 1990 is quite instrumental in situating the action in its particular time and place. Where’s Me Jumper by The Sultans of Ping makes for the perfect opening theme and Irish chart successes by contemporary bands like The Stunning and The Saw Doctors are joined by singles from British acts like The Stone Roses. It seems that Sky will produce a second season of Moone Boy in 2013, so here are five Irish songs from the early nineties that I’d like to see feature in the next series. The Would Be’s were a short-lived group from Cavan who only released three EPs between 1990 and 1991. They also did a session for John Peel, who picked I’m Hardly Ever Wrong as one of his 12 favourites songs of 1990. The Forget-Me-Nots from Dublin also had a short career. They actually got around to releasing an album called Hullabaloo in 1992. I own a 7″ single of So Good and a CD single of Trouble from the album. It was hard to choose between the two tracks, but I’ve decided to go for the latter

Fellow Dubliners Someting Happens were one of the most popular Irish bands of the time and Parachute from 1990’s Stuck Together With God’s Glue was a big hit in Ireland that year and remains one of the best singles released by an Irish band. Celebrate from An Emotional Fish‘s self-titled debut is another and its concluding refrain of “Celebrate, this party’s over, I’m going home” made it a popular choice to conclude Irish celebrations. All of these bands have briefly gotten back together since disbanding, but The Saw Doctors have continued to record and perform over the last twenty years. Hay Wrap from 1991 was the band’s second number one in Ireland and they wouldn’t have their third for another 17 years. It’s a rural rap by guitarist and occasional vocalist Leo Moran and chronicles the purchase of new farm machinery, the perils of eating al fresco and his football team’s propects against their local rivals. Tico’s Tune by Manuel & the Music of the Mountains isn’t Irish, but it would be familiar to anyone who listened to Irish radio throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. It was used as the theme to Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne’s morning weekday radio show on RTE radio. It is used throughout all six episodes of Moone Boy and helps to capture the period for Irish viewers more than anything else in the show. Here’s to its return in season two

I’m Hardly Ever Wrong – The Would Be’s

Trouble – Forget-Me-Nots

Parachute – Something Happens

Celebrate – An Emotional Fish

Hay Wrap – The Saw Doctors

Tico’s Tune – Manuel & the Music of the Mountains