Last Friday night one of my favourite TV comedy series sadly came to an end. Parks and Recreation (RTÉ 2) had finally bowed out after seven seasons. I always found it funny, skilfully combining both wacky and subtle elements.
The format was reminiscent of the American version of The Office and in fact the two shows shared some of the creative talent, but this one had Amy Poehler as producer and star – she played Leslie Knope, a blithely idealistic and enthusiastic government official passionate about the value of public parks.
Nick Offerman is her perfect foil as Ron Swanson, another public servant who hates government interfering in anything. He’s an unapologetic carnivore (“My food eats your food” he says to a vegetarian) with a heart of tough gold (and an actual stash of gold). In fact one of the charms of the show is that the characters are consistently likeable, and the ensemble playing is excellent.
Much of the time it’s sweet and wholesome but there are some crude elements at times that make it more suitable for adult viewing.
There’s some delicious political satire and some high profile politicians have played themselves, e.g. John McCain made a brief appearance in a recent episode, and in last week’s final episode we got a turn from Joe Biden. The perspective is unashamedly liberal – conservatives are among those satirised but the media gets an even bigger whack of the stick, what with a dim but sunny newsreader and an incredibly vain and superficial reporter.
Over the last few weeks the show has been overly self-indulgent, with glimpses of how the characters fare in the future (including a same-sex marriage conducted by a priest!). The very last episode continued in this vein and while it was fun and emotional for regular viewers I’d say more recent fans would have been underwhelmed.
Also ending, last Monday night was the drama series Little Boy Blue (TV3). Now this was hugely challenging – telling the true story of a young boy shot in a botched gangland killing in Liverpool.
It was quite harrowing, the language was frequently foul, but it was thoroughly believable and puts many fictional dramas in the shade.
The devastation of the parents was tough to watch – Sinead Keenan and Brían F. O’Byrne gave superb performances that would draw tears from a stone.
Two scenes were particularly emotional – the funeral scene in Liverpool Cathedral, and the last episode’s scene where the verdicts were finally delivered on those accused. Stephen Graham was impressive as the lead detective – he was part tough guy and part softie as he threw himself passionately into the investigation, becoming lifelong friends with the parents.
Bullying was a prominent part of the plot as gang families intimidated witnesses – but for some of the latter their stands of conscience were impressive. In the final wind up we learned what happened afterwards to these real characters, but unusually there was no word on what happened to Jordan, a youngster with emotional problems, the only defendant who was remorseful, and whose mother plucked up enough courage to testify despite veiled threats.
Even more disturbing was Isis: The Origins of Violence (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week). Journalist and historian Tom Holland took a personal look at the origins of ISIS and its horrific violence. There was much talk of historical “killing in the name of God”, both by Christians and Muslims, but he did remind us that Islamic armies twice got as far as Vienna, and did capture the Christian centre that was Constantinople.
Holland visited and was quite respectful at a the Monastery of St Matthew in Iraq where he interviewed a Fr Josef, one of the few courageous monks left in this place that was once the heartland of Christianity.
He also became quite upset when visiting a nearby town that had been destroyed by ISIS, complete with massacres of men and kidnapping of women and children. While showing how ISIS justified such atrocities by reference to Islamic texts and practices, he also suggested that the majority of Muslims would be horrified.
In fact he maintained that the acceptance of Western values of democracy, human rights and tolerance by “millions of Muslims” was anathema to ISIS who felt the need to scour away, in their horrifyingly violent manner, what they saw as a corruption of Islam. Scary stuff.
Pick of the Week
Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve
BBC 2, Tues, May 30, 4:15pm
For centuries pilgrimage was one of the greatest adventures on Earth, involving epic journeys across the country and around the world.
Unlocking the Cage: Storyville
BBC 4, Wed, May 31, 11pm
Animal rights lawyer Steven and his legal team seek to transform an animal from a thing with no rights to a person with legal protections.
RTĖ One, Thurs, June 1, 10:15pm
The inside story of Trump adviser Stephen Bannon’s war with radical Islam, Washington and White House rivals