Since I first reviewed the 2010 TV3 Television Network Ireland Set JACK TAYLOR, starring the ubiquitous — albeit wonderful — Iain Glen, I pondered how soon (if, at all) there would be a follow-up. You see, I think this dark, neo-noirish, snarky show ranks among the best across-the-pond television productions I’ve ever seen (and just think about that!). It’s totally uncompromising, a vivid, sardonic depiction of a sinister twilight world (richly envisioned by the cool/cruel goth-gorgeous Galway location photography) where anything goes. And I’m not kidding! Fortunately, SETS 2 and 3 followed, and are now available in separate DVD sets from the wonderful folks at Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment.
In the first series, we learned that the scruffy Gaelic investigator was an extremely well-read man of letters (though short-fused, with a decidedly violent streak) who (win/win) had a classic DVD collection. Oh, yeah, he also was a disgraced member of the Irish Gardas, an alcoholic, and a too-trusting pal tight with a vast populace of the underbelly of Irish criminal society. To put it kindly, his personal choices are disastrous, although he does harbor affection for the beauteous detective Kate Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone), who dangerously puts her career on the line to associate with his undesirable self.
We also gleaned that he took a “he reminds me of me” fancy to Cody Farraher (Killian Scott) an ambitious would-be Taylor; reluctantly, he acquiesces to the lad’s request that they partner up in a two-man private shamus agency.
Hunting down serial killers, often molded in the groove of modern Jack the Rippers (who, sadly, frequently turn out to be your best mates) is a trying job. Add fighting with your dying mum (Aine Ni Mhuiri), herself a formerly abused Catholic school girl. And/or the hypocritical local priests, so corrupt they’re funny. Who can blame you for drunkenly sleeping it off in a rain-drenched cobblestone gutter, warmed only by the “eewww” companionship of your own vomit? It’s an evil world, in an amusing, sanguine sort of way. Long story short, how can one NOT love this show?
The three feature-length pics that make up 2013’s SET 2 are all corkers, perhaps some of the best exploits Jack Taylor has even nearly died for.
In my favorite of the trio, Dramatist, female theater majors are being found murdered and mutilated within the campus of a local university. The learned professor (the prophetically named Niall Buggy), another buddy of Jack’s, asks him to investigate and, hopefully, put a stop to these atrocities; it’s really having a negative effect on school registration.
Jack and new partner/underling Cody work the case, along with “keep it under your hat” assist from Taylor’s super-gorgeous Garda contact, Kate. The ruddy-faced ex-police detective has now been sober for six months (a feat that shouldn’t be considered permanent), and is still attempting to mend bridges with his stroke-paralyzed mother, like his sobriety; a virtual impossibility. Taylor’s aloof demeanor serves him well (“When I trust people, shit happens”), and his scholarly knowledge of John Milton aids in obtaining clues (not the least is a quote, “The sorrows died with me,” tattooed on a victim’s back) that lead to a genuinely horrifying conclusion, one that almost severs Kate’s ties with the former police detective…and everyone else. Taylor’s ultimate take, intoned over a haunting forest backdrop, says it quite eloquently: “Sorrows are not spread by beautiful women, but by…bastards like me.” Truth.
Priest, the second and most controversial of the three, opens rather alarmingly with long-absent priest Father Royce’s (John Kavanagh) return to Galway, where he is soon found beheaded in his church. Soon priests galore are getting hate mail, including Jack’s local cleric, Father Malachy (Paraic Breathnach), who is terrified that he’s next. No matter what Galway’s resident holy man might be hiding, it can’t compare to the slaughtered Royce, who seduced women, men and boys, and delighted in torture and procreating with parish members.
“The date of retribution has arrived,” warns a chilling note, prior to Taylor’s involvement in the case. Jack, snarkily amused, offers that “Asking [me] for help is like the Pope leading the Gay Pride parade.”
The hypocrisy of the denizens of the cloth (particularly in Taylor’s parish) leads to some marvelous verbal combat. Says Malachy to Jack “I was dreaming of your mum.” “I have those nightmares, too,” sighs Taylor.
The circumstance of Jack’s newly deceased mater coincides with his unsurprising return to the bottle. Nevertheless, the bleary-eyed sleuth rips all the scabs off the priest’s scandals (leading to a shocking climax), but not before telling us (in a brittle noirish narration), that “When it comes to leaving well enough alone, I’m an idiot.”
Feeling guilty for possibly causing Cody’s death (not helped by his doing the nasty with the lad’s mother) convinces Taylor to leave Galway for the hinterlands, engaging in “dirty dick” type cases.
The opening of Shot Down gives us a taste of what that ensues, a woodsy payoff for a sleazeball in the dead of night. The event goes without a hitch until a young, bloodied girl (Hazel Doupe), hysterical with fear, comes screaming out of the darkness. Her mother’s gruesome killing gives Jack his newest case, involving a battle between factions of local Irish gypsies. Adultery, kidnapping, drug dealing and other unsavory activities keep the action moving as Taylor tries to bring an end to the feuding clans’ rivalry (and key to solving the brutal opening homicide). As Jack’s involvement is shunned by the violent, ungrateful vagabonds, who inform the shamus that their affairs are none of his business, Taylor is quick to remind the transient caravan’s leader, “When someone points a shotgun at me, it BECOMES my business.” That seems to work; well, that and some typically inappropriate Taylor use of muscle.
As with Set 1, the behind-the-scenes work is superb, beginning with director Stuart Orme and the exceptionally fine scripts by Marteinn Thorisson and Marcus Fleming (from the acclaimed Taylor novels by Ken Bruen). The atmospheric photography by P.J. Dillon and Ciaran Tanham couldn’t be any better; nor could the original soundtracks by Stephen McKeon.
SET 3 begins with a plethora of changes, both in narrative and in casting. Jack, it seems is in for a much-needed round of good luck. His old landlady, Mrs. Bailey (Sighle Ni Chonail), has passed, and, not having (or trusting) anyone close in her family, has left Taylor a 170,000 EU inheritance. He immediately purchases a posh new pad; this positive swing is abetted by the news that Cody has recovered, but has thought better of continuing his professional liaison with Jack. He’s off to America to pursue his dreams (hoping to additionally get the images of his mentor and mom out of his tortured memory).
Jack is not without an assistant for long, however, as Kate’s brainy relation Darragh (Jack Monaghan; think an Irish version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is interested in working with the crime-solving diamond in the rough. Kate, we must note, has been Menudo-ed; the ravishing Nora-Jane Noone has been quietly replaced by Siobhan O’Kelly, (who’s okay, but, frankly, can’t compete with Noone’s amazing presence). The Garda, who so often has escaped death (usually when in the company of Jack) has a new foe: breast cancer, which Taylor promises to help her conquer, a pledge that includes threatening an insensitive surgeon (David Ramseyer). While this might suggest that a kinder, gentler Taylor/softer storylines is/are in the works, I can emphatically respond via the following: no feckin’ way!
The first case, Cross is ample proof. Within nanoseconds of the initial fade-in, we see a body crucified, with the uneasy premonition that more victims are to come.
Jack, Kate and Darragh soon find the strange Mitchell family, a brood of (mostly) sociopaths, whose angelic female offspring, Gail (a vivacious Elva Trill; truly one of the most beautiful actresses we’ve seen…well, since, Nora-Jane Noone). That Gail and Darragh become a romantic item is a match made in hell. Turns out, Gail is the worst of the lot (“She’s a friggin’ psychopath,” Taylor warns Darragh. “That doesn’t make her less interesting,” is his feeble, whipped reply. Uh-oh). Refusing to share info with the Gardas (“they pat your head as they kick your ass”), Jack chooses to work this deadly puzzle out himself. The results ain’t pretty.
Nemesis is one of the most startling episodes in the history of the show. Jack, dealing with Kate’s upcoming mastectomy, breaking in Darragh, irritated by a lowlife PI (Christopher Fulford), adds a layer of stressful unpleasantness to his current curriculum. This isn’t helped when the weary, wary detective is asked to help find an old adversary of his who has been kidnapped.
Videos of a youth hate group, led by a demented teen, Ronan (Diarmuid Noyes), obsessed with American violence (and, specifically, Columbine), encompass mutilation torture sessions, including an elderly man tossed off a pier. Jack’s attempted rescue of an apparent new victim (Roisin O’Neill) turns pitch black when one of Taylor’s fingers is cut off for his troubles. This connects the sleuth back to his frenemy, Ronan, whose eye Jack had to once relieve him of.
The last act is harrowing to say the least, but does end on a spectacular up note when Taylor, confronted by dodgy Father Malachy offering lofty platitudes along the lines of, “Well, Jack, your finger wouldn’t have been severed if it wasn’t in the Lord’s plan,” replies with a marvelous, “Don’t ya have an altar boy to grope?”
Purgatory is the final episode in the third set; ironic, as it’s Kate’s first assignment since her flirtation with death; it’s also the name of a new virtual reality game, whose data has been stolen. Jack is hired by the American billionaire couple (Sean Mahon, Laura Aikman) who own the gaming company, to recover the specs and find the thieves. Along the way, several 20-something tech geeks are heinously liquidated, providing an ideal opportunity for Darragh to go undercover as a replacement.
As Taylor gets closer to the sick minds behind the deaths, he uncovers some rather disturbing facts about the beauteous sugar ‘n’ spice Texas lunatic wife/partner in the thriving concern. With his trademark raised eyebrow, the rumpled PI muses out loud to the determined CEO, “Married a murderess, and made her head of Security.” Jack surmises that this cannot end well, and, indeed it doesn’t.
Once again, the productions are of the utmost quality, led by Stuart Orme and (okay, make your pun) Charlie McCarthy. The excellent photography this time around is by Billy Keady with all the SET 3 scripts being the praiseworthy handiwork of Marteinn Thorisson. Stephen McKeon continues his fine work as composer (with the mournful title track sung by Tara Lee). As with all Acorn discs, the platters look and sound terrific.
Like all previous TAYLOR shows, these new additions earn a justified high five (or, in Jack’s case, high four).
JACK TAYLOR, SETS 2 and 3. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 Dolby Stereo Surround. Acorn Media/RLJ Entertainment/TV3 Television Network Ireland. CAT #s: AMP-2181 (SET 2)/AMP-2411 (SET 3). SRP: $49.99@.