By Courtney Thomas
The Gleeson brothers’ Frank of Ireland is billed as a comedy, but the sitcom is more depressing than humorous.
Titular man-child Frank (Brian Gleeson) doesn’t have a job or a car, and although he considers himself a musician, he hasn’t written a song since breaking up with Aine (Sarah Greene), the ex he can’t quite quit, six years ago. Frank says he is living with his mother in order to take care of her, but when she needs a day of bedrest, he proves barely capable of keeping her alive, medicated, and fed. Worse still, he thinks the world owes him. Frank isn’t really hateable but his misadventures throughout the series are less endearing than cringe-inducing. It’s inexplicable why the people in his life haven’t tired of him.
Frank spends most of his time roping his devoted best friend Doofus (Domhnall Gleeson) into ill-planned schemes, disrupting Doofus’s life in the process. In one episode, for example, Doofus gets fired from his supermarket job after Frank makes him skip work to help him prepare to play music at a funeral, which he doesn’t rehearse for and completely botches, singing a drinking song instead of a hymn. Situations that sound mildly funny as descriptions, such as Frank and Doofus recreating Home Alone to prevent Frank’s childhood home from selling, don’t materialize as anything other than pathetic.
None of the characters are particularly well adjusted or competent, and they are not charismatic enough to make even the short six-episode season of roughly 25-minute long episodes worth checking out. Aine’s new boyfriend Peter Brian is a posh doctor who’s into Mixed Martial Arts a.k.a MMA (which Frank confuses with the party drug MDMA in a joke that is repeated to death). But, Peter Brian is also unfaithful, narcissistic and often embarrassingly drunk. Frank tries to break Peter Brian and Aine up, but ends up being seduced by his lifestyle and trying to become Peter Brian’s new best friend. Doofus pines after Nikola, an MMA coach, but she is not very interested in him. Nikola seems to have been written to counter Frank’s misogyny, but she has few lines, and in her scenes the punchline is more often than not her ability to carry or judo flip someone. Aine seems to be over Frank, but she keeps self-destructively coming back to him, and Mary, Frank’s mother, is a heavy drinker who can’t quite put her foot down to kick Frank out.
The show flows as if the writers assembled their motley group of characters and then decided they were all just going to be stuck. The series is literally cyclical, with the closing scenes matching the opening sequence frame for frame. Unfortunately, the characters’ emotional stuckness gives the series nowhere to go. The show’s format doesn’t allow it to really explore the psychological causes or effects of the characters’ codependence and immaturity.
The best episodes in the series are the ones that aren’t just an exploration of the characters’ relationships with each other. Episode 4, A Good Few Angry Women, is the best of these. With almost no exposition, we join the characters in rehearsal for an all female community theatre production based on 12 Angry Men. It’s a musical, and Doofus has written the score, but at the last minute, Frank feels his musical credentials are under threat, so he attempts to replace Doofus’s songs with his own. The problem is, Frank’s songs are mostly pulled from his ongoing project of writing songs based on each county in Ireland, and ones that aren’t, he’s accidentally based on A Few Good Men rather than the play at hand. In this episode, even the jokes in the B-plots actually kind of land. Nikola is the stunt coordinator but she keeps injuring the more elderly actresses, and Aine desperately wants a song, but everyone else knows she can’t sing. The performance predictably ends up as a mess, but the characters’ neuroses play off each other, building to something rather than stalling out like most of the episodes do.
In the finale, Frank’s absent father emerges, with his own codependent best friend in tow. His brand of delinquency is all too familiar, and Frank’s inability to get his life together seems even more hopeless when reflected through the mirror of the older man’s life.
Perhaps the show played better with an Irish audience, but I found it tedious and slightly sad. It’s possible my failure to be entertained by Frank of Ireland is a symptom of my frustration with the man-children I’ve known, and that future seasons will contain more assured writing, a guiding structure and a greater variety of jokes, but as far as the first season is concerned, the show falls flat. The central characters, if relatable in their prolonged adolescence, are not likeable. Their ineffectiveness and callousness towards each other gets old quickly. The sitcom format dictates that the interventions the characters stage for each other cannot have an effect, but as a viewer, I wish they could all grow up, even though it would mean the antics would come to an end.