Review: Moone Boy
THIS PREVIEW OF THE FIRST EPISODE (courtesy of Sky Atlantic) WAS WRITTEN IN SEPTEMBER 2012 FOR THE VELVET ONION
Chris O’Dowd’s star is truly in the ascendant. A few years ago, the budding comic actor was best known as slovenly Roy Trenneman in The IT Crowd, and his other roles had either been in supporting roles (Simon Swafford in The Boat That Rocked, for example), or leading parts in minor cult pictures which barely made a splash at the box office (including an incredible performance in Festival).
He was one of those actors lots of people knew when they saw him, but was often just “that guy out of that thing”. When The IT Crowd was victim of an aborted reboot in the USA, it was his co-star Richard Ayoade who was retained, not O’Dowd.
Not any more. Following a leading role in popular costume drama The Crimson Petal And The White, he was soon the villain in Jack Black’s Gulliver’s Travels and then the love interest in smash-hit rom-rom Bridesmaids. Suddenly, America knew who he was, and wanted him to be in something – and so too, did the rest of the world. Chris is now a bona-fide movie actor – such a recognisable name that he’s even guested in Family Guy. Twice.
Yet it is at this point in his life that he’s opted to go for broke, and try writing his first ever piece of dramatic comedy. What started as a one-off episode of Baby Cow Productions and Sky’s festive anthology series Little Crackers, has developed into Moone Boy – a six part, half hour sitcom a world away from the restraints of the three-walled, traditional filming style of his most famous sitcom role.
From the off, it’s clear that Moone Boy has been a labour of love not just for O’Dowd, but for the rest of the cast and crew, including co-writer Nick Vincent Murphy and legendary director Declan Lowney, whose past credits include Father Ted, Help and Little Britain, and whom will be helming the forthcoming Alan Partridge movie – also for Baby Cow.
This is a beautiful looking series – all picturesque, postcard rural Ireland, filled with period details (the show is set in the early 90s – with the vintage soundtrack and stock footage of Dynasty on an age old tv to match) and interspersed with whimsical animated drawings in the sketch book of its protagonist, little Martin Paul Kenny Dalgleesh Moon.
Martin is played by newcommer David Rawle – a star in the making, no doubt – who manages to steal almost every scene he’s in with his quirky, nerdy charm and cheeky grin. Here, he plays essentially an exaggerated version of O’Dowd at that age – somewhat of a loner, bullied by the numbskull Bonner Brothers after a spot of confusion over a dead chaffinch and an aborted kiss of life attempt. His parents save up cereal vouchers to “buy” his birthday presents, and his three sisters barely acknowledge his existence.
And so, it falls to Sean Murphy to become Martin’s best friend. Murphy is always there for his buddy, with a friendly piece of advice, a wise-crack or two, and even a spot of banjo plucking at the most opportune moments. Except, he’s played by Chris O’Dowd, and he’s not real.
It’s tricky playing an imaginary friend in a new light – especially considering Rik Mayall almost wrote the rule book on that in the critically derided Drop Dead Fred – yet O’Dowd’s naturalistic approach is pitch perfect. Essentially, it feels as it Chris is playing a variation on his adult self, looking back at his childhood as if to say he could somehow have made things better – which of course, he never does. Charming and rude in equal measure, O’Dowd’s portrayal is never showy – letting the real star of the show, David Rawle, take the glory. As it should be.
The first episode focuses on Martin’s attempts to persuade ‘Dirty’ Declan, the bully of bully’s to offer him protection, in exchange for a feel of his sister’s boobs (any sister will do, apparently) – whilst in a sub-plot, his father, Liam (a wonderfully underplayed turn from Peter McDonald) discovers that other father’s in the area are also having difficulties bringing up their children and staying sane.
If it all feels like it could be a few chapters in an Adrian Mole style novel, then that’s perfectly alright – because this isn’t a show designed to rewrite the rule book, or provide challenging alternative comedy. Instead, O’Dowd, Murphy and Lowney have crafted an effortlessly likeable bunch of believable characters, and created what amounts to a retro reminder of the lives thirty-somethings today experienced twenty-odd years ago. And above all else, it’s incredibly funny. Job well done, methinks.