Where have I been?
Well, I didn't fly, or take a grand steamer like the QE2.
But my head's been in Ireland, thanks to some of the best TV I've ever watched.
[Aside:] Thanks to the revolution of DVDs, TV series available on DVD, and rental services like Netflix and Blockbuster online, it's easier than ever to set your entertainment table well with a variety of stuff you'll really like - not shows that seem tepid, old, and recycled (most of American TV today). Explore to see what's out there: you'll be surprised how many series there are to enjoy.
Ballykissangel is a comic drama, or a dramatic comedy, much like All Creatures Great and Small - but Ballykissangel is set as a village in Ireland, actually named after Ballykissanne, a village the creator of the show visited as a child. It's possible you've seen bits of the show on PBS, in the late 90's - which is when it was originally on.
First, there's the obvious - this scenery is mouthwatering. Not stunning, or beautiful - mouthwatering. Towering peaks, the famous "40 shades of green," streams, hills and dales, cottages, low, dark pub interiors, stone bridges and winding roads - ah, take me to Ireland.
But it's not kitschy Ireland: no generic "St. Patrick's Day" Irish-ness with four leaf clovers and leprechauns.
There's also a fascinating depiction of clergy and the faith. Village life centers around the church and the pub, and Catholicism is not presented as a huge institution, but rather the local church and people that make it. It's rare to find a nuanced portrayal of a religious figure in television, but Ballykissangel manages to do it. In particular, a young Catholic priest is an anchoring character who attempts to live out his calling in the small, idiosyncratic village - and anyone, who has ever lived in a small town, can appreciate it. And I should mention that, despite the particularity of celibacy to the Catholic priesthood, the depiction of clergy life and responsibilities is remarkably apt.
While a couple of primary characters pin down the show, it has a rich, strong ensemble cast that manages to weather significant changes between seasons 1-3, and 4-6 (in Brit-speak, it's "series" 1-3, and 4-6 - don't let this confuse you).
The show moves smoothly between seemingly mundane, every day moments - rural farmers attempting to avoid tax assessors, the gossip who runs the local shop - and grave theological questions. It manages to avoid stereotyping; to avoid glib situations; and to avoid both oversimplification, and overly preachy dialogue. Creator, and writer for first three seasons, Kieran Prendiville, also has a gift for suspense; not of unworldly creatures and horror, but the kind of suspense we all encounter: relational. In fact, Prendiville manages to create situations that, as my brother referenced re: "The Office," are like "Jim and Pam on crack."
In fact, it's rather like spending time in a real village.
I have laughed harder than I have in a long time at this show, and last week, I actually, literally, cried at it.
While seasons 1-3 are the most...potent, seasons 4-6 are still very good; better than most shows on television any given night - especially the networks.
Ballykissangel reveals the small town, or Irish village, as successfully as Agatha Christie does through her wrinkled little crime-solver, Miss Marple. While the show isn't about murders, and solving them, it does present the rich existence - and trials - of life in a small town. In fact, I found myself doing exactly what Miss Marple always does. Throughout the quaint adventures of the characters, I repeatedly said, "Quigley reminds me so much of Mr. Furr," or, "doesn't Ambrose remind you of..."
The whole world can be seen in the English village, Christie asserted. No true highs or lows of human life exist outside of births and deaths, marriages and community; likely enough, sin and crime sprout in cottage flower beds as much as any sophisticated urban patio. Human foibles and frailty are universal.
No where is that clearer than in Ballykissangel.
If you decide to find Ballykissangel at your library, rental store, online rental service, or local bookstore, note a few things: 1, don't research it too much online - you'll find out more than you want to know, trust me; 2, note that Gaelic spellings and pronunciation vary - a lot; the name Niamh, for example, is pronounced "Neeve;" and 3, apparently actor Colin Farrell got his start in the last couple of seasons of this show - and let me just say, Hollywood likes pretty boys more than actual acting talent, because most the actors on the show are better than he is. He's not bad, it just highlights the irony of who makes it "big."