STANDING ON GUARD

for peace … for freedom … for Canada

Single-Handed, Set 2

Release Year:      2011
Studio:      Acorn Media
Format:      Box Set; Colour; NTSC; Widescreen
Rated:      Not Rated; Contains strong language
# of Discs/Episodes:      3/3
Running Time:      364 minutes
DVD Release Date:      March 27, 2012

Creators:      Rob Pursey, Barry Simner
Actors:      Owen McDonnell, Ruth McCabe, David Herlihy
DVD Features:      SDH subtitles
E:Top Picks Rating:      7.5/10

Acorn Media Write-up:

SINGLE-HANDED, SET 2 features three new feature-length mysteries from the critically acclaimed crime series. Filmed against the spectacular and foreboding backdrop of Connemara, Ireland, SET 2 stars Owen McDonnell (“Wild Decembers”) as Jack Driscoll, the lone Garda sergeant whose personal life is inextricably bound with his professional duties in his insular community. Nominated for best drama series at the Irish Film & Television Awards and a silver medal at the New York Festivals Television & Film Awards, SINGLE-HANDED debuted on ITV in the UK in 2009 and has aired for four series. SET 2`s episodes are available to North American audiences for the first time. The DVD 3-disc set features the complete series four, which aired in the UK in July 2011.

His position as local Garda sergeant puts Jack Driscoll at the heart of his community—and often at odds with it. Relationships are everything in his small Irish town, where Jack’s professional life is inextricably bound with his private life and those of his neighbors. When two new arrivals come from England (Matthew McNulty, “Lark Rise to Candleford” and Simone Lahbib, “Wire in the Blood”), eager to discover family history in the area, Jack learns that the solutions to current crimes frequently lie in the distant past.

Jack investigates the seemingly pointless killing of an elderly recluse, a murder dressed up as arson, and a local schoolgirl’s involvement with a Dublin pimp.

Jon Ted Wynne Review: 
Late in the final episode of this gripping Irish police series, a character describes Connemara, the area of Ireland where the series is set, as “bleak but beautiful”. That pretty much sums up SINGLE-HANDED. Each episode contains a number of “beauty shots” which features the incredible natural beauty of the landscape. This attention to topographical detail suggests that the canvas upon which each episode is painted is virtually a character in the drama. That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean the viewer must come to the series with a mindset that mirrors the slower-paced, expansive yet claustrophobic world which the flesh and blood characters inhabit.

And what is this world? It’s a place where the pace of life is slower and few of the people who are featured are likable, especially the principal player, flawed and haunted local Garda (Police) sergeant Jack Driscoll. But there is also a mystical quality that hooks the viewer and draws them in, even while frustrating them with the slow-as-molasses pace of the show. Perhaps it’s a valid representation of the mass of contradictions that makes up every human being. This runs the risk, however, of gradually wearing down the patience of the viewer.

SINGLE-HANDED is top-notch drama on its own terms. Arguably unnecessarily vulgar in places (a fair smattering of meaningless swear words), the writing is crisp and allows for a great deal of brooding. And while the show avoids many Irish stereotypes, it runs the risk of promoting the inhabitants of Connemara as an unattractive bunch who could do serious damage to Irish tourism.

I wouldn’t want to meet any of these characters, especially Jack Driscoll, who seems totally devoid of a sense of humour. While shown to be a person of deep principles, he is also deeply flawed, becoming involved in relationships that invariably prove to be personally and professionally disastrous. If Jack is supposed to be the embodiment of old-fashioned values, then how about some restraint in the jumping-into-bed-with-the-next-attractive-woman-who-comes-along-department? Especially in light of his frequent protestations “let’s take it slow,” which apparently means let’s not have sex until we’ve had something to eat.

No one expects heroes to be flawless in this day and age, but I firmly believe audiences crave a protagonist they can admire; someone who is, in some way, better than them–more principled, stronger, braver–without being annoyingly perfect. After all, the appeal of a traditional hero is that, just for a moment, we can imagine being in their shoes and doing more than we think we`re capable of. In classic tradition, the hero endures injustice or bad luck or whatever adversity they are dealing with, just long enough until we can’t stand it anymore and are desperate for them to take action. This is what justifies extreme behaviour (usually violence) and provides relief (or catharsis) from unresolved tension.

While this reasoning does not fully apply to SINGLE-HANDED, the overall principle still applies: without sufficient resolution an audience feels cheated. SINGLE-HANDED works very well on many levels, but it comes dangerously close to robbing the audience of this precious feature of good drama. You’ve got to care about the central character. At the end of the last episode I wasn’t sure where Jack Driscoll was going or what he had learned. Or maybe I just didn’t care. I’m not sure which is worse.

Others may not judge the show so harshly. I certainly don’t want to diminish the high standard of production or the impeccable performances that pepper the series. And there was certainly a glimmer of hope at the end, though it was tentative, like a single ray of sunlight peeking through a stubborn Irish cloud rather than a full-blown clear sky. It’s just that after all that has been endured, the audience deserves more than “the potato crop might not be ruined after all” kind of tempered optimism.

All in all, SINGLE-HANDED is a very good show. But I was glad when it was over. Sort of like a long trip through the winding Irish countryside. “Let’s get to the pub before it rains.” And hopefully it won’t be in Connemara.

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