Sometimes one series of a TV drama is enough, as quality can deteriorate, but I was delighted to see The A-Word back for a second series on BBC 1, Tuesday nights.
This is the story of an autistic boy, Joe, and the struggles of his parents and wider family to cope with the situation. It’s a tough subject, but the tight pace, the excellent ensemble playing of the cast and most of all the large dollop of humour save it from being too grim, too preachy or too sentimental. As well as being hugely entertaining it is moving as well, and I’d say there’s been quite a few viewer tears.
There are lessons about accepting children with special needs, and not only autism. In a subplot there’s a Downs Syndrome young man seeking employment and doing well at it.
The show exudes a warm humanity and a noteworthy appreciation of family as well – Joe’s grandfather provides much of the humour (a fine turn by Christopher Eccleston) and there’s all sorts of confusion in the extended family – Joe’s uncle has split from his wife but they pretend to be still married so as not to offend her parents, one of whom is a philandering clergyman!
But they’re splitting too, leaving the clergyman staying behind to mend his daughter’s marriage. It’s complicated.
The young actor playing Joe (Max Vento) is totally credible, while there are touching performances from Morven Christie as the mother and Lee Ingleby as the father, loving each other, loving Joe, but struggling to cope. Some of the language is quite frank and the sexual morals could do with some tweaking, but an adult audience with any bit of heart should enjoy it immensely.
Last week’s episode was particularly impressive, with a nice thawing between the clergyman and his daughter, a note of caution on the appropriate boundaries between married men and their female friends and a subtly emotional last scene as Joe gathered his family as if for a photo.
On the home drama front I’m rarely enthusiastic about what passes for comedy on RTÉ 2 but last Thursday I did enjoy the first episode of The School, a mockumentary set in an Irish primary school. I suspect the writer must have insider knowledge as it rang entirely true, but of course with comic exaggeration.
There’s the new principal whose patience is sorely tried by the overbearing secretary, an incompetent teacher and Department inspectors.
The show needs a few more quirky characters – apart from the main three the other adult parts are weak, though engagingly naturalistic performances are elicited from the young pupils. The school Nativity play figures in the plot and so far the treatment is mostly respectful.
Apart from a few iffy references the usual crudity is absent and a bit of trimming in that department could have made it an enjoyable family show, with enough humour to keep children and adults alike laughing all the way to the staffroom.
Last week I was critical about an item on the Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk), so this week I’ve come to praise Pat not to bury him. Last week he featured an entertaining and enjoyable interview with Fr Paddy Byrne from Portlaoise on the occasion of his new book. Fr Byrne paid tribute to his twin brother for being so supportive – he said he was never alone, right from conception.
As prison and hospital chaplain he was busy but found that the celibacy rule freed him up to do all the work that came at him. After attending college he had joined the priesthood at a time when the Church was already embroiled in scandal so that has been part of his Church landscape ever since. He found his seminary experience quite positive and not as restrictive as some – they were sent working in hospitals and elsewhere in the community.
He acknowledged the invaluable assistance of lay lecturers, including women, in the human sciences. His Twitter ministry (two words not often seen together) and writing for local papers made the writing of a book no great surprise.
Kenny raised the issue of dwindling numbers in the priesthood but Fr Byrne was in no way pessimistic about the future. He described his vibrant parish and how well the Parish Priest had it organised with plenty of invaluable lay expertise.
Kenny was very positive throughout, as I am myself about the interview.
Pick of the week
FERN BRITTON MEETS
BBC 1, Sunday, December 3, 10am
Fern Britton speaks to Paralympic athlete Stef Reid who survived an accident and committed her life to God.
WOULD YOU BELIEVE? – LIFE FOR A LIFE
RTÉ 1, Sunday, December 3, 10.30pm
Agnes Furey, her daughter and grandchild murdered, refused to let anger and bitterness poison her life.
EWTN, Monday, December 4, 10am
Host David Kerr talks with former British Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell.