Thursday, October 14, 2010

DVD Review: Ballykissangel

Now deep into my Netflix addiction, I’ve just finished all six seasons of the BBC comedy-drama Ballykissangel.

Ballykissangel is one of those shows that had to grow on me. When I first encountered it on PBS years ago, it seemed like a self-consciously quirky knockoff of Northern Exposure­—a fish-out-of-water story about an English priest who’s been transferred to a backwater village in Ireland. The town comes replete with eccentric locals—the rich guy, the feminist, the rubes, the barflies—and, at first, the humor seemed cloying and the accents impenetrable.

But I soon realized that there was much more to Ballykissangel. Once I developed an ear for the accents, I found the show had writers, good ones, who could weave together disparate stories and somehow make them come out right at the end. They could elicit a satisfied sigh from me, or they could turn on a dime and suddenly make me think, hard. The plots are secondary; the main attraction is the relationships that grow and dissolve between the characters—beautifully drawn, complex morality tales of flawed people who, somehow, become important to us. And then, to lighten things up, there’s the occasional flatulent dog, or an automated confessional booth falling off a truck, or the impossibly beautiful 23-year-old Colin Farrell, already with the eyebrows.

The show went through a couple of bumpy patches and jarring cast changes, notably in seasons 4 and 6. But somehow the writers always pulled it off. Just when I thought they were about to shipwreck the show in a morass of slapstick, they’d stun me with a story about alcoholism, or the inexact sciences of preaching and policing, or the twin punishments of grief and guilt. I kept thinking, “How did they get me to care about these people so much?” And that, of course, is what a good writer does.

So bravo, Ballykissangel. I only wish there were more of you to enjoy.

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