Scottish actor Iain Glen has been a major star in his native Great Britain for many years, but he’s garnered legions of new Stateside fans in two recent high-profile TV roles: Sir Richard Carlisle, Lady Mary’s suitor in season two of the period drama Downton Abbey, and Ser Jorah Mormont, trusted companion of Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s wildly successful fantasy Game of Thrones.
Now U.S. viewers get a chance to see Glen in a more contemporary mode with the Tuesday DVD release of Jack Taylor, Set 1, from Acorn Media Group. Adapted from the bestselling crime novels of Ken Bruen, this Irish TV series follows the title character (Glen), a former Irish Garda (policeman), through his gritty life in his native Galway, where he recently was bounced from the force after a run-in with a pompous official. Now trying to support himself as a private detective, Jack Taylor carries around a host of personal demons, among them a serious drinking problem, exacerbated by his widowed mother’s pious disapproval.
This DVD set, which consists of three 90-minute episodes on three discs, starts out shakily with an episode that tries to juggle an already complicated case involving a spate of apparent suicides with establishing Jack’s complicated back story and setting up his new friendship with Kate Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone), a rookie Garda who quickly becomes Jack’s informal associate inside the department. Things improve strikingly with the second episode, wherein Jack pursues a series of vigilantes dispensing their own nasty brand of justice in the Galway streets, and meets the show’s most endearing character: Cody Farraher (Killian Scott), a worshipful young man who becomes Jack’s improbable yet highly resourceful new partner and helps him clean up his act. The third and final episode is a complete success, a very suspenseful thriller tied to Galway’s controversial Magdalen laundries half a century ago, where young “bad girls” were often sadistically abused by some of the most vicious nuns imaginable.
For the most part, Jack Taylor is compelling yet downbeat and very dark, anchored by a hero who often behaves decidedly unheroically, but Glen’s performance is superb. Don’t expect any very special guest stars – I didn’t recognize a single actor apart from Glen in any of the episodes – but the series is definitely worth checking out for anyone who likes his police dramas pretty hardcore.
Another Tuesday release from Acorn, the thoroughly engaging 2008 British dramedy Honest, just wants to keep you entertained, and it does so splendidly. The series, which lasted for only six episodes during its British run, stars Amanda Redman (from New Tricks, currently airing widely in syndication on many PBS affiliates) as Lindsay Carter, wife of a career criminal (Danny Webb) who unexpectedly gets sentenced to four years in prison for his latest caper. It’s a wakeup call for Lindsay, who resolves to keep her four children out of trouble and make sure the Carter clan rehabilitates its notorious local image. The series also stars Laura Haddock, recently seen as Leonardo’s faithless lover in the Starz series Da Vinci’s Demons, as one of Lindsay’s daughters, a bubbleheaded model wannabe.
If this premise sounds vaguely familiar to you, you may have caught the shortlived ABC 2010 summer series Scoundrels, which starred Virginia Madsen in Redman’s role and a post-JAG David James Elliott as her convict-hubby. It ran for only eight episodes before being canceled due to low ratings.
Both of these new Acorn sets include closed captioning for the hearing-impaired, but not much else in the way of extras.