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.
Peter Dinklage, Jerome Flynn and Daniel Portman star in Season Three of Game of Thrones, premiering tonight on HBO.
HBO is using a dramatic silhouette of a dragon in flight on its teaser posters for season three of Game of Thrones, which premieres tonight on the premium cable network. That’s not surprising, since the three “children” of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who are now the size of large canines, are key players in one of the most electrifying scenes of the Emmy-winning series this season.
Yet this epic adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire never has been only about the big moments. As with previous seasons, there is magic and bedazzlement to spare in these new episodes, but Martin and adaptors David Benioff & D.B. Weiss never lose the human scale of the story they are telling. The characters we meet in Game of Thrones are, by and large, recognizable mortals caught up in extraordinary situations.
Over the two previous seasons, those situations have sent so many of these characters in different directions on personal quests that viewers should prepare themselves for a fairly leisurely pace in the first couple of these new episodes, simply because it takes that long to check in with the various characters and their current status. (Note: What follows doesn’t include any major spoilers, but if you prefer to enter the new season entirely cold, stop reading right now).
As you may remember, season two ended with Jon Snow (Kit Harington), separated from the rest of the Night Watch, a captive of the wildling Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and her companions, a dire situation he tries to turn to his advantage by infiltrating the army of Mance Rayder (new series regular Ciaran Hinds), the King Beyond the Wall. He’ll face some interesting challenges this season, such as discovering that Rayder isn’t the lunatic he imagined. More pressing, his covert presence in this army is largely contingent on maintaining a credible relationship with Ygritte, and doesn’t his Night Watch vow call for him to be, you know, celibate?
Far away, Dany has emerged from the brutal crucible she underwent in season two looking every inch a queen. Unfortunately, she still lacks an army, but as she and the loyal Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) pursue that goal, joined by new ally Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney), she’ll blow a hole in the sexist notion that women don’t know how to negotiate (and how!).
Elsewhere, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) still looks like the smart horse to bet on in the fight for the Iron Throne, but he remains distracted by how his younger siblings are scattered to the wind, apart from sister Sansa (Sophie Turner), who continues her perilous life in King’s Landing at the pleasure of her insane ex-fiance, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).
Speaking of that royal jerk, his newly betrothed – Renley Barantheon’s widow, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer, The Tudors), whom we met at the end of last season – quickly emerges as one of the most fascinating characters of the new season. Her public demeanor is self-effacing and benign (think Princess Diana of the Seven Kingdoms), yet she has been schooled by her very cunning grandmother, Lady Oleanna (the magnificent Diana Rigg), so she may be far more formidable than she appears (I’m not being coy here. I’ve seen four episodes of season three and I can’t tell for sure where that story line is going).
As for the rest of Team Lannister, with golden boy Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) still in captivity and getting some harrowing life lessons, siblings Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Cersei (Lena Headey) compete like squabbling teenagers for the approval of their martinet father, Tyrwin (Charles Dance).
Amazingly, despite its vast canvas, the storytelling remains a model of clarity. I worry that at some point this ginormous chronicle may spin out of control, but in its third season, Game of Thrones remains one of the most gripping weekly hours on television. Don’t miss it.