The lazy strains of the Skyliners’ crooning 1959 hit Since I Don’t Have You swell into life over the peaceful but not quite idyllic shoreline of suburban Dublin Bay. Indoors, feckless, bristle-bearded Frank Marron (Brian Gleeson) stirs from his sleep to see the note he’s scrawled on his own hand from last night. “Remember,” it says, “don’t sleep with Áine.”
He rolls over and, of course, there’s his ex-girlfriend Áine (Sarah Greene) snoring away next to him. In walks his incredulous mum Mary (Pom Boyd), eye-rolling at this predictable turn of events. “Her grandma died yesterday,” he confides.
Áine wakes in disarray, and tells Frank she’s been seeing a doctor for a couple of weeks – she means romantically, of course. “Is it serious?” he gulps. “Do I need to get tested?”
All of which sets the scene for this six-part new comedy series which began on Channel 4 on Thursday night, brought to us by Merman, actor Sharon Horgan’s production company, which already has a hit to its name with the acclaimed Motherhood.
Channel 4, of course, has recently struck gold with Derry Girls, one of the outstanding comedy classic series produced on these isles during the 2010s. It’s still too early to say whether Frank Marron will become a character who enjoys similar popularity, but the ingredients used to blend his show come from all the right places.
In Frank himself, the down-on-his-luck sometime musician and local chancer whose own ego blinds him to the foolishness of his ham-fisted schemes, there are hints of Shameless’ Frank Gallagher (in this opening episode, he plans to learn Mixed Martial Arts in order to compete with Áine’s smarmy new boyfriend, while jamming out his own on-altar musical tribute to her grandmother).
Meanwhile, in his relationship with his best friend Doofus – who is frankly well-named – there’s a sense of the dynamic between Father Ted and Father Dougal, where the blind leads the incredibly foolish. The point of interest here is that Frank and Doofus are real-life brothers (the latter played by Domhnall Gleeson, who fans of the most recent Star Wars trilogy will recognise as General Hux), and both are sons of the revered Irish actor Brendan Gleeson.
It’s an endearing half-hour watch, then, and while the comedy may not always hit the mark – the inevitable fiasco at the church laid it on a bit thick – the quality of acting throughout the cast sold the premise well. Particularly the Gleeson brothers’ rabbit-in-different-sets-of-headlights delivery, and Boyd’s refreshingly unlikely matriarch Mary, who casually seduces Áine’s dad Padraig.
In places it really hit the mark, too; for example Frank and Doofus’ bout in the MMA ring with instructor Nicola (Liz Fitzgibbon) and Padraig’s incessant vetoing of Frank’s tribute songs (“How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You?”; “she was diabetic!”).
For fans of old-school slow television watched to a weekly schedule, we’ve reviewed just the first episode here, but all six – including Brendan Gleeson’s guest appearance in the finale – are up on streaming service All4, if you want to find out whether Frank of Ireland’s potential is fulfilled.