Jack Taylor: The Drunken Detective

Having watched the first six episodes of the Jack Taylor series that started in 2010, I’m sorry I didn’t watch it earlier and also surprised that I like it. First off, having only seen Iain Glen in the miniseries Wives and Daughters where he plays a rather unlikeable character, I was surprised how likable I found him as Jack Taylor. Second of all, were he a real person, Jack Taylor, too, would be surprised that anyone likes him, so constant is his drinking, smoking, acerbic attitude, and downright contrariness. He gets in fights and often beat up. His only possessions that he owns are books, and he is well read and smart, but stupidly gives into baser impulses and vices. He is plagued by guilt, both deserved and undeserved. The first episode of the show makes Galway, Ireland, appear way more dangerous and seedy than it hopefully actually is.

Men watching the show might be a bit baffled that Jack has any love interests at all, for he is exactly what many women profess they don’t want at all in a man. However, being a woman, I get it. There’s a certain manly quality to all of Jack’s actions. He’s his own man, even if that means he’s not really nice more than half the time. He may not be there to help you heal from your wounds, but he’s there to save your life. In a show such as this, where one can be attacked at any time, someone who’s willing to protect women and children to the death is powerfully attractive, no matter how unhygienic they might be. Aside from the recurring character Kate Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone), none of the other women want a relationship with him. Why Kate does is mostly due to shared interests and simple chemistry. Sometimes it really just does come down to chemistry, and despite the characters’ age differences, they have it in spades.

Jack Taylor isn’t really a series of mysteries so much as it is following the private detective around in his crazy life. The first episode leaves one considering how this person functions at all, let alone solves crimes. As Jack becomes more sober in episodes two and three, the mysteries become a bit clearer, if rather unlikely. Based on actual events, The Magdalen Martyrs is a standout episode and the most chilling tale out of all of them. The Dramatist reminded me of something from Criminal Minds, and while predictable, was still a good watch. After that, Jack goes back to drinking, but appears to be keeping everything on even keel somehow.

The three main leads in the series are great, more than one realizes while watching, and really only becomes clear upon trying to watch episode seven in which they totally changed the show, getting rid of Taylor’s young sidekick, Cody Farraher (Killian Scott), and replaced the actress for Kate Noonan. After what Cody has been through, it’s not so surprising that he’d move away from Ireland for a better life, but to continue the show without Noone playing Jack’s longterm love interest was a mistake, compounded by the fact that the writers don’t give the audience time to adjust to the new actress, nor do they give the actors room to build some sense of chemistry at all. I did not try any of the remaining episodes, for whatever magic the show had was gone with the changes. Sometimes actors have such good onscreen chemistry with their colleagues that it’s impossible to replace.

Although set in Ireland, the show doesn’t give one much sense of the country, or really of Galway. But it is limited in following Jack, who mostly stays in the seedy, familiar places to him. Even episode six, Shot Down, only gives us a very limited view of the Traveler or Tinker community in Ireland. But there’s also the neighborhood pub Jack hangs out in, the characters who are also musicians, and the drama that Jack exudes, that all connect to a different view of Ireland, a place where people get together in music and story instead of going at each other’s throats all the time.

A key element in the show is Jack’s old regulation Guards coat (the Guards are Ireland’s police force), a dark blue wool pea coat, that looks pretty good considering it’s been in the gutter a time or two. The coat is an instant icon–Jack doesn’t look himself in any other coat–and is the reason I would like to try reading the book series the show is based on. I will be really disappointed if the coat isn’t in the book series, so hope it’s not something the show just added on its own.

The most likable thing about the whole series is simply Iain Glen’s great performance. I wasn’t looking to be impressed, so maybe that’s why it was easy for him to impress me, but I’d never really thought of Glen as ever being a leading man, and he really shines in the role. Some people look better with a bit of age on them, and Glen does. Not sure his accent is truly Irish in this, though the gravely voice is appropriate for the character. Glen also does a great job of connecting with the audience. He plays Jack as always one step away from becoming a saint, and portrays the grizzly alcoholic with his softie, emotional insides often exposed. It’s easy to see why Kate and Cody not only stay friends with him, but explains why they rarely, if ever, chastise him for his lifestyle. They know without question that Jack Taylor would die to save them. There have been many drunken detectives with damaged pasts, but Jack Taylor is different. Maybe it’s the coat, maybe it’s just how much he gets beat up and somehow manages to keep going. I think, though, it’s just that both Glen and the writers manage to portray him as simultaneously irritating as a person and genuine in his affection for others.

It helps that there are only a few episodes, and not a litany of crimes we follow Taylor investigating. In fact, the only episode in which the series becomes humdrum crime of the week type of thing is with episode seven, in which the show was entirely revamped. The series also was inconsistent in Glen’s first person narration. It would often pop in out of nowhere. This a show in which to enjoy mostly the main character, and a few of the others, the setting, and perhaps some elements of the mysteries and crimes, but not a show to be watched purely for the mysteries, which tend to disappoint. Still, it would be fun to see the show continue, albeit with the three original lead actors back in place. Although a character piece, Jack isn’t Jack without Kate, and is better with Cody on the scene.

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