TV Viewpoint: Abbeyfealegood and Criminal: UK

RTE has made a wise decision in recent weeks to repeat popular programmes shown over the last few months and even years, with heart-warming documentary Abbeyfealegood returning to screens last Thursday, having been originally broadcast in April.

It’s easy to see why the programme had such an impact; when it was first shown we were at the height of ‘lockdown’, with hairdressers and barbers being among the many businesses forced to close their doors. Abbeyfealegood focuses on the 16 human shearing and beautifying businesses in the town of just over 2,000, the most of any other town per person in Ireland.

It was no doubt said at the time of the first broadcast, but if Abbeyfealegood did anything it showed that these businesses are essential services, not only making many look and feel their best but being a social hub, a place to chat and discuss, to listen and be listened to. As one customer sagely remarked “everything is thrashed out in a hair salon.”

Florrie of Abbeyfeale

A funny opening montage saw conflicting recollections about the number of pubs that used to be open in the town; was it 32, 41, 52 or 64? It doesn’t matter; this vast number of hairdressers have replaced them as the meeting place for locals to have some time to themselves, to gossip and natter, to find some relief from the every day.

The programme itself was beautifully made by director/editor Alex Fegan, with cleverly shot and edited vignettes of the proudly kept barber shop fronts contrasting with the dilapidating, unique facades of defunct businesses now sadly fading into disrepair. There was also a lovely medley of various customers having their protective capes whipped expertly over them, smiles akimbo as the process began.

There was great honesty from those interviewed, which included the hairdressers and their clients. Three brave parents documented the tragic deaths of their children, in astonishingly open and frank manners. Others discussed the economic downturn of small towns like theirs, and yet more talked about births, deaths and marriages.

Among the characters was Florrie, a barber who has worked in the town for over 60 years. In contrast to the more glamorously kitted out salons, his has a working fireplace and signs for turf for sale, with chairs provided so that his customers can remain on the scene as long as they like before or after their haircut.

What made the programme so refreshing was its humour and heart. People from every walk of life featured, from children to recent arrivals and long-standing residents. In Abbeyfeale there’s a place for everyone, just walk down main street and choose from one of the 16 establishments on either side. Unlike the mullet or The Rachel, hopefully this cead mile failte is a trend that has also swept the rest of the country, and won’t fade into obscurity as we welcome more diversity into our communities.

On the other side of the spectrum of human decency is Criminal: UK, the second season of which came to Netflix last week. Four episodes take place within the confines of a police interview room, its observation annex and sometimes the corridor and landing outside, when the detectives need a break to call in back-up or stare wistfully out the window at the downpour. In Criminal:UK land, it always rains.

It’s a very interesting drama, well-acted and written, with a small consistent cast and a big name being interviewed in each episode. The first features Sophie Okonedo as the wife of a convicted murderer being asked about her knowledge of his connection to another crime.

Criminal UK S2. Picture shows: Sandeep Singh (KUNAL NAYYER)

The second stars Kit Harrington as an estate agent accused of rape and the third Sharon Horgan as an internet vigilante. Kunal Nayyar is the seriously sinister convicted killer in the last of the four, playing totally against type, being best known as puppyish physicist Raj Koothrappali in US sitcom The Big Bang Theory.

Each episode is self-contained but tied together by the investigating team. There’s a lot to unpack; the two book-ending episodes are very clever murder mysteries, but the two in the middle are more thought-provoking, particularly the very tricky subject of rape accusation, especially when the accused is an unlikable individual. Criminal:UK is well worth a watch if you’re after something a bit more biting than your average detective drama.

  • First published in The Tuam Herald on 23 09 20

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