TV Viewpoint: Dead Still and Maxxx

Gallows Humour Takes Centre Stage to Success in Dead Still and Maxxx

IT was a spooky weekend, by and large, what with Halloween falling on the Saturday of an actual Blue Moon. On any other year this would have been call for all sorts of celebration, but we all know the reason why this year’s All Hallows’ Eve was a quieter affair, one that darkly forbade costume parties and in which the absence of trick-or-treaters was eerily felt.

For some it was drastically different, for others altered a little and for more it was a Halloween like any other: largely ignored. For me, it was the midpoint of some annual leave that had accrued throughout the year, and so called for some scary movies watched with curtains drawn early, in order to light atmospheric candles.

One of the films was a revisit of The Others, a 2001 Nicole Kidman vehicle that has held up well over time. Taking place in a creepy old house just after the Second World War, Nicole’s lady-of-the-manor has a mass domestic staff departure problem on her hands, so is relieved when a trio offering their services for hire land on her doorstep at just the right time.

The three seem to bring something else, something more disturbing with them, and the children of the house begin to see and hear things that shouldn’t be seen or heard. Needless to say, creaky floorboards, slamming doors and startled gasps abound, but (slight spoiler alert) it’s a certain book of pictures, very specific pictures, that’s uncovered, that reveals all.

It was a coincidence that I watched The Others before starting the new RTE One flagship programme on Sunday evening, that centres around the macabre subject of taking photographs of the dead. It’s the end of the 19th century in Dublin, and Brock Blennerhassett is a former mortician now embarking on a career as The Pale’s forefront portrait photographer of the recently deceased.

He’s joined by a niece, recently decamped to begin a career as an actress, and a gravedigger keen to join him as an apprentice. The first episode introduces us to the process in darkly comedic fashion, while a sub-plot of a possible serial killer brims in the background.

Michael Smiley, better known for his broad comedy roles, is very good in the staid role of Blennerhasset, and Eileen O’Hughes as his niece Nancy, and Kerr Logan as apprentice Conall Molloy are excellent too. Aidan O’Hare, as Detective Frederick Regan rounds out the main cast, which shows great promise for the remaining five episodes.

It’s truly like no other comedy-drama I’ve seen before on RTE, which is no bad thing. Taking a punt on something drastically different is what the national broadcaster should aim to do, by using well-known actors playing out of character, as well as promising up-and-comers in projects created and executed by a talented young team.

Maxxx, which began last Thursday on Channel 4, while unavoidably formulaic is surprisingly, equally as successful. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the story of a failed pop-star trying to make a comeback as much as I did, but creator and lead actor O.T. Fagbenie manages the fine line between chaotic mayhem and frantic but remarkably organised mess with great skill.

OT Fagbenle in sequined suit splendour as Maxxx

He’s another star who is playing against type; I know him better from playing the husband of Elizabeth Moss’s Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale. Here, he couldn’t be further from capable father; he’s washed-up after years of hard-partying, but determined to revive his career by any means possible.

One of those means is turning up at the funeral of a former bandmate in a black sequined suit, grabbing the microphone from the dead man’s mother, Kanye West style, and trying to lead the congregation in song.

It’s a comic misfire sure to be followed by many more over the next five weeks, aided by his academic son Amit and under the jaded watchful eye of reluctantly appointed manager Tamzin.

Again, there’s nothing new about the characters; overachiever Tamzin is straight-laced and focused, Amit is the son of a hell-raiser who has managed to come out the other side serious and intellectual, Maxxx himself is a lovesick wheeler-dealer determined to find fame again. But there’s a certain something to be enjoyed here that elevates it above similar premises, that makes it worth a watch.

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