Hearing the word charming delivered without a note of ‘someone’s just burped’ sarcasm is becoming a rarity. Unless you’re marketing a rural B&B, charm isn’t a quality coveted by many. It carries with it a sense of the quaint, the out-of-touch, the deceptive even. Hand-embroidered nighties, barge-painted spoon rests and men with hidden agendas can be charming, but comedy? Haven’t edginess and irony succeeded charm in that arena?
Hardly. Especially not in Sky One’s Moone Boy, a fond, funny Irish sitcom that marries daft fantasy with warm nostalgia. Co-written by Nick Vincent Murphy and Chris O’Dowd, Moone Boy tells the semi-autobiographical story of twelve year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle) growing up in 1989 in a fictional version of Boyle in the west of Ireland with his parents Liam and Debra and sisters Fidelma, Trisha and Sinéad. Charming is the only word for it.
Here are some other words for it…
“Feck off Santy”
Moone Boy began life as Capturing Santa, one of Sky’s 2010 Little Crackers series of festive autobiographical comedy shorts. The story of young O’Dowd terrorised by his idea of Father Christmas as “a big weirdo” starred Sharon Hogan and Clive Swift. With a few changes, the twelve-minute short gently morphed into the first series. Take a look below:
In the series proper, Martin’s series one boyhood worries are typical stuff. He’s faced with new bikes, school bullies, packed lunches, pranks, nocturnal emissions (or “building the dirty snowman” as best friend Padraic poetically puts it), all against a backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall and Dynasty. Real-world eighties events such as the election of Irish President Mary Robinson sit alongside flights of fancy, which is where Sean Murphy, Martin’s imaginary friend, comes in.
“Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the West of Ireland? Me neither, but there you go.”
Co-writer and producer Chris O’Dowd’s character is a cannily used adjunct to the main action of Moone Boy. He’s neither the star, nor the protagonist, but a part of the fine ensemble working under director Declan Lowney (Father Ted, Little Britain, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa). Co-writer Murphy describes Sean as “certainly no wiser than Martin”, while O’Dowd describes his character as “a very beautiful – some would say – imaginary friend, who guides Martin very poorly through a cacophony of terrible life decisions”. (The first time we see Sean in action, he’s encouraging Martin to give CPR to a dead sparrow, so that’s more or less a fair description.)
Beautiful? Perhaps. O’Dowd certainly makes an impression as a 6ft 3” bearded Girl Guide in pigtails and a mini skirt in the series one finale. Prior to that we’ve seen him painted yellow, in matching jim-jams with Martin and – his most boundary-pushing look – dancing atop a wall in a dapper suit, knitted hat, and red stiletto heels. (About that last one, if you ever need a failsafe cheer-up GIF, just search for ‘Moone Boy Tumblr’ and go nuts.) Think Will Ferrell in Elf, but as more a co-conspirator Drop Dead Fred man-child on Martin’s shoulder than a beaming innocent.
“Is that a hammer in your pocket?”
O’Dowd isn’t the only recognisable face to appear in Moone Boy’s talented cast, guest spots in series one also went to Johnny Vegas as Martin’s best friend’s imaginary pal, English wrestler Crunchie Danger Haystacks (Padraic there, exhibiting the sense of imaginative flair poor Martin lacked when he baptised Sean Murphy). Steve Coogan too, appears memorably in an early episode as – in Coogan’s words – “local sex nuisance” Francie ‘Touchie’ Feelie. Until you’ve seen Steve Coogan in Speedos slo-mo scrubbed and power-hosed by a couple of fellas, you’ve not really grasped Moone Boy’s power. If that isn’t recommendation enough, then the already-commissioned third series has a guest spot for none other than Sir Terry Wogan. That’s right. Wogan.
The rest of the cast too, from Moone’s family and classmates – with particular praise to young David Rawle as Martin and Ian O’Reilly as Padraic – are a treat. You could think of that last pair as a twelve-year-old Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and you won’t be far off the mark. Unlike a great many sitcom children, Martin and Padraic aren’t preternaturally gifted wise-ass kids only there to deliver sassy punch-lines. They’re adorable simpletons, and impossible not to warm to.
Murphy and O’Dowd have written Moone Boy’s heightened characters with warmth, but without ignoring their selfish, awful sides (sweet Padraic excepted perhaps; he’s just a delight), meaning that the adorability is properly tempered with a tart edge. The result? Genuinely cheering comedy that’s not cloying.
“I’ve been looking for freedom. I’ve been looking so long”
From the fashions to the soundtrack, the late eighties/early nineties setting is undeniably part of the draw for Moone Boy fans. The Farm, Altered Images, and, not to be forgotten, David Hasselhoff singing his Berlin-uniting anthem, Looking For Freedom all feature, but the most enjoyable is ebullient theme song Where’s Me Jumper by The Sultans of Ping FC.
That theme plays over hand-drawn 2D animation credits (indie film-style, in shaky blue biro and drawn in an exercise book) that continue through the episodes, reinforcing its bouncy, youthful tone. The animated segments are whimsical and fun, characterising Martin Moone as an imaginative dreamer. Series one welcomed avenging sparrows, fantasy pigs, political wrestling matches and a beautifully surreal tennis match between a nubile lady and a fairly dirty snowman.
The period’s television is well-represented too, thanks to the constantly-on Moone family TV. We’ve mentioned Dynasty, but there are excerpts of plenty of others, including a recurring nod to Grange Hill on the soundtrack. Retro video games, magazines, and toys (like the Fashion Wheel in short Capturing Santa) also make the show a fun game of ‘I used to have one of those’ for viewers in the right age bracket.
Like much of Moone Boy, you’ll have seen something like the animations before (O’Dowd re-used at least one joke, even if it was his to begin with, from his role in The IT Crowd, and influences from The Wonder Years to Father Ted and more are broadly visible), but the sheer cheer and warmth of the thing will help you to shrug off any familiar or derivative moments.
O’Dowd sums up Moone Boy’s attraction in his explanation of why director Declan Lowney is so well-suited to the show. “He’s perfect for something like that because he’s very open, and he’s got a big heart. You don’t want anybody with a cynical mind to get their hands on it or to make it ironic”. He’s absolutely right. Untrammelled, un-cynical, warm-hearted comedy. That’s Moone Boy’s charm.
A repeat of Moone Boy series one begins on Sky One on Sunday the 25th of August, with a second series to follow later this year. Series three has already been commissioned.
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