Recurring Cast: Iain Glen, Ralph Brown, Tara Breathnach, Nora Jane Noone, Frank O’Sullivan
We’ve seen this kind of thing before. An ex-cop, kicked out of the forces by being a hot-shot with no regard for authority, turns his life to private investigating. There’s a catch: he has a lousy reputation with the police and likes his drink just that little bit too much. Yes, Jack Taylor hits its biggest hurdle, before you’ve even tuned in. It feels like almost any other private detective show or novel you’ve tried before.
Therefore, it is in the hands of the leading actor to give us something new. Iain Glen is Jack Taylor’s strongest weapon and any new fans of the show will have, like me, probably been brought here out of a love for the actor, especially as he struts his stuff in Game of Thrones on a weekly basis. Iain Glen is a cornerstone of British acting, always a reliable star for a TV show or movie to bank in. Even when he is trying his hand at a below-par movie (Tomb Raider or Resident Evil, for example), he is always giving it his all. Jack Taylor is no different. Iain Glen’s smooth and firm voice, this time with a bonus Dublin drawl thrown in, handles the exposition well, as he narrates, keeping the audience on the same page as him all the time. He is likeable enough, which helps seeing as the character is often a man of few words. He handles that quick Irish wit well and when he wants to do intimidating, he does it with ease. The best Private detectives are the chameleons, able to sweet-talk strangers, act like best friends to the locals and bully answers out of the nasty characters. Iain Glen handles this well, able to jump from each personality without overdoing it. One flash in his eyes and you know what side of Taylor we will be getting today. The bonus side is Iain Glen is very good at the pathetic side to the character too. Helped by some keen direction when the character is either drunk or hungover, Iain Glen cuts a miserable figure, when he is wandering the streets of Galway, getting turned out of bars. One great scene sees him wake up in his mother’s house and he looks particular downtrodden. He might be the hero of our story, but to everyone else, he is a dirty rat, muddying up a fine Irish town. One line early on sets the tone for the show: “There aren’t many PIs in Ireland; too much like informants.” While Jack Taylor is let down by its inability to escape the clichés and staples of the genre, Iain Glen is a fine actor to spend time with, making it, for the most part, forgivable.
It is a shame that the other lead here is nowhere near as good. This isn’t a knock at the actor, because Ralph Brown is fine as Taylor’s best mate back in town, Seamus. The problem is that the character is a tad underdeveloped. It is a common flaw with the detective genre. There are so many plot points and mysteries to unravel that the show works best racing through the story. The audience for the private detective series often like to be kept guessing and pulled into a murder mystery, so the show makes that the primary objective and worries about the character stuff later. This becomes a problem when a later part of the show requires you to relate to one of the side characters. Seamus starts off the story as an artist who rocks up to Galway, selling his paintings to the town’s stereotypical nasty, rich bloke. It is revealed he was Taylor’s best mate back in the day, so the two of them meet up, have a few drinks and a laugh together. Nothing untoward. At the halfway point in the movie, Taylor asks Seamus for help on a lead. That scene goes a little wrong for Jack Taylor, mainly because of a strange decision Seamus makes. And it is totally out of the blue. Maybe if the character was developed more, it would have made perfect sense and the show would have carried on without feeling a little off, but as it stands, we lost touch with Seamus’s character, and a part of Jack Taylor’s for putting up with it. This is a story based on a novel, so perhaps there was a chapter early on that delved into Seamus’s backstory more. Perhaps I am just missing something. But, because the show rushes through the development, this character choice throws the show off balance and I don’t think it ever recovers fully.
But what about the actual mystery? A girl washes up at a beach, the fourth suicide in the town, and Jack Taylor senses something’s up. However, seeing as he is no longer a member of the Guards (the Irish police force), he does nothing. Then a beautiful woman shows up out of the blue, this being a Noir detective story and all, asking if he can track down her missing daughter. It soon becomes apparent there is a connection between the missing girl and the suicides, so Jack Taylor begins uncovering a conspiracy. It starts well enough with Taylor uncovering more questions than answers. It gets you hungry for the reveal and you are hooked before you know it. However, it soon loses track. Perhaps I just wasn’t on-board with the twist. I liked certain aspects of the answers, like how the story is more than “where is this missing daughter?” or “are the suicides really suicides?” There are other strands to follow and find out where they lead. However, the villain of the piece didn’t really work for me, again, due to underdevelopment. As soon as one clue is revealed, we’ve figured out the entire story and you spend the next twenty minutes waiting for Jack Taylor to keep up. Never a good sign for a mystery. Also, it does end up stumbling on one of my pet hates of the genre, where the detective stumbles across the clues rather than figuring anything out. It comes across as lazy writing. The villain actually reveals himself to Jack Taylor, rather than being found out by some throwaway detail. Sure, it means the director gets to have a field day with his ‘OMG’ moment with lots of extreme close-ups and dramatic music, but it leaves an unsatisfying taste in the mouth. Will I watch the other seasons? Yes, probably. I like Iain Glen and I like the Irish detective scenery this show sets up. The good thing about these kind of shows is that you need to take them one episode at a time. One rotten mystery doesn’t necessarily mean that the next one won’t be up to much. Just for me, I like my quality a little higher.
Final Verdict: Iain Glen is worth watching, but the mystery soon loses touch with itself.