FOR THOSE who think RTÉ’s drama output is a bit of a cod, it’s perhaps fitting that the national broadcaster’s new Sunday night series is a fishing thriller.
Set in an isolated community cut off from modernity, North Sea Connection centres on fisherwoman Ciara Kenny (Lydia McGuinness), who gets caught up in a drug-smuggling operation courtesy of her wastrel brother, Aidan (Kerr Logan).
The main players behind the show is Stockholm-based Mopar studios, which churns out co-productions with a Scandi-noir feel. Unfortunately, other than moody shots of Ireland’s west coast, the series has precious little in common with the likes of critically acclaimed The Killing and The Bridge.
Indeed, North Sea Connection has many of the familiar elements of a ‘Euro-pudding’ production, with international characters crowbarred into the plot – naturally, Lydia’s mother Moira (Sinead Cusack) is married to the Swedish Björn (Claes Ljungmark). The formulaic storyline sees Aidan convince Ciara and fisherman Shane (Dónall Ó Héalai) to smuggle contraband, in an attempt to financially aid their floundering fishing business.
Eventually, a standoff with a mysterious third worker on the boat, James (Kieran O’Reilly), reveals that the illicit goods are packages of methamphetamine. In one of the show’s more gripping sequences, the death of one player prompts drug-dealer boss Quinn (Stuart Graham) to track down the hapless fishing folk.
As with (the recommissioned) Smother – RTÉ’s other underwhelming attempt at Scandi-noirlite – North Sea Connection lacks an individual style and is populated by cardboard cut-out characters. As befits Mopar’s cross-border modus operandi, the story could be set anywhere and lacks a feel for the nuances of Irish life.
There are occasional flat attempts at humour, although perhaps the funniest moments come courtesy of Cusack’s risible attempt at a west of Ireland accent.
Still, the series does at least achieve a certain level of verisimilitude, with the clueless local garda, Sgt Egan (Denis Conway), entirely unaware there’s an international drug-running operation taking place under his nose. The pilot also concludes with a reasonably impressive set piece, as Quinn macabrely tortures the Kenny siblings.
But even this scene doesn’t quite convince, with the attempted characterisation of Quinn – as a Tony Montana-style drug kingpin – undercut by the setting in the sedate world of Connemara fishing.
Meanwhile, RTÉ is straining to pitch Ciara’s journey as one akin to Breaking Bad’s Walter White, suggesting that her “resilient canniness, pragmatism and ambition” will propel her into “morally comprising territory. How far will she go?”
Perhaps a more apt question is how far RTÉ viewers will go. Amongst the recent drama offerings from Montrose, only the well-received Kin (set to receive a second series) achieved any real audience traction. In the ongoing attempt to replicate the runaway success of Love/Hate, the game plan seems to involve spinning the roulette wheel with off-the-shelf Scandi-noir imitations in the hope one turns out to be a winner.
Given the show’s facsimile feel, it’s no surprise that there was no Irish involvement in the conception of North Sea Connection, which was co-created by UK-based Mark Greig and a Swat team of Scandinavian writers. Nonetheless, the show – which does feature Dublin-based production company Subotica – received Broadcasting Authority of Ireland moolah and, inevitably, some juicy Irish tax breaks. In that sense at least, the fishing series had a successful haul.