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Monday, January 24, 2011

SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle

I've never seen the Emerald Isle look more beautiful than in SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1, which takes place in a picturesque Irish village by the sea and features one breathtaking vista after another.  It's almost enough to make you forget that even in a remote place like this, dark deeds and bad people lurk beneath the surface.  But Sgt. Jack Driscoll (Owen McDonnell), the only lawman for miles around, is reminded of it every day.

Jack's dad, Gerry (Ian McElhinney), was a tough, old-school cop not above bending the rules to catch a crook, something his son would rather avoid.  When Jack gets transferred from the Dublin police force to his hometown to replace his retiring father as head "Garda", he'll uncover things about Gerry's past, both professional and private, that will have him reeling.  It doesn't help that Jack's only assistant, Garda Finbarr Colving (David Herlihy), is part of the old guard whose allegiances are often suspect.

Part of what makes "Single-Handed" interesting is the fact that with such a small and close-knit population, every case involves people Jack knows personally.  His private life always gets tangled up in things, sometimes to an agonizing extent.  In the first episode, "Natural Justice", the apparent murder of a pretty young immigrant girl forces Jack to investigate some of the town's leading citizens, including Gerry.  Even his burgeoning love affair with a girl from his past becomes part of a series of revelations that keep this episode consistently absorbing.  Before it's over, the story takes some turns that are truly unexpected and for Jack, traumatic.

In "The Stolen Child", a young mother's baby is kidnapped and her heroin-addicted ex-husband is the suspect.  Her two volatile brothers hinder Jack's investigation with their strong-arm tactics, but when he resorts to violence himself in order to force a confession, his own integrity is called into question.  His romance with the town doctor causes his love life to get dragged into things again when they bitterly disagree on how to handle the drug-addled suspect. 

As the story of the missing child keeps us in suspense, retired cop Gerry is called before an internal affairs tribunal to account for old indiscretions, which dangerously raises his blood pressure.  The return of a mysterious man from his past complicates matters even more, and as usual the various plot elements turn out to be connected in surprising ways. 

"The Drowning Man" brings two agents from the big city into town on the trail of a drug smuggling ring that may involve some leading citizens.  This episode crackles with danger and intrigue when Jack drags the body of a teenage boy out of the bay, and ends up trampling over the agents' undercover investigation.  One of them turns out to be an old flame, which heightens the drama when Jack begins to disagree vehemently with their methods.  One of the best moments in the series occurs during a confrontation between Jack and their ruthless team leader, and the episode ends with an tense shootout.

Jack's no Sherlock Holmes, but he's dogged and tenacious.  It's fun watching him slogging his way through these baffling mysteries with his limited abilities and resources, while his job constantly intrudes upon his personal life in substantial ways.  Owen McDonnell gives an everyday realism to the role, and the supporting cast, including Ruth McCabe as Jack's long-suffering mother Eithne, is consistently good. 

Each script by Barry Simner is smartly-written and filled with scintillating dialogue exchanges.  You never know when the story is going to stop twisting and turning--there always seems to be one more surprise waiting to crop up before it's over.  Production values are fine and the settings are lushly atmospheric.

The DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  Each of the three discs contains a feature-length episode of the 2007 series.  Extras are text-based and include an interview with the producer plus other production notes.

SINGLE-HANDED: SET 1 proves that there's a lot more to rural Ireland than bogs, shamrocks, and little people.  This trio of tales about a quietly-seething small town and the diligent cop who has his hands full policing it is solid, satisfying entertainment--perfect for those times when you feel like pouring yourself a pint of stout and curling up with a good DVD.

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