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DVD Review: Single-Handed – Set 1

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Having grown up in a small, leniently-educated rural Northern California community, I spent the better part of my youth under the delusion that Ireland consisted of little more than leprechauns, a saint named Patrick and lots of green-colored things. As I grew into manhood however (although there are some who will argue with you on that point), I discovered that Ireland had much more to offer: mainly whiskey, Guinness, and redheads. So, I’m sure that you can imagine how downright surprised I was to pop in the Irish crime drama series Single-Handed: Set 1 and ascertained that not only did Ireland have TV, but that they have some damn good TV at that!

In a way, my upbringing in Nowheresville probably allowed me to relate to Single-Handed’s protagonist, Garda Sergeant Jack Driscoll — played by the excellent (and rather striking, if I do say so myself, ladies) Owen McDonnell. Having been stationed and grown accustomed to the big-city life in urban Dublin (yes, they have a metropolis in Ireland, too), Jack returns to the small rural community he grew up in to replace his now-retired father, Gerry (Ian McElhinney). And, while this little village in Connemara (on Ireland’s west coast — they even have oceans there!) looks like it wouldn’t have anything of particular interest going for it to the average tourist, Jack soon learns that corruption and crime can lurk in even the most idyllic of places…and that no one is necessarily innocent.

Acorn Media’s three-disc release of the grippingly-dark and dynamic Irish drama Single-Handed: Set 1 brings us all three two-part episodes that the show’s first three series consisted of. Each of the three two-parters are presented here as single feature-length episodes. In the show’s premiere series, “Natural Justice” (first broadcast as “Home” in 2007), Jack gets his first case as Garda Sergeant when a young immigrant woman is found dead in a caravan (camper). His investigation takes him from one suspect to another, and he learns that the young lass was being pimped out to a lot of the local, older lads — including his own father, Gerry. Further prying leads poor Jack to uncover additional, far more frightful truths about his father’s past that had been buried for years.

As you have probably guessed, Jack’s dad wasn’t the most law-abiding of police officials in the world. In fact, in the next series, “The Stolen Child” (originally aired in 2008), Gerry faces a tribunal with the court system to investigate accusations of corruption during his past occupancy as Garda Sergeant, while Jack investigates the disappearance of a local two-year old boy. Since the boy’s parents are classified as being unstable and disreputable amongst the locals, Jack’s superiors aren’t too terribly keen on investigating — especially since the mother of the child claims that her estranged drug-addict husband is the culprit. But when a disgraced former resident wanders into town — one whom Gerry forced out after allegations of child molestation surfaced — with a desire to see Jack’s mum (Ruth McCabe), suspicions suddenly start to shift. Caroline Catz (of Doc Martin fame guest stars.

The final series included in this set, “The Drowning Man” (from 2009) opens with Jack having to jump into the sea one dark and stormy night to retrieve a local teenage lad. The question “What the hell was a lone teenager doing out in the bay in the middle of the night?” comes to mind with Jack, and he’s soon trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Meanwhile, one of Jack’s former lovers from Dublin arrives, and Jack’s mother — determined to have her boy settle down and get married — starts prying into their private lives. As Jack continues his investigation, he finds that the boy’s death may have been related to an undercover narcotics operation led by a stubbornly-dedicated Chief Superintendent from Dublin (Michael McElhatton). Owen Roe (who looks like he could very well be Ireland’s answer to William Shatner) guest stars.

Created by Barry Simner (who also created the award-winning English police drama, The Vice), Single-Handed is an excellent and absorbing series, partially inspired by real-life claims of corruption in County Donegal in rural Ireland (see: Morris Tribunal). The lead characters in this set (McDonnell, McCabe, and McElhinney) turn in some positively riveting and engrossing performances, while still allowing their equally brilliant co-stars to shine. Acorn Media’s three-disc release of Single-Handed: Set 1 presents the episodes in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen, with very solid transfers for TV on Standard-Def DVD. All three discs boast a Dolby Stereo soundtrack that, while a bit soft in the dialogue department, comes through well nonetheless. Optional English subtitles are included in the likely event some of you have difficulties with the Irish accents.

As far as Special Features go, Single-Handed: Set 1 contains nothing but text-only extras. There’s a Q&A Interview with producer Clare Alan, some Notes from a few of the show’s cast (star Owen McConnell and guest-star Caroline Catz), as well as another set of Production Notes. Apart from that, the only other bonus items here are the usual line-up of promos for other Acorn Media releases.

Either way, though, this set’s a keeper.

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.