*There Are Light Spoilers for the First Season of Moone Boy in the Below Article*
A father confronts the father of two boys who have bullied his son at school.
A little boy does something nice for his older sister but only to get her to do something important for him.
These are two moments which sound like rather standard scenarios for a family sitcom, the first one a little more so than the latter. As such, it’s not surprising that the pilot of the new “Hulu Exclusive” (it’s not really exclusive, but more on that later) series Moone Boy contains both scenarios. It is, after all, basically a family sitcom centered around 12-year-old boy Martin Moone (the adorable David Rawle) and his three older sisters (Aoife Duffin, Clare Monnelly, Sarah White) and father (Peter McDonald) and mother (Dierdre O’Kane) living in Ireland in 1989.
However, Moone Boy is a consistently unpredictable and unfailingly hilarious sitcom, exemplified by what it does with the two standard scenarios I described.
In Moone Boy, when Martin’s father Liam confronts the father of boys who have been bullying him instead of finding a man who is as much of a bully as his children he instead encounters a rather gentle, slightly effeminate man who proclaims that he is a good person even if his sons are absolute shite. The two bond over their shared frustration with their children, and Liam is quickly initiated into a group of local fathers who use standard male get-togethers (poker night, fishing) as a front for a glorified self-help group for beleaguered fathers afraid of their own children. These fronts are so flimsy that the fathers don’t even have a deck of cards at poker night, and use long sticks which descend into the water but are not actual fishing rods to fish.
In Moone Boy, when Martin attempts to curry favor with his sister it is because she has unknowingly been used as a crucial bargaining chip. After his father’s absolute failure to curtail the bullying, Martin has hired a bully-protector at his school, but this protector will only offer his services if he is allowed to touch the boobs of one of Martin’s sisters (he argues “once a tit’s been cupped I can interrupt”). So, Martin broaches this topic with his sister Trisha (Aoife Duffin, who is kind of like an Irish version of Darlene from Roseanne) by presenting her with a cup of tea and making awkward small talk before blurting out, “Soooo, I was wondering if you might do me a bit of a wee favor [long pause] You know how you have boobs?” It is a brilliantly written exchange delivered with impeccable comedic timing by young David Rawles, whose pauses in-between the two sentences rivals in perfection the work of much older actors. The show masterfully smash-cuts from this exchange to Trisha angerly confronting the bully-protector with designs on her chest.
Of course, the playfulness of Moone Boy is established well before either of these scenarios play out. In fact, there is a rather high-concept to the show which is presented in the opening minute – Martin sees and talks to an imaginary friend named Sean Murphy (Chris O’Dowd, who you most likely know as Kristen Wiig‘s love interest in Bridesmaids), who is almost always seen in a black suit with a red tie. Sean is also the show’s rather blunt narrator (e.g., accurately describing Martin’s efforts to figure out which of his sisters has the biggest boobs as being “clueless”).
What’s perhaps the most delightful about the dynamic between Martin and Sean is its rather ordinary innocence. Rather than reaching for an extreme (dare I say it….Drop Dead Fred) or the absurd (Wilfred, in which a man in a dog costume looks like a normal dog to everyone except the lead character) Sean is merely an extension of Martin’s conscience, who, though he appears as an adult, is just as clueless as Martin. For example, in the fourth episode (“Dark Side of the Moone”) Martin is aroused by a buxom female cartoon character in a commercial, but instead of offering explanation Sean is just as mystified, guessing that “it may be an allergy thing.” Plus, the show uses just the right amount of cutaways to show us what everyone else sees (i.e., Martin talking to the air, Martin dancing with no one) and what he sees (i.e., talking to Sean, dancing with Sean).
O’Dowd’s narration is often pitched to speak to Martin’s mindset at that point in the story with a knowing wink to how wrong he is because, well, he’s only 12. For example, in the third episode (“Another Prick in the Wall”) Martin decides that by doing something (don’t want to spoil what it is) in the backyard at night in the dark he would be able to keep it a secret. The narration describes this as being Martin’s plan because he was positive his parents would be too stupid to ever catch on to him. The show then immediately smash-cuts to Liam watching Martin from a window and wondering aloud, “What the hell is he doing out there?” This also upholds the show’s depiction of the parents as relatable human beings who may not always like their kids but are also not your standard clueless sitcom parents.
A word of warning, though: for all of its joyful pokes at youthful naivete Moone Boy is a show with a dark humor underpinning that may not be for everyone. For example, in the second episode (“A Bunch of Marys”) Martin becomes friends with a new kid at school just to get access to the excellent cooking performed by that kid’s mother. In the season finale (“The Bell End of an Era”), the parents actively attempt to sabotage one of their daughter’s hard work in school for financial reasons (it’s so funny I dare so no more). However, there is a South Park-esque ring of truth to much of it, wherein one of Trey Parker and Matt Stone‘s motivations for their foul-mouthed, pint-sized Colorado residents was honest, non-rose-colored-glassed remembrances of the general selfishness of many young kids.
Unlike the South Park kids, Martin never descends to being a mouthpiece for any kind of libertarian ideology. He may act selfish on occasion, but he is ultimately presented as an incredibly charming and sweet kid who is so dominated in life by his older sisters that he seeks the aid of a male authority figure through his imagination because his father is too busy. With such an active imagination (and I haven’t even mentioned how he occasional draws cartoons which are then animated on screen, the notebook paper lines still in-tact) it is difficult to watch him and not be reminded of Ralphie from A Christmas Story.
If there is a weakness to the show it might be that Martin and his parents usually dominate the storylines, meaning his sisters usually get lost in the shuffle. They each have at least one episode where they feature prominently in their own storyline, but on most other occasions they fade into the background. However, much like Rawle’s performance as Martin each one of the young actresses delivers their lines with impeccable timing while speaking with rather authentic-sounding Irish accents. In fact, the show is shot in Ireland, and most of its cast sure sounds like they were cast locally.
For lack of a better description, Moone Boy is a show that just gets it right. You don’t have to have been raised as a boy in a family full of older sisters in Ireland to relate to the show’s depiction of growing up. Like Freaks & Geeks before it, this is a show which knows how to take the universal experiences of youth (e.g., encountering puberty for the first time, the bittersweet feeling of graduating from a school) and somehow manages to tell it in a funny, truthful manner that refuses to resort to convention or “I learned something today” conclusions.
Part of this, undoubtedly stems from the fact that just as so many Freaks & Geeks storylines came from creator Paul Feig’s childhood Moone Boy is a loosely autobiographical telling of Chis O’Dowd’s childhood. More than that, O’Dowd is the creator of the show, and co-writes each episode with his writing partner Nick Vincent Murphy. Also like Freaks & Geeks, it’s period setting of the end of the 1980s also allows it to reflect upon historical events, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the election of the first female President of Ireland (the latter leads to some gender-role paranoia comedy).
Moone Boy was first added to Hulu this past Wednesday (7/10), and it will premiere the remaining 5 episodes of its first season every Wednesday from here on out. Hulu Plus members can view the entire first season without delay. However, Moone Boy is actually a British show which originally aired on Sky 1 in the UK and Ireland last year. A second and a third season have been commissioned, with the second to air at some point this year and the third next year.
You can view the entire first episode at Hulu.com right now.
I clearly love this show. What about you, though? Not as big of a fan? Like it but think I am overselling it with the “best family sitcom on TV right now” title? Let me know in the comments.
- Chris O’Dowd discusses his very Irish, very feminist new sitcom (denverpost.com)
- TV: TV Club: Moone Boy (avclub.com)