Frank of Ireland review – the Gleeson brothers wreak man-baby havoc

Lucy Mangan
·4-min read

Even allowing for the fact that there have been markedly better times than now to launch a sitcom about selfish, incompetent, narcissistic man-babies whose imbecilic actions take a toll on those around them, I suspect Frank of Ireland (Channel 4) would always have been a hit-and-miss affair.

The premise is not innovative. The main character, Frank (Brian Gleeson, Brendan Gleeson’s son), still lives with his mother at the age of 33. He sees this as the cross he has to bear, rather than a cushy berth for a dollop of a man suffering (or rather not suffering at all) from a severe case of arrested development. His mother, Mary (Pom Boyd), is a Tinder-using pill-popper who is unfazed by her son’s inadequacies and by the sight, on various mornings, of the women who end up sleeping with him.

The first one we meet is his ex-girlfriend Aine (Sarah Greene). They broke up six years ago – since when he has been unable to write any songs, although it is debatable whether he was writing any before that – but she returns periodically for more of his childish antics. In the first episode, we learn that he had written “Don’t sleep with Aine” on his hand prior to their night together. As a prophylactic against bad decision-making, it is about as much use as the rhythm method is against conception. Aine is now seeing a doctor and “it’s serious”. Some crossed-purposes talk ensues, upon which we will not dwell.

Rounding out the regular cast is Doofus (Domhnall Gleeson, brother of Brian, Brendan’s other son), Frank’s much-put-upon sidekick, who trails after him to his constant detriment, partaking in his pal’s misadventures.

In the opening episode, Frank is invited to play a song at Aine’s grandmother’s funeral and tries to turn it into a gig, complete with Doofus trying to sell merch at the church doors. Like Frank plonking his belongings on top of the body in the casket at the wake, this requires too much suspension of disbelief and seems to come from a different, worse, show.

Frank spends the service attempting to impress Aine in front of her new boyfriend, Peter-Brian (who also does MMA, prompting protracted confusion about taking ecstasy and practising mixed martial arts). Frank also goes on a bender and then to bed with the female MMA expert he hires, despite Doofus having fallen in love with her at first sight.

Other episodes feature him trying to take care of his injured mother for a day (“I’ll be dead by morning,” says Mary, almost looking forward to it); setting himself to expose an imagined truth about Peter-Brian; getting entangled with a local am-dram production (writing the songs for Twelve Angry Women, an all-female musical version of the Sidney Lumet film); and generally laying waste to the surroundings.

There are hits amid the many misses. The chemistry between the brothers warms the experience and gives it a charm it would otherwise struggle to summon. Their timing – particularly Brian’s, who has most to do – is immaculate; some of the viewer’s dislike of and frustration with the character may be mitigated by the comic mastery on show. There are some good gags: a repeated one about the album of tribute songs to films/the counties of Ireland that Brian endlessly plans (Blood is Thicker Than Waterford, The Witches of East Wicklow); and Doofus trying to think his way into Mary’s mind when she escapes from Brian’s tender ministrations (“It’s just … willies, Frank! Hundreds of them. It’s like being attacked by a herd of ostriches!”).

There are laughs to be had, although they tend to be the effect of accumulated smiles rather than direct responses. By the time we had gone from seeing Mary lying in the garden for hours as Frank worked on his songs (“They say you’re not supposed to move them”) to Doofus shouting into a bin in the street (“Mary? Mary?”) as they searched for her after she went missing, I was ready to crack.

But, overall, the sense is of an opportunity wasted – especially as the series wears on and there is no sign of any change or enlightenment, apart from tiny, insubstantial flashes from poor, downtrodden Doofus. Still, it will do the Gleesons – rightly established and acknowledged talents in film and television – no harm. You just wish it could have done us some good.