The first episode of brand new Channel 4 sitcom London Irish opened and closed with the four twentysomething Northern Irish expat protagonists getting bladdered in the pub. That's right, writer Lisa McGee (a Londonderry woman herself) isn't afraid to confront those national stereotypes head on. This would also explain the scene riffing on a certain budget airline's baggage policy, and the cameo from Father Ted's Ardal O'Hanlon.
It was sweet of Mr O'Hanlon to bestow on this fledgling show the blessing of the Irish sitcom elders, but if the ultimate aim was to fool us into thinking London Irish owes something to Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthew's work, the ruse failed. As with any sitcom about a mixed-gender group of twentysomethings made at any time since 1994, it's to Friends that London Irish must pay reluctant tribute.
This weight of influence bears down heaviest of all on Kat Reagan, whose character Niamh is a mildly irritating kook in the tradition of Phoebe Buffay. Television doesn't need any more mildly irritating kooks - Zooey Deschanel in E4's New Girl has seen to that - so the angry, sweary, pathologically stingy Bronagh (Sinéad Keenan) was a particularly welcome foil. Ostensibly, there were also two male leads, the garrulous Packy (Peter Campion) and childlike dreamer Conor, but McGee's script betrays her obvious preference for writing female characters and they barely got a look in.
It may be unchivalrous to note it, but, at 35, Keenan is knocking on a bit for a role as studenty as this. It's testament to her energy and talent, then, that her performance was so enjoyable, regardless. Bronagh's righteous indignation at the one-handed man who failed to inform her of his missing appendage before they had a drunken "ride" at a party was easily the best thing in this opening episode.
It's also the strongest hint that McGee's writing might be ballsy enough to eventually transcend the over-familiar setup. If you must make yet another sitcom about the messy social lives of twentysomethings, the Nineties institution on which to model it is not mushy Friends but misanthropic Seinfeld. Might the characters of London Irish all turn out to be shallow, sex-obsessed reprobates with no moral compass to speak of? We can but hope.Ellen E. Jones, The Independent, 25th September 2013
The 36-year-old funnyman is said to be determined to woo New Girl actress Zooey Deschanel, who filed for divorce from her husband Ben Gibbard just three days before Russell and Katy's split announcement.Sarah Bull, Daily Mail, 4th February 2012