John Byrne checks out a variety of shows including Cyberbully, some US imports, and Claire Byrne's new solo current affairs slot.
Reviewed: Cyberbully (Thursday, Channel 4); Ascension (Friday, Sky Atlantic); Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Thursday, E4/Friday, Channel 4); Marry Me (Thursday, E4); Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Monday)
The one thing that the advent of social media has proved, beyond doubt, is that a huge section of those of us who use it are still mentally in the school yard. Twitter is particularly popular for a bully with little time to spare and even less time to think, but the possibilities for remotely destroying people's lives are broadening by the day, especially as people increasingly use computers and smartphones to record and store their lives for posterity and possible derision.
So it's pretty timely that Cyberbully (Thursday, Channel 4) came along to show how easily lives can be compromised if you find yourself in the sights of someone with the magic fingers of a hacker and the empathy levels of an emaciated sewer rat.
This was an absorbing hour, thanks to a relentless, real-time plot and an outstanding performance by Maisie Willams, who carried this terrifically tense drama on her own. She played Casey, a typical teenager spending an inordinate amount of time online, who sees her life spiralling out of control when her social media accounts get seriously compromised by a mysterious and malicious hacker, initially pretending to be a school pal.
Williams showed why she's destined for great things - really, she's there already - as her character oscillated between victim and bully; wounded, thoughtless and desperate in turns as Casey's predator drew her in and threatened to destroy her.
It was a tour-de-force from Williams and if you haven't seen Cyberbully, check it out. It's already on my short list for performance of the year and I'm forming the Maisie Williams' fan club if it isn't already up and running.
Far less dramatic but just as entertaining was Ascension (Friday, Sky Atlantic), a glossy, three-part sci-fi serial set aboard a space ship launched in the early 1960s, with everyone on board firmly stuck in the sounds and styles of the Mad Men era half-a-century later.
Sent into space during the height of the Cold War in order to find a habitable planet within two or three generations, the habitants of Ascension (that's what the ship's called, right?) live a pretty idyllic if captive existence that gets shattered when a teenage girl is found murdered.
The shock reveal at the end of last Friday's opening episode was pretty much sign-posted, but I'll skip further details in case you want to catch up with the first episode, which remains available on the Sky+ platform.
On to a couple of US sitcoms, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Marry Me (both Thursday, E4, with the former also on Channel 4 on Fridays), offering varying laughter levels. Now in its second season, Brooklyn Nine-Nine returned without changing a hair on its perfectly-formed head. This is a show that nailed it right from the start, so here we are with more daft antics, including a very funny running gag where Captain Holt subjects his team to practice drills at a moment's notice.
Here's a really good (re)introduction:
While Andy Samberg tends to get spotlighted as the dumb-but-brilliant cop Jake Peralta, this is a marvellous ensemble show, and the real star is Andre Braugher, who is as exceptional as ever, but this time showing off his funny chops as the squad captain. He's as far removed from his Frank Pembleton character in Homicide: Life on the Street as is possible.
Marry Me stars Casey Wilson (Happy Endings) and Ken Marino (Eastbound & Down) as a couple who've been dating for ages and may or may not be getting married. As pilots and premises go, this was pretty lame, but the two leads are capable of carrying a decent show and the creator is the same guy (David Caspe) who was behind Happy Endings, a show that started off very badly but turned into a must-see sitcom. I'll be giving Marry Me a few weeks before deleting the series link as Caspe may stumble on to another cracker here.
Last but not least, Claire Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Monday) made its debut with the kind of timing that good comedy writers would surely appreciate. Following Sunday's coming out by Fine Gael minister Leo Varadker, the stage was set for Claire Byrne's debut subject on this new show that mixes a panel discussion with audience participation: the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage.
If Monday's programme is anything to go by, it's going to be a pretty grim few months for anyone in the middle as the battle lines were drawn between those who want marriage equality and those who don't.
Among the contributors were actor Colin Farrell, who spoke about the abuse his brother Eamonn received from the fists and tongues of homophobes, and declared himself firmly in favour of the referendum.
Here's Colin Farrell talking about his brother Eamon:
The panel was balanced between pro-amendment pair, Irish Times' columnist Una Mullally and Labour TD John Lyons, and anti-amendment duo, Irish Times' columnist, Breda O'Brien and Keith Mills, described as a blogger, a gay man against gay marriage.
The arguments were pretty predictable from the outset and Claire Byrne must be commended for her self-control, as I don't know how she survived the hour without at least looking like she wanted to strangle someone.
A dramatic start to Claire Byrne Live, certainly; but after this debate I've already had enough of the referendum, which isn't due until May, but already resembles about a half-dozen we've had in the past.
On a more positive note Claire Byrne, on Monday's evidence alone, will be around long after this referendum is gone. Calm, controlled, and as neutral as possible in a volatile and emotional situation, she impressed in what was never going to be an easy opener.