By Dylan Pratt
Hulu, the streaming service once at the forefront of Internet television, didn’t maintain its programming edge for very long.
After its debut, it began to lose popularity to competitors like Netflix, who offered more movies and an extensive menu of fan-favorite series bundled as entire seasons. With more options for streaming programming than ever, Hulu has found it tougher to compete against similar services, including Netflix and Amazon. However, Hulu still offers several select shows, among them a well-hidden gem call Moone Boy.
Winner of an International Emmy in 2013, Moone Boy is a comic Irish series penned by Nick Vincent Murphy and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, The Sapphires, HBO's Family Tree) that offers a semi-autobiographical glimpse into O’Dowd’s childhood in Boyle, Ireland. The six-episode first season is part of the Hulu inventory, and Season 2 of the Irish import premieres Thursday, April 24.
The show revolves around Martin Moone (David Rawle) and his imaginary best friend Sean Murphy (Chris O’Dowd) as they maneuver the tricky landscape of primary school, and the absurdities of adolescence.
Martin is a pleasant boy, though perhaps Sean describes him best: “Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the West of Ireland? Me neither, but there you go." If not already clear through the creation of a very detailed imaginary friend, Martin is a daydreamer. Attempting to make each day a little more palatable, Martin is constantly drawing elaborate cartoons in his notebook -- cartoons that often spill out into his world, creating a more enjoyable experience for both Martin and the viewer.
Set in the late 1980s, Moone Boy weaves in historical events -- the campaign of Mary Robinson as she attempts to be Ireland’s first female president, Ireland’s participation in the 1990 World Cup -- that impact (and even interfere with) not only Martin, but the entire Moone family.
While the show is undoubtedly Martin’s, there is ample time for other members of the Moone family to shine. Take Martin’s father, Liam, for example. The owner of a sign shop, Mr. Moone spends much of his time complaining about the lack of work, hiding from the bank because he’s behind on the mortgage, and keeping a watchful eye on his teenage daughters. Martin’s mom, Debra, aside from joining in on the snooping with her husband, runs a “Weight-Wishers” program, and spends much of her time gossiping in the local salon.
Martin’s three sisters also are three-dimensional characters. There is Sinead, the youngest girl, who torments her brother in various ways. Fidelma, the prettiest, is involved in the local church. The oldest, Trisha, who gets poor grades, smokes behind the school, and exhibits 80s teen angst, listening to The Cure and lamenting the break-up of the Talking Heads.
The popularity of the Australian and FX versions of Wilfred aside, one might think the gimmick of a boy with an imaginary friend would wear thin quickly, but the show’s restraint keeps the moments between Martin and his thirtysomething best friend fresh, quirky, and ultimately among the most endearing in the show.
The nuances O’Dowd adds to Sean, both in scripting and performance, do wonders for the authenticity of the make-believe character. Wearing the same beanie, shirt, or even moving his eyes in sync with Martin, Sean is just as real to the viewer as he is to Martin. Never discouraging or disagreeing with his creator, Sean instead is on-board with any misguided idea that Martin has, along with all the inherent flaws it contains.
Charismatic, whimsical, and even sweet, Moone Boy succeeds as not only a coming-of-age story, but also a very funny family portrait. Airing on Sky 1, the U.K. and Ireland’s premiere entertainment network, the second season just finished its run overseas, and arrives on Hulu later this week. Having already garnered heaps of critical praise in its short existence, Sky 1 was quick to renew Moone Boy for a third season, expected to premiere early 2015.
[Dylan Pratt is a communications student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and a film critic for that school's newspaper.]