‘Irish cliche bingo’: critics pan Obamas’ Netflix comedy drama Bodkin | Netflix

When Barack and Michelle Obama visited Ireland in 2011 they drank Guinness, visited the birthplace of the president’s great-great-great-grandfather and made pitch-perfect jokes and speeches. The reception was rapturous.

Their current foray into Irish culture is proving more divisive. The Obamas are not here in person but as executive producers of a comedy drama series, Bodkin, set in Ireland, which launched this week on Netflix. Reviews have been polarising.

“Yet another entry in the worst genre ever – the Irish rural picaresque where booze flows, nuns scowl,” said the Irish Times. “A deeply annoying show that thinks it is critiquing cliches about Ireland when actively adding to the stockpile. Let’s ignore it and hope it goes away.”

It was an eviscerating verdict on the first foray into scripted television by the Obamas’ production company Higher Ground, which signed a deal with Netflix in 2018.

The seven-part series features American true-crime podcasters – and a rude, cantankerous Guardian reporter – who travel to the fictional Cork village of Bodkin to investigate ritualised folk horror killings. Starring Will Forte, Siobhán Cullen and Robyn Cara, its whimsical style has drawn comparisons to Only Murders in the Building.

The Irish Times credited the former first couple with good intentions. “In keeping with the thoughtful and socially conscious Obama brand, it sets out to critique our obsession with true crime podcasts and to have fun with Americans and their misty-eyed vision of Ireland.”

Bodkin trailer

But the show had recreated Father Ted without the jokes or self-awareness, it said. “If the locals in Bodkin are gradually revealed to be putting on a sly act in front of the naive American, the series nonetheless plumbs the depths of diddly dee twaddle.”

The panning, albeit for a show he did not write, was a far cry from 2011 when Obama delighted audiences with a joke skewering American quests for Irish roots: “My name is Barack O’Bama and I’ve come home to Ireland to find my missing apostrophe.”

The Irish Independent review started with a warning. “We know from bitter experience what the result can be when Netflix rubs up against rural Ireland: dross like Irish Wish [an Ireland-set romantic comedy]. At first sight, Bodkin looks like it might be about to plummet into the same dark pit of paddywhackery.”

A west Cork coastal town with a funny-sounding name populated by folksy eccentrics augured poorly, it said. “If this isn’t enough to set your Oirish bullshit-detecting antennae twitching, then the fact that the animated opening titles feature a pint of Guinness, a nun and a St Brigid’s Cross should be.”

The review then swerved. “But wait — don’t run away, because Bodkin is not what you might have feared. It’s clever, funny and properly gripping stuff: a deliciously offbeat concoction of the (intentionally) silly and the sinister that delights in setting up more shamrock-laden cliches than you can shake a shillelagh at and then gleefully shredding them.”

Other reviews hovered in the middle. The Guardian gave it three out of five stars, saying it occasionally matched the fun of Only Murders in the Building. “That it doesn’t ever quite catch fire in the same way as that highly idiosyncratic show is unfortunate, if predictable, but not fatal to enjoyment.”

The Times lauded performances and said writer Jez Scharf’s script was fine and often witty but that little about the characters or plot rang true. “It feels too – what’s the word? – cartoonish, as if we were playing Irish cliche bingo. Everything is thrown into the mix and the resulting pie is uneven, with some parts tastier than others.”

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *