Thursday 22 March 2018

Watching the defectives

Not all heroes are beefcakes, writes Pat Stacey and many of the best have odd defining flaws

IN Some ways, The Mentalist is an affectionate tribute to the detective shows of yesteryear, when every leading character had one immediately recognisable identifying trademark. Or better still, more than one.

Kojak had his bald head and his lollipop. Columbo had his scruffy mac, his cheap cigar, his basset hound and his battered old car, a 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible. Cannon had his enormous belly and his lethal karate chop.

For Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), the fake psychic-turned-police consultant who uses his extraordinary observational powers and cold-reading skills to help the Californian cops nail murderers, it's his ever-present waistcoat, plus his habit of sipping his coffee from a dainty little cup and saucer.

Aside from these, though, there's one distinct trait (other than having a woman's name) that sets Jane apart from the chasing pack: he is, as my late father would have put it, "a bit windy".

Not a coward, exactly; more a dedicated self-preservationist.

It's rare to see Jane involved in a full-on physical tussle with a bad guy. He usually leaves the rough stuff to the professional cops. If it's a choice between fighting or smooth-talking and bluffing his way out of a tricky situation, he'll take the latter option.

If Jane has a direct television antecedent in this respect it's probably Jim Rockford, played by the late, great James Garner in the classic The Rockford Files. While he could be extremely handy with a gun or his fists, Rockford was never one to put his life, or even his gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit, in harm's way unless it was absolutely necessary.


In another refreshingly human departure from the TV norms of the era, Rockford was more than a little tight with money. He lived in a mobile home parked by the beach, bought cheap, off-the-peg clothes and always insisted that his clients knew his fee was "two hundred dollars a day plus expenses", no ifs or buts tolerated.

Yet Rockford was practically James Bond and The Man From UNCLE rolled into one compared to Frank Marker, the PI protagonist of '60s and '70s British series Public Eye. For 10 ratings-topping series, Marker, played by the late Alfred Burke, a wonderful actor who possessed a face made for suffering, plied his trade out of different but equally dingy backstreet offices in London, Birmingham and Brighton.

A walking definition of downbeat, Marker was intended as a realistic antidote to the upright American heroes littering the television schedules back then. He charged the less than princely sum of £6.30 a day for his services and was understandably broke most of the time. He abhorred violence and always tried to avoid conflict, neither of which prevented him being threatened, beaten up and, at one point, slung into prison for two years for a crime he didn't commit.

Jane, Rockford and Marker couldn't be more different, yet each of them proves the same point: there's always room in viewers' hearts for a flawed, human hero who's often less than heroic, and who'd as soon kick the villain in the knee and run for it as sock him on the jaw.

>talla tragedy First, the good news: 146,000 viewers are tuning in to Tallafornia -- far fewer than TV3 would like. Now, the bad news: 146,000 viewers are tuning in to Tallafornia -- far more than anyone with a functioning brain would like.

Do you think there's a chance Canada might take them off our hands?

>GAeltacht gloom I tried a little experiment just now. I went to an online English-Irish dictionary and keyed in the word 'futile', then hit the return key. What do you think came up? Nothing, that's what.

It appears there is no Irish word for futile. That's a pity, because I wanted to describe as futile Bernard Dunne's Bród Club, RTE's latest costly, celebrity-driven sop to a language that, barring a few elitist Gaeltacht pockets, is effectively as dead as Peig Sayers in this country and about as useful in the wider world as a chocolate bicycle.

But I wanted to be a bit show-offy and do it using the Irish version. I suppose you could call it a futile experiment, though not nearly as futile as Bród Club, which aims to get 100,000 people to "re-engage with" (note: not the same thing as "speak") Irish. Ah well, I suppose I'll just have to settle for cac instead.

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