There comes a time in just about every long-running series where you have to throw your hands up and say, ‘this isn’t a good place to start’. Jack Irish makes a decent fist of trying to get newcomers up to speed with an opening ‘previously on’ that’s more manic than most, but with close to a decade’s worth of history under the bridge (three telemovies and two series) there’s only so much information you can condense down. If you’re a fan of the original, this final series is a worthy coda; if you’re not, now’s a good time to dig into the back catalogue.
It’s been three years (both in the show and in real life) since we last spent time with lawyer-turned-private investigator Jack Irish (Guy Pearce). A lot has changed. His home turf of Fitzroy has gone upmarket, his drinking buddies have been shipped off to an old folks home, he’s now the father of a kindergarten-aged child, and a cop on stress leave was just gunned down in a Preston drive-through burger joint. So maybe not everything’s changed.
The execution has Jack’s long-time friend on the force, Detective Barry Tregear (Shane Jacobson), worried. With official doors closed and internal affairs Detective Phil Maitland (an entertainingly sinister Gary Sweet) standing around looking ominous, he turns to Jack, dragging him away from his busy schedule rewriting the will of colourful racing identity Harry Strang (Roy Billing) to do a bit of freelance investigating. But when Jack uncovers evidence that links the murdered cop to his wife, murdered 25 years ago, the past collides with the present – and not everybody in Fitzroy has a future.
When the first Jack Irish telemovie aired in 2012, Australian drama looked towards the inner city. A string of successes going back as far as The Secret Life of Us had made the cool neighbourhoods of our big cities the logical backdrop for a string of series (Love My Way, Offspring) that wanted to talk to an Australian audience. Jack Irish presented Fitzroy as a mix of decaying relics and gentrifying hipsters weaving their way between hundred year old buildings; it was as much a character on the show as Jack’s romantic interests and the corpses that kept turning up.
It’s Guy Pearce’s performance that makes this more than a farewell tour…
Those days are gone. The hipsters have conquered Fitzroy; even the Prince of Prussia, the crumbling pub run by Stan (Damien Garvey), is now a classy venue packed with twenty-something DJs in garish outfits. Likewise, today’s dramas have an international focus, setting their stories against backdrops more about showing off our landscape than our laneways. No doubt the ABC has presented an Australian drama in recent years that wasn’t largely set in the bush, but nothing readily comes to mind.
So there’s more than one level of nostalgia operating here. Sharply scripted by co-creators Andrew Knight, Matt Cameron, and Andrew Anastasios with Alli Parker (Peter Temple, author of the Jack Irish novels, passed away in 2018), and with all four episodes directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek,The Gloaming) initially this feels like it’s trying to establish a new status quo. It soon becomes clear though that this really is the last gasp of an era. Everyone who can has moved up or moved on; these final four episodes are packed with twists and turns, but underneath it’s all about tidying up loose ends.
Checking in with old favourites will only get you so far (and we’ve already had one Friends reunion special this year). It’s Guy Pearce’s performance that makes this more than a farewell tour, playing Irish as constantly simmering with frustration at having to go through the same old motions through the same old haunts. He presents us with a lawyer-turned PI who’s ready to move on even if he doesn’t quite know it; sometimes a clean break is the right thing for everybody.
4 Stars: ★★★★
Creators: Matt Cameron, Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
Writers: Matt Cameron, Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios, Alli Parker
Director: Greg McLean
Producers: Andrew Knight, Rob Gibson, Ian Collie, Matt Cameron
An Easy Tiger production for the ABC
Four one hour episodes
Starts Sunday 13 June, 8.30pm on ABC TV, and then all episodes available to stream on ABC iview.