While it is hard to keep track of the new characters in RTÉ's new drama Charlie, Eoghan Dalton argues that with a strong central performance from Gillen and capable supporters around him, the next two episodes should be worth waiting for.
TV  and  films  like  to  drop  us  into  new  worlds.  To  ensure  our  brains  don't  discombobulate  when  this  happens,  we  arrive  into  the  story  at  the  same  time  as  another  newbie;  the  audience  surrogate.  The  surrogate  helps  ease  us  into  a  world,  since  they  need  to  know  the  ins  and  outs  as  much  as  we  do.  We  learn  as  they  learn.  Domhnall  Gleeson's  character  in  Frank,  Mike  Ross  in  Suits  and  Harry  Potter  in  that  wizarding  series  are  all  surrogates  who  help  us  understand  the  strange  settings  they  find  themselves  in.  
 
RTÉ's  new  drama Charlie,  drops  us  into  the  world  of  Irish  politics  circa  1979.  No  matter  how  much  Reeling  in  the  Years  you've  seen,  it's  still  an  alien  world.  There  is  a  string  of  men  in  suits  with  questionable  hair  for  us  to  keep  track  of,  and  little  way  of  knowing  who  is  who.  It's  dizzying  meeting  all  these  men,  but  we've  no-one  to  share  that  dizziness  with;  Haughey  (Aiden Gillen) is  clearly  at  home.  

This  could  be  done  on  purpose  of  course,  giving  us  one  less  way  to  sympathise  with  the  lead.  Another  method  is  having  Haughey  be  our  guide  to  the  world,  similar to House  of  Cards'  Frank  Underwood  which  has  worked  so  well  for  that  show  in  its  various  iterations.  

Writer  Colm  Teevan  should  be  given  credit  for  not  dumbing the story down,  yet  it's  clear  there's  still  quite  a  few  dumb  dumbs  out  there  (myself  included).  I  got  by  with  an  IMDb  cheat  sheet  but  that's  not  how  a  show  should  be  enjoyed.  If  the  info  isn't  there  in  the  text,  or  in  this  case  the  screen,  then  it's  failed  on  that  count.  
 
However,  when  you  do  realise  which  man  is  which,  Charlie  turns  out  to  be  an  entertaining  romp  through  the  grubby  dealings  of  Ireland's  very  own  Dark  Lord.  There  are  the  usual  staples,  such  as  the  brown  envelopes,  but  where  it's  at  its  best  is  in  the  barrage  of  one  liners.  

Haughey  remarks  about  Margaret  Thatcher  how  "Rumour  has  it  she's  a  woman",  while  his  consigliere,  P.J.  Mara (Tom Vaughan Lawlor),  sagely  advises  "As  Sun  Tzu  says  in  the  good  book,  you  should  crush  the  fuckers  dead."  It's  a  hoot  watching  Gillen  and Vaughan-Lawlor  deliver  these lines and  it's  clear  they're  enjoying  themselves  too.
 
Gillen  has  made  a  career  out  of  playing  crafty  politicians  (The  Wire,  Game  of  Thrones)  so  it's  no  surprise  he  turns  in  a  strong  performance  here.  He  keeps  a  stiffness  in his shoulders  that  the  real  Haughey  has  in  archive  footage  and his hair is suitably  awful,  just  like  the  real  thing.  Vaughan  Lawlor,  meanwhile,  has  less  to  do  as  Mara  but  still  gets  juicy lines as the brains behind the operation.
 
The  supporting  cast  of  hard  to  discern  men  are  less  memorable,  although  that  should  change  over  the  next  two  episodes.  Peter  O'Meara  (the  dentist  from  Love/Hate)  makes  the  most  impact  as  Brian  Lenihan  Sr,  mainly  because  he  plays  him  as  a  big  eejit.  Or  perhaps  he  is  doing  his  best  Dáithí  Ó  Sé  impression.
 
Where  this  opening  segment  of  Charlie  falls down  is  it’s  desire  to  cram  in  as  many  incidents  as  it  can,  so  we  get  Haughey's  dealings  with  Margaret Thatcher,  the  H  Block  hunger  strikers,  Stardust  plus  all  the  backroom  stuff  going  on  within  Fianna  Fáil  at  the  time.  It's  all  too  much  to  take  on  without a degree in history and  the  end  result  suffers,  sadly.  
 
Having  said  that,  it  does  clip  by  at  a  brisk  pace.  This  is  helped  by  a  score  that  wouldn't  feel  out  of  place  in  a  Christopher  Nolan  picture,  while  Kenneth  Glenaan's  direction  is  solid  if  not  showy.  

The  set  design  is  impressive,  too,  with  those  various  backrooms  looking  very  much  of  the  characters'  time.  Less  impressive  is  the  use  of  onscreen  text  at  the  beginning  and  end;  neither  add  to  proceedings  and  feel  out  of  play  with  what's  very  much  a  scripted  drama.  
 
It's  still  early  days  for  Charlie,  especially  as  we're  not  even  at  the  halfway  point  yet.  But  with  a  strong  central  performance  from  Gillen  and  capable  supporters  around  him  the  next  two  episodes  should  be  worth  waiting  for.  And  hopefully  by  the  time  it's  over  we'll  know  exactly  who  is  who.