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What to stream now: Popular Australian series 'Jack Irish' is much more than a detective show

Guy Pearce as Jack Irish

Jack Irish, played with a charming but self-deprecating edge by Guy Pearce, is a stumbling hero haunted by his wife’s murder.

'Jack Irish' (AcornTV)

The 'Jack Irish' series — which consists of three TV movies and three series — has proved enormously popular in its native Australia. I think it’s largely due to its unique mix of tragedy and complexity alongside a relentless and self-deprecating humor. It depicts an interwoven tapestry of mostly morally-compromised, sometimes even broken, people trying to do the right thing even as they also do the wrong thing, all wrapped up in a detective show.

At the center is Irish himself, played with a charming but self-deprecating edge by Guy Pearce, a stumbling hero haunted by his wife’s murder but trying as best he can to bury that despair deep down inside him and let the glib do-gooder take over. It doesn’t always work, but as a character, Irish does. He’s trying to be the modern detective archetype — a wisecracker — but he’s a bit too corny, too clumsy, to pull it off, and it doesn’t help that the people he surrounds himself with seem to have tasked themselves with keeping him down to earth by lobbing insults at him.

The insults are half affectionate, half cold hard truth, and there’s none better at it than his on-again, off-again lady friend Linda Hiller, played by Marta Dusseldorp. Hiller is in some ways everything Irish aspires to be and their obsessional back-and-forth volley to solve a mystery and bring justice to those who abuses power works against their volatile personal feelings for each other. Irish is good at bringing in sleuthing help, but bad at fostering a real relationship that forces him to open up. As Hiller, Dusseldorp brings the kind of authority and confidence that Hollywood has never quite been able to find when casting Lois Lane.

As much as the series is about solving crimes, it’s also about the community a grieving man has built around himself that also functions as a system through which he can work the facts of any given case. Any Jack Irish adventure also spends a good amount of time on the old soccer fans hanging around the Prince of Prussia bar, who debate sports stats and obsess about Jack’s father, a soccer hero with an abusive personal life. These moments also share time with Jack’s adventures as a consultant to horse race mogul Harry Strang (Roy Billing) and his right-hand man Cam (Aaron Pederson) who continually gets Jack mixed up in stopping horse race fraud or participating in a get-rich-quick racing scheme, while also taking the time to lend support to his case. Pederson, in particular, is always a mesmerizing presence on the screen and as Cam, he’s the enforcer of your dreams.

And if that’s not enough, there is also frequent time spent with a German furniture maker that Jack is apprenticing under, a coarse and possibly corrupt cop who operates as an informant to Jack, the owner of the Prince of Persia and his hapless efforts to improve the business, and many others.

Stealing the show is a more infrequent presence, Jack’s information-gathering cyber expert Simone, played like an explosion of manic energy by Kate Atkinson, who engulfs the screen whole whenever she’s on it. Whether she’s yapping Jack’s ear off or dragging him into her absurd and obsessive efforts to try and live in a normal situation, she’s an indispensable side note to the larger roadmap.

In other words, Jack Irish may technically be a detective show, but there’s so much more packed in there — and in such a charming and entertaining manner — that you may find that it services all your viewing needs. You may not need to watch another show for fear of overload.

One thing is for certain — if Jack Irish has one central message, it’s that life is what you make of it, and if you make it into a chaotic mess, you can still find purpose. Just understand that change is natural and purpose is subject to that law. That and don’t take yourself too seriously. Just seriously enough.

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