“Some bunny’s got to win – why not us, Jack?”

Jack Irish is, without doubt, some of the finest drama you’ll see on television this year. Peter Temple’s books have been brought to vivid life in the most captivating and compelling manner that will have you drawn into the story and have you on the edge of your seat for both stories – Bad Debts and Black Tide.

Jack Irish (Guy Pearce) is a lawyer rebuilding his life after tragedy, though not very quickly. He’s mainly dabbling in conveyancing, a little private investigation and debt-collecting – though there’s still time to hit the track with Harry (Roy Billing) and Cam (Aaron Pedersen), hoping the bookies won’t know what hit them.

Independent though connected stories, both Bad Debts and Black Tide offer Irish, the son of a celebrated Fitzroy AFL player, as a self-effacing and incredibly intelligent bloke trying to reconnect with a life he doesn’t entirely understand. He turned to carpentry under the mentorship of Charlie (Vadim Glowna) and their relationship is a distinct peace in the hero’s life in juxtaposition to what can and does whirl around him. As does his life in the Prince of Prussia (featuring a very charming and Fitzroy-devoted elderly Three Stooges).

The individual stories translate well to TV and carry through all the ‘wonderfully, quintessentially Australian’ moments of the novels. In Bad Debts, Irish is contacted by an ex-client who turns up dead and as he digs deeper into why he was being contacted he starts to uncover connections to dodgy cops and a cover up, and the information Jack, working with reporter Linda, uncovers puts them both in the firing line. Black Tide follows Jack as he seeks to help his Dad’s old team-mate Des write up his will. In the process he uncovers a government conspiracy involving Des’s son Gary and some pretty nasty people with connections all the way to the top.

“No, I will not sing another musical number for you, no matter how many times you ask…”

Both stories are fast-paced, entirely entertaining whodunnits. Pearce is gentle and unassuming as Jack in a way that allows the character strength and vulnerability. Billing is delightful as the sting-ready Harry and Aaron Pedersen is a nice counterpoint in bodyguard Cam. Shayne Jacobsen’s Barry is a pleasant if repellant surprise (“The price for a police presence at a major sporting event comes at a cost, Jack.”). Irish’s love interest Linda is given wonderful life by the stunning Marta Dusseldorp.

The telemovies suffer from an embarrassment of riches in the guest cast across the who’s who of Australian actors – Colin Friels, Don Hany, Bob Franklin, Steve Bisley, Damien Garvey, Colin Hay, Ron Jacobsen, Rhys Muldoon, Lachy Hulme, Nicholas Coghlan (just for starters) – with each of their performances slotting perfectly into an already perfect mix. Additionally Andrew Knight (Rake) & Matt Cameron (Crashburn, SeaChange) are to be applauded for their adaptations of the novels to the small screen.

As Harry offers at the track one day: “Some bunny’s gotta win – why not us, Jack?” Why not indeed – with these two episodes the viewing public wins hands down. The Jack Irish telemovies are the kind of drama you can watch over and over again and never get sick of; the performances are so genuinely nuanced that, on first viewing, they wash over you as naturally as you watching your friends discuss their luck at the races on Saturday. Spectacularly easy to enjoy.

Jack Irish is stunning, must watch television and the ABC and Essential Media should be applauded for bringing it to vivid life (more, please in 2013 Mark Scott!). Do. Not. Miss. Both. Episodes.

Jack Irish: Bad Debts – Sun 14/10 8:30pm, ABC1.
Jack Irish: Black Tide – Sun 21/10 8:30pm, ABC1.