A new focus on Irish American working class figures is evident from recent TV shows and movie hits.
The latest is ‘Shameless’ which debuts on Showtime on Sunday night. Based on a successful British series, its American adaptation is the story of Frank Gallagher, a drunken, bar crawling, hippy-looking Irish guy living in the Chicago inner city.
As played by William Macy, Gallagher is a complex character, despite the drinking, surviving on a welfare check but somehow still trying to live the American ideal while his family life collapses around him. Joan Cusack is wonderful as a near neighbor suffering from agrophobia who has a daughter with a thing for the Gallagher boys.
As Salon magazine wrote, “This focus on Irish-American inner-city dwellers (and a couple of their non-white friends) feels faintly nostalgic -- less like a tough, funny look at plausibly real people than a bawdy 21st-century TV Chicago version of "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn." (This series, "The Town," "Winter's Bone" and "The Fighter" are all part of a mini-resurgence of sensitive white working-class drama.)
You can add to that list the new FX series 'Lights Out' about Patrick ‘Lights’ Leary a heavyweight contender who has fallen on hard times. Holt McCallanny, son of Irish producer Michael McAloney (different spelling), who won a Tony Award for his production of Brendan Behan’s 'Borstal Boy,' plays a former heavyweight boxing champion who must decide between returning to the ring or turning to a life of crime as an enforcer for money lenders.
McCallanny, who grew up in Dublin, told the Irish Echo newspaper that he used Irish boxer John Duddy as much of his ring character inspiration and Duddy has a small role.
‘The Town’ starred Ben Affleck as an Irish American desperately trying to escape the Boston Irish ghetto of Charlestown and repeatedly being dragged back into it by his gangster friends. There is even an IRA character, played wonderfully by the late Pete Postlethwaite.
'The Fighter,' starring Mark Wahlberg, is another gritty Irish drama based on the true life story of ‘Irish’ Mickey Ward, the working class hero of Lowell, Massachusetts who overcomes family issues, a drugged up brother and crooked managers to win his shot at a world title.
'The Fighter’ is likely to end up on the Oscar list, and ‘The Town’ may well get some nominations, too.
It seems working class Irish is back, especially gritty dramas about, crime, street cred, broken families and broken dreams. It clearly makes for good viewing.
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