On New Year’s Day, nearly 10 million people tuned in to Fox to watch a raunchy new sitcom called "The Mick." In the show, Kaitlin Olson plays Mick Murphy, a down-and-out gal from a rough patch of Rhode Island who pays a surprise visit to her wealthy sister, who has moved on up to Connecticut. (She was a stripper before that, however.)
Tensions are high, at least until police raid the home and haul off Mick’s sister. Apparently, the rich sister and her husband have been engaging in financial fraud.
To escape prison, they flee the country. This leaves “the Mick” to raise her sister’s three children.
"The Mick" is quite funny, certainly by network TV standards, mainly because of the show’s manic star, Kaitlin Olson, who has been making people laugh for over a decade as Dee on another raunchy comedy, It’s "Always Sunny in Philadelphia." That show also just had its season premiere on the FXX cable channel and is well-known for its crude, dim-witted characters.
Irish American characters, it should be added.
In fact, you’ve got to believe the creators of The Mick (many of the same folks behind Always Sunny) understand that there is double meaning in the title: Not only is Mick the main character’s name, but the title has also been used as a slur against the Irish.
Meanwhile, Always Sunny revolves around Paddy’s Pub in Philly, which prominently features a map of Ireland on its wall. As fans of the show know, Mac (Rob McElhenny) occasionally dabbles in right-wing Catholicism and in one classic episode the gang offers a rather unusual St. Patrick’s Day tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
In case it’s not clear, you would not call these characters smart or classy. They are crude, rude, ignorant and impoverished.
Yes, they are very funny. But they are also, yes, very alcoholic.
It raises an interesting question. Many have said we are living in the “golden age” of TV. Is there an anti-Irish streak to this golden age?
All of this comes as the HBO show Shameless, which will soon begin shooting its seventh season, popped up on many year-end lists as one of the best shows of 2016. Shameless is set on the fringes of Chicago, which its inhabitants proudly refer to as a “ghetto.”
Shameless revolves around twisted patriarch Frank Gallagher, and his daughter, Fiona, who serves as an unlikely matriarch to a sprawling clan (including little baby Liam) whose dysfunction, simply put, is unprecedented in American TV history. Booze, drugs, teen pregnancy, incest, bankruptcy, murder -- you name it the Gallaghers have not only dabbled in it, but drowned in it.
Perhaps more troubling to some, Shameless is an adaptation of a BBC show about the dysfunctional, working-class Gallaghers of Manchester.
Has English-style anti-Irishness crossed the pond to the U.S.?
There is a problem here. But it’s not what you think.
When future histories of the Golden Age of TV are written, Irish Americans will clearly play a big role. Tony Soprano made numerous derogatory comments about “the Micks,” and the fictional Jersey pork store in The Sopranos was located next to the Kearney Irish American Association. Long-running shows from Rescue Me to Sons of Anarchy also had central Irish American storylines.
However, this new fad for -- let’s be blunt -- white trash Irish is more troubling. Back in the 1920s, the Irish got sick and tired of being depicted as trash. The final straw was a film called The Callahans and the Murphys, which was boycotted because the Irish were shown as poor slobs with pigs (literally) running around their tenement homes.
Is Shameless any better?
Actually, it is. There is an underlying humanity to the Gallaghers sorely lacking in plain-old offensive or simplistic TV shows.
So, why so many, um, crude Irish on TV?
Because these shows take place in urban areas, perhaps the creators needed the characters to be ethnic enough to explain their presence in the big city, but not so ethnic that the characters would seem offensive.
That might be the real problem here -- that the Irish in America have become a bland or generic style of ethnicity.
Oh well. At least they’re still damn funny.
Read more: The unique Irish history of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery