Has there ever been a gumshoe who looks as good in a cardigan as Guy Pearce in Jack Irish? Is there a more quintessentially Australian headquarters for a private investigator than an office situated in the back of a pub? And – if you’ll excuse a third rhetorical question – is there a more appropriate way to present Melbourne than in a grittily stylish series that opens with images of a person walking down a damp laneway, and a pot of beer poured from a tap?
Created by Andrew Anastasios, Matt Cameron and Andrew Knight, and adapted from Peter Temple’s novels, the Jack Irish series has been going great guns since premiering almost a decade ago with the 2012 telemovie Jack Irish: Bad Debts. The down-in-the-mouth protagonist’s four-part final hurrah premieres this Sunday on ABC TV (new episodes arrive weekly, with all available on iView), which will mark a total of three Jack Irish telemovies (Bad Debts, Black Tide and Dead Point) and three TV seasons. The franchise benefited from transitioning to a fully fledged episodic format, with more space to unpack its tangly, jiggery-pokery-filled plotlines.
So, what are Jack Irish devotees such as myself hoping to see in the finale? Let’s start with the basics: firstly, the third season should involve some kind of high level conspiracy – which so far have included shonky real estate developers (Bad Debts), a religious cult (series one) and the international student university sector (series two).
Secondly, Irish must be put in harm’s way, preferably many times, while Pearce does his thing and maintains a cucumber-cool demeanour while also looking rather miffed. So far the lawyer-cum-investigator has been shot (Dead Point), attacked in Fitzroy Gardens (also Dead Point), chased in a car by gun-wielding maniacs (Black Tide), strung to a tree (series two), pursued relentlessly by goons (pretty much all of them) and experienced other hardships that totally justify a facial expression that reads: “I should have stayed in bed.” Bed usually meaning the couch in his Fitzroy abode, next to a bottle of half-finished spirits.
The last series will have to be tastefully Melbourne – capturing local settings but not making too much of them. None of those gratuitous shots of the harbour we see in Sydney-set productions. Not that Melbourne has much of a harbour, or beautiful water views (the sewage-coloured Yarra doesn’t count), but Melburnians don’t need ’em – because we have graffiti-strewn laneways, various tram-lined streets, great cafes and wine bars and awesome nightlife. All of which have been well captured in the telemovies and seasons so far.
Melbourne also has great pubs. One of them is crucial to Jack Irish: the (fictitious) Prince of Prussia, which is the headquarters of a group the protagonist lovingly calls “the Fitzroy youth club”. He is referring to the delightfully crusty old bar flies (the last blokes standing are played by John Flaus and Terry Norris) who have had to endure something much more horrific than anything experienced by their cardie-wearing, trouble-attracting friend. That is the gentrification of their local watering hole, in order to accomodate an increasingly hipstery clientele.
The Prince of Prussia functions as a kind of narrative pressure release valve, with the lighter moments that transpire there taking the edge off very serious storylines. The quality of the pub’s food and drinks has been the butt of several jokes, Irish for instance once describing the wine as emerging from “Chateau Disappointment”. The poor old publican Stan (Damien Garvey) is always trying to get his head around crazy new concepts, such as tapas – which he comes to define as “the same lunch menu, just put in little dishes”. What fancy ingredients will he add to the menu in the last season – heirloom tomatoes? Macadamia tofu? Scallop sashimi?!
On the subject of food: Shane Jacobson’s character Barry, a bloody ’strayan old school detective, eats a lot throughout the franchise. The first time we meet him (in Bad Debts) he’s scarfing down hot chips and enquiring about the availability of Quick-Eze; his diet also includes donuts, pies and cigarettes. In series one Barry consumes his version of a fancy meal: a dish at a strip club dubbed “schnitz and tits”. The fat cop gorging on junk food is a bit of a trope, but Jacobson fills it out, so to speak, very well, reminding us that he can be a highly effective dramatic performer (see also: the under-seen 2018 comedy-horror Brothers’ Nest).
Jack Irish is a pretty blokey show (with memorable supporting performances from the likes of Aaron Pedersen, Roy Billing and Bob Franklin) and one wouldn’t expect that to change in its final stretch. An important exception however is the character of Linda Hillier, who, excellently played by the ever-reliable Marta Dusseldorp, is a major character: a tenacious author and investigative journalist who tumbles down various rabbit holes with Jack. They used to date, but it would be too much to suggest they get back together and live happily ever after; it’s not that kind of show. It’s more likely that Irish’s long-suffering IT expert friend, Simone (Kate Atkinson), will be reluctantly roped into helping him out yet again.
What else? An unexpected cameo might be nice – such as in season two, when Tom Gleeson pranced onto the scene as an avid, scroggin-packing bird watcher. But mostly, fans hope that the quality remains high as the franchise concludes. With screenwriters well practiced in (Jack) Irish lore returning (Cameron, Knight and Anastasios), and Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Gloaming, Jungle) directing, there’s every reason to believe it will. When Irish is gone I’ll miss the bastard. And his cardigan. And the Fitzroy Youth Club.
• The final season of Jack Irish starts on Sunday 13 June, 8.30pm on ABC TV, and all episodes will be available to stream on ABC iView