You wouldn't be blamed for missing the Hulu series Moone Boy. It debuted on the streaming service just a day before Netflix launched everyone's new obsession, Orange Is the New Black. But once you've grappled with the ending of that prison drama, take a trip to 1989 Ireland and use Moone Boy as a totally adorable palate cleanser.
British import Moone Boy stars Chris O'Dowd—your Bridesmaids crush—as Seán Murphy, who is self-described as the "imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the West of Ireland." That idiot boy is Martin Paul Kenny Daglish Moone, the youngest child in the slightly dysfunctional Moone family. Calling a kid an "idiot" is kind of cruel, but this show is never nasty. It has the gentle, not-so-long-ago wisdom of Freaks and Geeks, mixed with Leave It to Beaver and peppered with some of About a Boy's squirmy tween social anxiety. It's a nice show. Sure, Martin may be sort of an idiot, but he's also unfailingly sweet. While his imaginary pal sometimes urges Martin into new and uncertain territory, encouraging him in the final episode to sow his wild oats with the rest of his unruly classmates on the last day of primary school, Seán Murphy mostly just indulges Martin's good nature. Though he's named his imaginary friend, of all the names to pick from, the "most common name in Ireland," Martin can also be, as June Thomas wrote in Slate, "incredibly creative." Seán Murphy isn't anything to worry about, he's just the product of an overactive imagination.
The real-life characters are equally intriguing. There are Martin's three sisters (bitchy Trisha is our favorite), his hapless dad, his feminist mother, his one real-life friend (a the mini-Nick Frost lookalike named Padraic), and his bully protector, a greaser type named Declan. (Yes, Martin gets bullied, but he never seems too fazed by it, choosing to mostly smile it off.)
The whole of Moone Boy (which O'Dowd, who also serves as a writer, says is partly autobiographical), is a wonderful little cultural study of time and place.The second installment finds Martin's mother campaigning for the first female president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. In the following episode, Martin's personal struggle to tear down the wall that keeps him from using a shortcut to school (and having time to wipe off the makeup his sister has applied to his face while he was sleeping) is paralleled by the faraway destruction of the Berlin Wall. And because this show is very Irish, with the church looming large in everyday life, the fifth—and in our opinion funniest—episode finds Martin entranced by the local altar boys, wanting to join up, only to find that they are corrupt.
Its themes and tone are certainly winning, but Moone Boy would not succeed without David Rawle, the young actor (with no other credits) who plays Martin. Rawle's Martin is like a slightly more modern, Irish Beaver Cleaver: he wreaks minor havoc here and there, but only with the best of intentions. Rawle also manages to play an after-school-special-y moment—puberty gives Martin some weird feelings brought on by female tennis players—without a hint of self-consciousness.
The landscape of summer scripted television has been pretty grim this year. As funny as Orange Is the New Black was, it still takes place in a prison. Ray Donovan trades on the violent anti-hero cable model. People are dying under that damn dome. Amidst all that grit, drear, and menace, you may be in need of a simple smile. Moone Boy will give you that in six utterly charming episodes. Watch it and find yourself humming, "where's me jumper?"