Mission: Not Credible

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2010 by Miche

Peter Graves died (may he rest in peace) just before St Patrick’s Day. And I find myself remembering the most extraordinary representation of Ireland I have ever seen on Irish television.

Summer 1990. I had recently moved to Dublin, and was living in a very nice apartment in Ballsbridge. There was a TV, but no cable. There were two terrestrial channels available: RTÉ 1 and Network 2. It was almost worse than having no TV at all, such was the dearth of interesting programming. Wednesday night was a highlight of the week because there were two programmes on that were worth watching: thirtysomething followed by Cheers. One night a week there was a newish series of Mission: Impossible, with Peter Graves reprising his Jim Phelps role, and with a new, younger, Australian cast (it was shot in Australia).

On this particular night – was it a Monday? I don’t remember – Ireland was playing Italy in the World Cup. This was Ireland’s first ever match in the World Cup finals. Everybody in Ireland was watching the match. Everybody but me, as far as I can tell. Because I haven’t met anyone else who decided to switch over to Network 2 and watch Mission: Impossible that night. (I’m not interested in football, and I’m not interested in national pride.)

Here’s what I saw.

A bus full of pensioners sets off across some fields. There’s some music on the soundtrack that, had I been quicker on the uptake, might have alerted me to the fact that this was supposed to be Ireland. The bus blows up.

[Titles. Cool Lalo Schifrin theme.]

Now here comes Jim Phelps. In this late 80s remake, it’s a videotape that briefs him, though of course it still self-destructs in five seconds. In the town of BallyNaGragh there is a division between the Catholics, loyal to the government in the South, and the Protestants, loyal to the government in the North (no mention is made of the UK). A local hotelier and covert arms dealer is fomenting trouble by organising outrages such as the pensioner bus blast, and getting rich by selling arms to both sides. Jim’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to STAP THE FIGHTIN’.

We’re never told whether BallyNaGragh is north or south of the border. But then that’s hardly relevant, since BallyNaGragh seems to exist in a time warp – or rather a reality warp. All the girls have long, curly auburn hair, white blouses and long skirts. All the boys have dunchers, white shirts, tweed trousers and braces. There is only one pub in BallyNaGragh – a sure sign that nobody involved in this production had ever been near Ireland – and THERE IS A WHITE LINE DOWN THE MIDDLE OF IT. The Protestants drink on one side of the line, the Catholics on the other. Might somebody cross the line and provoke a Quiet Man style fight? Oh, don’t be ridiculous.

The Phelps folks prevail, of course. They lure the two broths of boys who head the Ps and the Cs to a lighthouse, and contrive to get them chained together over what they think is a ticking bomb. And they rig up a fake banshee to scare the living daylights out of the arms dealer, who is scared off like a character from Scooby-Doo. As for the twin broths, they co-operate to escape from the ticking bomb, then: “After this, we’ll talk.”

Peace has come to BallyNaGragh. End credits.

Somebody at RTÉ must have watched the batch of episodes they’d bought and thought “Well, we can’t show that one. That’s ludicrous.” And then, a minute or two later: “Mind you, there is one night we might get away with it…”

Update: It’s on YouTube! And if you watch it, you’ll see that I misemembered certain details (I haven’t edited my 20-year-old recollection above). But it’s every bit as excruciatingly inauthentic as I recalled.

Update again: That YouTube link doesn’t work any more, but it’s at at time of writing.


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