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Moone Boy: TV Review

Hulu Moone Boy - H 2013
"Moone Boy"

The Bottom Line

One of the most charming series on TV -- or, in this case, Hulu.

"Family Tree's" Chris O'Dowd co-created and stars in this funny, upbeat and touching series -- set in 1989 Ireland -- which is available on Hulu.

One of the most charming series on television -- or, in this case, Hulu -- is Moone Boy, a delightfully funny, upbeat and touching series from Ireland. It’s a show you watch and immediately wish was on a network (which it could be, if you trimmed a bit of the swearing and, you know, didn’t set it in Ireland).

But no worries, Hulu Plus has Moone Boy exclusively, and all six of the recently completed episodes from season one are available. Since Moone Boy has already finished a second season and was just greenlit for a third, look for Hulu Plus to keep the access open into the future.

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Moone Boy was created by Chris O’Dowd (currently starring in HBO’s excellent Family Tree) and Nick Vincent Murphy. The premise is pretty simple. Let O’Dowd in the show’s opening voice-over explain it: “Ever wanted to be the imaginary friend of an idiot boy in the west of Ireland? Me neither. But there you go.”

Short and succinct -- the kind of immediately funny element that sets up expectations of more, with all of them met many times over as Moone Boy unspools.

The series takes place in Boyle, Ireland, in 1989. And even if you miss some of the Irish-centric humor, you absolutely will not miss the visual jokes about clothing, music, lack of technology, etc.

Besides, people are people across the world, and many of their motivations, foibles and personalities will resonate immediately.

O’Dowd plays the invisible friend of one Martin Moone (David Rawle), who, despite living in a family dominated by his sisters (or maybe because of it), has a constantly upbeat view of life that maybe another boy his age might keep under wraps for fear of getting beaten up -- something Martin aka Moone-face suffers on a regular basis at the hands of the Bonner Boys, Jonner and Conner (Brendan and Cillian Frayne).

The quirky (but not precocious) Martin, about to celebrate his 12th birthday, has a loving mother, Debra (Deirdre O’Kane) and a loving but exasperated father Liam (Peter McDonald). Moone Boy doesn’t do what American television would do, which is make Liam a lout or a drunk. He’s a nice if overwhelmed father trying to deal with three feisty daughters: Fidelma (Clare Monnelly), Sinead (Sarah White) and Trisha (Aoife Duffin).

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They run the house. There’s little doubt about that. This doesn’t seem to bother Martin, despite the fact his sisters consistently forget when he was born and refer to him as a mistake: "Accident -- accident, not mistake!" yells the invisible-to-others O’Dowd.

Perhaps being the youngest and just trying to survive is why Martin has such an active imagination. He’s already an old soul -- spouting things his parents might even be too young to say -- and Martin also draws endlessly in his notebook. Moone Boy takes those drawings and animates them to create another level of humor for the series (which also uses on-screen notes like this one from the pilot: "Boyle, 1989. Chance of rain, weirdly low … apart from the drizzle … and the slanty rain").

The comedy comes from all sides. The writing is superb, and O’Dowd gets to add asides as he’s sitting with Martin wherever Martin is. He whispers to Martin, too, giving him advice (not all of it good). When things go back, O’Dowd as the imaginary friend sits with Martin and tells him to shake it off. But rarely is Martin laid low by the world; his enthusiasm is infectious, which is part of the humor, because he’s constantly getting beaten down for it.

When Martin manages to foist the Bonner Boys on the latest fresh-faced arrival at the school, the results are predictable: The new kid gets a pounding from Jonner and Conner. This makes Martin feel guilty, but O’Dowd tells him not to worry. “It’s really Trevor’s fault for being new.”

You don’t know where to expect the jokes to come from. As Martin’s mom runs down a list of people in Boyle who could be rich enough to help support Irish presidential candidate Mary Robinson, it turns out most are dead. Says Martin of one: “The Big C got him ... A car accident.”

The great thing is that Martin is rarely trying to be funny. He’s just who he is. The kind of old soul who says he’s turning “the big one-two” the next day as O’Dowd tells him his life will surely be better. It’s not. But it’s never sad.

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Mostly Moone Boy is a coming-of-age story for a kid probably not yet equipped to battle the real world. But there’s so much humor and sweet-but-not-sacharrine moments (and absurdity), that it’s the kind of coming-of-age story you can’t wait to see Martin (and O’Dowd) experience together.

One of the benefits of the kind of services Hulu and Netflix provide is that if you (like me) missed the low-level launch of Moone Boy, you can always catch up at any time.  Even with so much strong summer fare on TV right now, Moone Boy is better than a great deal of what you’re being offered, so go check it out.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine