Last night’s episode of Republic of Doyle did something for me that no other previous episode has.
A little help from my friends
The entire episode revolved around one of the central characters. Without giving away too much for those who missed it but still plan on seeing it, that character was implicated in the crime of the week. As a result, we saw them fleshed out like never before, and hidden aspects of the rest of the characters were exposed in the process.
This is what every episode needs. It’s what you get in a typically well written character drama. Unfortunately with Doyle, we usually only see character development occur in glimmers, overshadowed by the primary focus of the episode: the whodunnit.
Granted, Doyle is a crime-of-the-week style drama, but of-the-weeks needn’t be thin on character development to stay true to their genre.
Angel in America
Take Joss Weadon’s American television masterpiece (and bare with me here for a moment, non-believers) Angel, for example.
The two shows are strikingly similar: a leather jacket clad, spiky haired young man with a murky past runs a detective agency with the help of a ragtag group of friends, one of whom gets taken in off the streets and has a secret past all his own. The central character, like Doyle, is smart and strong, but also at times the butt of the joke. Heck, in the first two seasons he even has a sexual-tension building relationship with a police detective that ends up going sour yet comes in handy for getting him in and out of cuffs at the right, and sometimes wrong, times.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Angel’s closest ally in season one was an Irishman named Allen Doyle, but I chalk that purely up to coincidence)
Besides the fact that Angel’s crimes-of-the-week are of a supernatural nature, the most glaring difference between the Angel and Doyle series’ is their willingness to develop character. With Angel, character comes first, and often dictates the nature of each episode’s story (not to mention the over-arching story of each season and the series as a whole). With Doyle, character feels more like an after thought, something used to fill in the cracks once the story for an episode has been decided.
Except in the case of last night’s episode. I’ve never felt more invested in an episode of Republic of Doyle than I did last night.
Tension and release
All this leads to a more general criticism I have, which is that I think Doyle could stand to be a lot more gritty. You can see it wanting to at times with subplots revolving around Jake’s mysterious brother, Rose’s past and Tinny’s recent foray into grow-oping, but still the series holds back. It’s as if, like a self-conscious teenager, they’re worried if you take them too seriously, you’ll forget to laugh when they’re trying to be funny. And Doyle is meant to be funny. But the comedy should act as a release from the tension that the drama builds. When the drama fails to build much tension, the comedy doesn’t really give us much in the way of a release.
An audience’s investment in character is the best resource a series can rely on for building tension through drama. We don’t care nearly as much about what happens to the victim-of-the-week as we do the people we see every week running around trying to help said victims.
If I could give Doyle any advice for season three, it would be this: beef up character development and don’t be afraid to go down the darkened paths this will lead you.