Only Murders in the Irish Village: 'Bodkin' Spins TV's Podcasting-Sleuths Format Into an Easy-to-Binge Whodunnit

It isn't hard to spot where this West Cork-set murder-mystery takes inspiration from — and it's not hard to get immersed in the Will Forte-starring series, either.
Sarah Ward
Published on May 22, 2024

When podcasting grasped onto IRL mysteries and the world listened, it started a 21st-century circle of true crime obsessions. First, the audio format dived into the genre. Next, screens big and small gave it renewed attention, not that either ever shirked reality's bleakest details. Now, movies and TV shows are known to spin stories around folks investigating such cases to make podcasts, turning detective as they press record. And, as Only Murders in the Building did, sometimes there's also a podcast venturing behind the scenes of a fictional affair about podcasters sleuthing a case.

While Bodkin, which arrived via Netflix on Thursday, May 9, mightn't come with an accompanying digital audio series stepping into its minutiae, it does take murder-mystery comedy Only Murders in the Building's lead otherwise. Swaps are made — West Cork is in, New York is out; deaths pile up in an Irish village, not an apartment building; three chalk-and-cheese neighbours give way to a trio of mismatched journalists — but the shared format is as plain to see as blood splatter. Call that part of the 21st-century circle of true crime obsessions, too, as one hit inspires more. Bodkin is easy to get hooked on as Only Murders in the Building as well, even if it's not as guaranteed to return for additional seasons.

Siobhán Cullen (The Dry), Will Forte (Strays) and Robyn Cara (Mixtape) give this seven-part series its investigating threesome: Irishwoman-in-London Dove Maloney, a hard-nosed reporter who just lost a source on a big story; American Gilbert Power, who capitalised upon his wife's cancer for his first podcast hit; and enthusiastic researcher Emmy Sizergh, who wants to be Dove and, much to her idol's dismay, is fine with following Gilbert's lead to get there. They're thrown together in the show's titular town not by Dove's choice, but because she's bundled off by her editor when the whistleblower behind an article about England's National Health Service is found dead. Gilbert and Emmy are well-aware that she's not there willingly — Dove isn't the type to hide her disdain for anything, especially her latest assignment, Gilbert's medium of choice and his approach, and Emmy's eagerness.

Bodkin beckons courtesy of a cold case from a quarter-century back when the village gathered for its then-annual Samhain festival (an influence upon Halloween). The last time that the event was held in the scenic coastal spot, three people disappeared, which Gilbert is certain is a killer hook for the next big hit he desperately needs for the sake of both his reputation and his finances. He also has Irish heritage, another angle that he's sure will add audience-courting flavour to the podcast. But the trio have barely arrived, with local twentysomething Seán (Chris Walley, The Young Offenders) as their driver and the eccentric Mrs O'Shea (Pom Boyd, also The Dry) their B&B host, when Dove is adamant that there's much more going on in Bodkin than the narrative that Gilbert has already decided to tell.

Through the acerbic and cynical Dove — someone who responds to being considered a role model by telling Emmy to fuck off repeatedly — Bodkin gets its licks in about podcasting's tropes, formula and current oversaturation. Through Gilbert, too, including via his stock-standard and cliche-riddled opening voiceovers that could've been lifted from real-life audio, it also satirises the format that the show puts at its centre. Making his first series after penning four shorts between 2011–2018, creator Jez Scharf largely keeps the show in darkly humorous mode, though, and lets the whodunnit angle play out like a comic-leaning thriller (season two of The Tourist also comes to mind). Although that might seem a tricky tonal balance, it works not just in his hands, but with Nash Edgerton (brother of Joel, and director of Mr Inbetween, Gringo and The Square), Bronwen Hughes (Shantaram), Johnny Allan (The Devil's Hour) and Paddy Breathnach (another The Dry alum) helming.

At one point, whether Gilbert, Dove and Emmy's project will be "a podcast that pretends to be about one thing but is really about something else" is raised — a fair comment in general, as regular listeners know. That's also an observation that applies to Bodkin itself, but knowingly. This is indeed a series about podcasters investigating a case, a parody of exactly that and an unpacking of the voyeurism behind the form in its true-crime guise. In addition, it's an exploration of the truth that little neatly boils down to the formula podcasts are chasing. It's a portrait of being caught between tradition and the future as well, which applies in a range of ways — and, especially of Dove, it's a character study.

Bodkin is populated by everyone from singing blacksmiths (Ger Kelly, King Frankie) to entrepreneurs trying to set up a server farm (Charlie Kelly, Dublin Murders), and also an island of nuns and a camp of hippies. As becomes apparent early, at the core of much that's occurring usually sits fisherman Seamus Gallagher (David Wilmot, The Wonder). Scharf and his fellow writers have fleshed out their setting Parks and Recreation- and The Simpsons-style with an array of colourful characters that comprise any community, and have let comedy guide some of their choices. When it examines what drives Dove, Gilbert and Emmy as they get immersed deeper and deeper into a mystery that sees them witnessing yoga in a convent one day and hearing about the Good Friday agreement another, however, it is at its strongest.

As Dove, Cullen turns in a multifaceted performance to build a series around. Given her raw, thoughtful and caustically amusing work, it's no surprise that that's where Bodkin heads. Forte starts off the show like he's wandered in from The Last Man of Earth, complete with goofy charm and bumbling certainty that Gilbert is on the right path, but is given room to lay bare the character's layers. Cara, too, gets the space to make Emmy much more than a sidekick. Among the supporting players, both Walley and Wilmot leave a considerable imprint. So does the show overall, despite taking its time to settle into a groove — and as a jump into scripted TV by Higher Ground, the production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama (which also had a hand in 2023 movies Rustin and Leave the World Behind), it's an effective and quick-to-binge first leap.

Check out the trailer for Bodkin below:

Bodkin streams via Netflix.

Images: Enda Bowe/Netflix © 2024.

Published on May 22, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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