The first season of Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy’s nostalgic comedy Moone Boy set the ending of its story in the spring of 1990, with 12-year-old Martin Moone (David Rawle) attending his last day of primary school. The second season begins… almost where that left off, because the premise of this show rules out any ambitious, Mad Men-style time jumps. It’s easy to imagine that the producers must lie awake nights, fearful that Rawle will experience a sudden growth spurt. (Rawle’s IMDB and Wikipedia pages tactfully decline to list his age, as if the kid were Norma Desmond.) Part of the show’s draw remains O’Dowd’s on-screen presence as Martin’s imaginary friend, Sean Murphy—and for the age of a protagonist who still has an imaginary friend, 12 may already be pushing it.
Happily, both Rawle and Ian O’Reilly, who plays Martin’s best corporeal friend Padraic, are still as charming as they were a year ago, and aren’t being prodded too hard to grow up. When Martin’s poker-faced sister Trisha (Aoife Duffin) sneers at him for dressing up like a Ghostbuster on Halloween, their father Liam (Peter McDonald) shoots down the suggestion that he’s gotten a little long in the tooth for trick-or-treating: “Let Martin cling onto his childhood if he wants. Soon enough, he’ll be stuck in some dead-end job where his only treat will be a bit of peace and quiet, and his whole life will be like some sad, bad trick.” For a semi-employed sign painter raising a family in a rural Irish village so small that, as Mom points out after Martin gets lost, “there’s really only two roads,” Dad has a lot on his mind.
The big event holding the pieces of the season together is the impending birth of the first Moone grandchild, Martin’s eldest sister Fidelma (Clare Monnelly) having announced that she was pregnant at the end of the previous season. This is treated not as any kind of crisis, but merely a steady string of nagging humiliations and inconveniences. Both McDonald and Deirdre O’Kane, as his more resourceful and hardheaded wife Debra, are terrific at finding the comedy in feeling just this side of doomed—resigned to always being hard at work cleaning up the latest mess caused by their idiot children. The one thing Liam can’t easily resign himself to is the prospect of being related to the father of Fidelma’s baby, the “clappy, sappy little wimp” Dessie (Ronan Raftery). Dessie is the kind of guy who asks the local priest to both officiate at his marriage ceremony and serve as his best man, since they’re best friends. This comes as news to the priest, who’s never laid eyes on him outside the church grounds.
Dessie is also the kind of guy who won’t propose to his intended until he’s asked her father for his blessing, and Liam can’t bring himself to say yes. Dessie has resolve, though, and after a little prodding from budding man-of-the-world Padraic, he pops the question to Fidelma in the middle of the big school dance that Debra has stepped in to organize. So cow-eyed with yearning that it’s a miracle he doesn’t chew his cud and swish his tail at passing flies, he stands in the middle of the gym floor, surrounded by slack-jawed tweens, and says: “I’ve loved you from the very first moment I met you, or at least from about the end of that month. I can’t tell you how proud I am that my seed is now growing inside your lovely big womb. But I’m not content with just showering your uterus with my love. I want to shower every other part of your body too, starting with your finger.“ She says yes. She’d say anything to get him to shut up.
Martin himself experiences his first strong, one-sided romantic feelings when he shows up for his first day of secondary school and falls hard for his art teacher, Miss Tivnan (Amy Huberman). His first glimpse of her, striking a Harlequin Romances pose by a window, is a gauzy, slow-motion daydream, but because Martin is a budding artist whose goofy exterior conceals hidden depths, it’s her flashy patter about the power of creativity that really pulls him in. Miss Tivnan orders the kids to give themselves new names that express their true selves (“Not your given name. This isn’t a police station, it’s a creative station!”), then tells them, “You have just been arted.” While Martin is goggling at all this, Sean Murphy crouches by his side, expressing that infinitesimal part of him that knows better; when Miss Tivnan dispenses large balls of clay to the students and tells them that genius is within each and every one, Sean yells, “Genius is in it! Kill it!” By the end of the class, Martin and his imaginary friend are playing at being romantic rivals for the teacher’s attentions.
Miss Tivnan is just a passing blip on Martin’s radar screen. But the Miss Tivnan episode does end with one of the funniest scenes of the new season, one that shows off how fruitfully Moone Boy makes use of its imaginary-friend gimmick. With the back-to-school dance dying on the vine—nobody goes to dance, as Trisha explains to her mother: “We only come to see which girls have gotten fat.”—Martin takes to the empty dance floor and, hoping to impress his new crush, thoroughly makes a fool of himself. Then, in a moving show of solidarity—“You look like an idiot. Let’s look like an idiot together.”—Sean Murphy joins him on the floor, so the two of them can do a two-man Dirty Dancing routine that, since Martin doesn’t really have a partner, enables him to make an even bigger fool of himself. (“Quick,” Miss Tivnan pants as she drags a studly dude into a nearby closet, “while they’re distracted by that dancing idiot.”) Staging a scene like this so that it comes across as both funny and touching but never pathetic is some trick. Moone Boy manages it again and again.