Coming-of-age stories never go out of style, which explains why TV keeps returning to them. Now Hulu joins the party with “Moone Boy,” an Irish version of “The Wonder Years,” only set in the late 1980s when “Wonder Years” actually aired. Chris O’Dowd is all over the place these days — “Bridesmaids,” HBO’s “Family Tree” and “Girls” — and both co-created “Moone Boy” and appears in it, playing the imaginary friend of the 11-year-old protagonist. Described as semi-autobiographical, it’s whimsical, to be sure, but other than the “Local Hero”-like environs, never particularly distinctive or funny.
Indeed, but for the nostalgic songs that grace and enliven the soundtrack, the half-dozen-episode season feels virtually indistinguishable from any number of other British comedy series. The central device, moreover — having O’Dowd’s imaginary pal, Sean, appear to young Martin Moone (a nicely realistic and natural David Rawle), and no one else — is perhaps more reminiscent of FX’s “Wilfred” than “Harvey.”
Martin is a kind of doughy kid with working-class parents (Peter McDonald, Deirdre O’Kane) and older sisters, living in the slightly quirky town of Boyle. Narrated by O’Dowd (like we said, very “Wonder Years”-esque), the episodes largely center on the customary genre stuff — being bullied, discovering girls — with the occasional historical subplot, like Martin being inspired by the Berlin Wall coming down or the women rallying in support of Mary Robinson’s candidacy to become Ireland’s first female president.
The first half-hour (more like about 22 minutes, commercial free) is probably the best, with Martin’s dad and some of the other local fathers concocting excuses to take refuge from their horrible kids. Ultimately, though, as with most material produced in this vein — including an upcoming show like ABC’s “The Goldbergs” — “Moone Boy” can’t help but play like a minor trifle at best, a semi-sweet but not particularly memorable indulgence.
O’Dowd (who wrote the episodes with Nick Vincent Murphy) clearly harbors a warm if slightly tweaked view of childhood and puberty, and those aspects of the show are universal in a way that some of the more specific political reminiscing isn’t.
Given the growing competition for attention in the original-digital space, it’s not surprising U.S. distributors would scour the globe for promotable titles featuring recognizable English-speaking talent, in much the way DirecTV has cleverly stocked its Audience Network. Even so, a low-key acquisition like the BBC-distributed “Moone Boy” doesn’t cast off enough flattering light to create much of a halo around Hulu.