Like most private investigators, Jack Irish has a dark past. At one time, Jack was a fancy criminal lawyer with a beautiful wife, Isabel (Emma Booth), but his life came to an abrupt halt when a disgruntled client, upset over the departure of his wife while he was in jail, shows up at Jack's business and kills Isabelle, then himself. Now, Jack splits his time between drinking at a local dive with a trio of geezers who cheer his father's disbanded football team (matches on VHS) and grifting the odds at horse races with his new boss, Harry Strang (Roy Billing) and his muscle, Cam (Aaron Pedersen).
The mysteries in these first two episodes are about corporate corruption: shady land deals and drug transport. To be frank, the plots are not particularly interesting -- although the stories are reasonably complex, the mysteries just aren't that engaging, with the thrill of the hunt never taking charge. Instead, the appeal of "Jack Irish" is in the character of Irish himself (at least, as portrayed by Pearce), and his associates, most specifically sexy local reporter Linda Hillier (Marta Dusseldorp), who helps Jack with his investigation in "Bad Debts." Both Jack and Linda have a world-weariness about them when it comes to romance, and the chemistry between Pearce and Dusseldorp is low-key but still electrifying.
Much like the romance, Pearce's portrayal of Jack Irish has a casual attitude that works well for the show. Pearce, who has a sharp class when cleaned up and wonderful everyman qualities when dressed down, is a perfect fit for a noir-ish detective. His shambling pursuit of information matches the casual rhythm of the show, which takes story threads that could become tiring if they were too arranged and lets them fall where they may. Example: in "Black Tide", gangsters visit the woodshop where Jack spends his off hours and beat up Jack's friend Charlie (the late Vadim Glowna). In a lesser show, this would probably be a lazy framing device, used to motivate Jack at the beginning and to provide a pat resolution at the end, but here it's just a detour that relates to the story but doesn't carry it.
Despite the leisurely pace, "Jack Irish" is a frequently thrilling and intense show. Director Jeffrey Walker is skilled at sustaining tension; Jack's investigations involve very powerful, dangerous people, and throughout these two "episodes" it constantly feels as if his life is in genuine danger. If the show has a flaw, it could be argued that Jack's success can rely more on chance than ingenuity (the climax of "Bad Debts", for example), but even during tense scenes, the stakes of the show are never ratcheted up to the point where story weaknesses feel like a big deal.
The Video and Audio
A DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is decent, if not the full surround sound experience. Most of "Jack Irish" is just characters talking to one another, so there wouldn't necessarily be much use for a 5.1 mix anyway, but the result is a fairly basic aural experience, with dialogue coming through the front and music coming in the back. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.