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Father Ted was a TV dark comedy series from the land of Ireland that was first aired in the 1990s, and the only Irish TV comedy to have been made until Mrs Brown's Boys was created a decade later (though the latter's status as a "comedy" is easily disputable). The show was first brought around when two Irish TV writers, Arthur Mathews and Graham Lineman, found English comedy to be too "boring" and "nice", and so they created their own comedy to challenge the English idea of humour, though hiding the fact that the series is an Irish knock-off of Bottom.
The show centres around Father Ted, an Irish priest from the land of Ireland, who is also an Irish Catholic. He lives with Father Dougall, a naive and free-minded young man, Mrs Doyle, a mentally unstable Irish maid who appears to have been affected strongly by her lack of sleep, and Father Jack Hackett, a senile dipsomaniacal old git who, despite many similarities to a real senile git from Wales, is not actually based on anyone, at least according to the show's creators (although his real life counterpart was still alive at the time, so perhaps it may have been out of fear). The four of them have been condemned for life to Craggy Island by the then-opressive Irish government, and each episode would revolve around Father Ted's failed attempts to escape the island prison until the final episode, where he tragically realises he is stuck in the prison for life (or at least, for the rest of his short life). The series' sponsorship from the IRA is merely business related and the show's writers are not at all associated with the crew.
edit Plot Summary
Father Ted is an Irish priest who has been accused by the English-run government of Ireland of plotting to overthrow the nation, as being a Catholic priest is considered illegal. He is condemned to Craggy Island (a local nickname; officially named "Her Majesty's Political Detention Centre No. 25"), an island prison so secretive even Wikipedia considers it "fictional". After appealing to the Pope as a Catholic priest, his life is saved from execution there, but he is still imprisoned along with other Catholic priests imprisoned on the island. In the show's 32 episode run, Father Ted would try to escape Craggy Island but would never succeed. In the final episode, Father Ted was supposed to perform one final escape to America, and horrifically realise he will never escape as he is marched towards the firing squad. This ending, however, was considered too close to the fourth series of Blackadder, so they replaced his death with a montage of every episode, before showing us the anti-climatic clip of Father Ted being shot with no dramatic music to accompany him collapsing.
The original Irish run had Craggy Island as a clear prison, and was in fact a dark comedy - episode plots would revolve around Father Ted's friends being beaten by guards or the crew witnessing a public execution to set them straight. One particular episode famously revolved around the crew going on hunger strike to protest the ill treatment from the guards - another equally famous episode featured Ted kicking Prison Warden Brennan "up the arse" in order to incur a revolt, with its failure leading to his death sentence a few episodes later. However, when the English TV industry found it, they were upset by such vulgar and clearly biased lies, and edited it to make it look like the priests have been "banished" to a "remote island parish" thanks to "funny incidents". The English TV industry would then destroy the original footage and replace it with the censored version, and thus every rerun to this day is actually the censored, light-hearted sitcom edition, even in Ireland. The only reason it wasn't banned outright was from a compromise agreed with the IRA, who told the English that several of their people would die if their demands weren't met.
Father Ted is nowadays considered one of the, if not the absolute, greatest shows from Ireland - just like Wales and Scotland, it is quite easy to label a show "the best" because each country has about five shows to their one channel and only one is of any enjoyable quality. According to writer Arthur Matthews, the man who played Father Ted himself, Dermot Morgan, was so devoted to his character that he voluntarily gave his real life when his character is executed in the final episode, dismissing rumours that he was told the gun was a blank and killed because they couldn't afford the special effects to fake the actual character's death.
Because the original footage has been destroyed, unfortunately Morgan died for nothing. Co-star Ardal O'Hanlon made his acting debut with the show, and would go on to have a long career of doing shows everyone would forget about shortly after, and O'Hanlon is proud of forever holding a great legacy as "that guy from Father Ted". Actor Frank Kelly (Jack Hackett) went to England to star as a zombie extra in Shaun of the Dead; he was chosen because they didn't have to apply any prosthetics to make him look like a convincing zombie, as he looked close enough to the role already.