Channel 5 have shown a lot of decent foreign programming on its sister channels 5USA and 5*, including Justified and the only UK airing of the outstanding Breaking Bad. Channel 5 itself though is awful, airing a combination of reality TV, ‘Was Hitler an Alien?’ style documentaries, and Steven Seagal films on loop. It’s surprising then that they’ve imported Love/Hate, an Irish show that has received critical acclaim in its home country.
The three-year-old crime drama already reached these shores a few years back, airing in Scotland on STV (who hold the ITV license in Scotland), and the age of the series is clear, with dialogue including references to now ancient seeming technology like Bebo.
The first series has four episodes, and the first introduced a group of Irish criminals, including Darren, who had just returned from hiding in Spain. Upon arriving, his brother was murdered, and Darren closed out the episode vowing vengeance. Other characters include comic relief Nidge, who is a bit of an idiot, fellow criminal Tommy, Darren’s sister Mary, and top gangster John Boy Power. That last character is played by the excellent Aidan Gillen, who played Tommy Carcetti in The Wire.
And speaking of The Wire, Love/Hate has been continually compared to that show in the press. I think that’s the wrong thing to do, because The Wire is one of the greatest and most groundbreaking television shows ever made, and almost every other TV show will look bad in comparison. And I didn’t see much in this first episode to justify the comparisons. There was a little bit about the absurdity of the Irish legal system, and certainly some attempts in the writing to give the characters depth, but beyond that it was a straightforward gangster show, even leaning on tropes, like the criminal who thinks he’s being taken to get whacked, but isn’t.
The writing was decent though. In one good scene, Darren’s ex-girlfriend is revealed to be pregnant through subtle dialogue that doesn’t actually state that she is pregnant. ‘You shouldn’t be smoking Rosemary,’ said one character. ‘You shouldn’t be smoking?’ asked another. It’s a small thing but it illustrates a willingness on the writer’s part to avoid underlining every point or holding the viewer’s hand at every step.
The directing though I found to be a little annoying. There were lots of angled shots, extreme close-ups and slow motion looks into the camera. And the music was similarly overstated, with loud drawn-out clangs over the scene where Darren’s brother is murdered.
The episode was also quite slow and, despite its subject matter, not that gripping. The Radio Times preview of episode one urged viewers to stick with it, so maybe it will improve, and there is certainly enough in this first episode to suggest it might be worth watching the full series.
- There was some funny stuff in the episode, which is good because shows like this need comic relief. Not to make the comparison I just argued against, but The Wire was really good at injecting humour into a brutal and pessimistic show.
- The opening scenes conveyed relatively mundane events with lots of pace, resulting in the murder scene carrying a punch and making an impact. It was good directing; I just wish they’d filmed the murder itself, and the aftermath, with more subtlety.
- Love/Hate is an awful name
- Note: Google around too much and you’re likely to stumble across massive spoilers for this show. Remember there’s been three series in Ireland already.