The Dublin-based crime drama holds up as a turning point in original scripted Irish television
Why binge Love/Hate?
Bear in mind the difficult position Irish broadcasters find themselves in, nestled firmly in the English-speaking mediascape, with viewers’ entertainment consumption driven by the prevailing trends of what’s breaking blocks in Hollywood. For most of the viewing public, we were raised as much by the BBC as RTÉ, a kind of absentee godparent who benevolently blessed us with some of the finest television ever commissioned without asking for anything in return – except for patience when they switched from regularly scheduled viewing for something from the Northern Ireland studios.
Which is why designating a significant portion of your annual budget to original scripted drama is a gamble for RTÉ, TV3 and TG4, each of which pushed the boat out throughout 2016, showing that when it comes to competing in the no-man’s-land of entertainment media, taking a risk is the only thing that pays off.
Except for when it doesn’t, which is not a particularly irregular thing. Which is why Love/Hate, frequently billed as the “best drama RTÉ has ever produced” seems so special. Early on it achieved the scant laurel wreath of being referred to as ‘good for an Irish show’, but Stuart Carolan – who first rose to national prominence for his Navan Man sketches on Today FM – shaped the show into a crime epic that immediately calls to mind The Wire and The Sopranos. Grounded by a handful of screen performances that have ushered in the nouvelle vague – or tonn nua – of Irish cinema and television, Love/Hate has achieved the rare distinction of selling to foreign countries, making captives of its native audience, and being undeniably good.
How long will it take to watch?
Across its five seasons, the 28 episodes of Love/Hate clock in at a total of one day and four hours of TV. As a violent crime drama, though, an evening of multiple episodes can be so bleak as to become unrewarding, so probably best to pace it with one a night and two on weekends, meaning it just should less than a month to mainline.
Where can you binge it?
There’s no easy way around it, DVD is your only option. The series is not available to stream on Netflix, unless you’re planning a weekend away to central Europe, nor can it be found on Sky On-Demand or the RTÉ Player. Even the Eason website is sold out of the boxset, though you’ll find it online for less than €25. If Christmas has you tightening your belt, the good news is that several copied are available in the Libraries Ireland online catalogue. And some look-the-other-way cavalier searching on YouTube will also turn up results...
Any hurdles to overcome?
The show’s near indifference to its female characters is a major weakness in the writing, relegated to the blubbering sidelines most of the time. Apart from that, the show’s violence and depiction of sexual assaults make for the kind of watching where viewer discretion is advised.
Who steals the show?
Without a doubt it’s Tom Vaughan-Lawlor who was the major breakout performer to come out of Love/Hate. Known for his stage work, Vaughan-Lawlor had third billing on a cast that included a The Wire alumnus in the shape of Aidan Gillen and Robert Sheehan, who played the show’s protagonist when it debuted. Over time, Nidge nudged everyone else off screen, delivering snarky and sinister turns in equal measure, riveting an entire nation in wonder of what he would do next.
A scene to sample:
From the show’s fourth season, we see Nidge and his teenage protégé teaming up to hunt down a traveller, Nidge’s grooming of the young man to become a killer a chilling spectacle to behold...
What to follow it up with?
There’s been nothing comparable to Love/Hate on Irish TV since it ended its run in 2014, with rumours of a sixth season having faded – though it should probably never be ruled out. The closest binge-worthy show is Northern Ireland’s The Fall, though you’d really probably be better off seeking out Mrs Brown’s Boys for a while, reminding yourself that the Northside of Dublin isn’t just gang warfare.