by John Boland

Irish Independent, November 17, 2012

The first episode in the new season of Love/Hate (RTE1) culminated in a brutally violent rape and murder, but long before that most of the women characters had already been used and abused – not just by the young males who dominate this crime drama but by its makers as well.

You could argue that women have frequently been victims of a similar macho contempt in The Sopranos or The Wire, but David Chase and David Simon, respective creators of those series, paid as much attention to their women characters as to their murderous spouses, boyfriends or brothers, thus ensuring that we cared about what they did and what happened to them. Indeed, what would The Sopranos have been like without Carmela, Livia, Meadow and Janice?

By contrast, the makers of Love/Hate have given their women characters no real identities or personalities. Instead, they’re stock ciphers – put-upon wives, complaining girlfriends or compliant prostitutes – and the drama has no interest in them other than as (frequently undressed) receptacles of the lusts or furies of their menfolk, who don’t even seem to have mothers to temper or inflame their driving passions.

In this week’s episode, and for no good reason, a call girl mutely performed sexual services on the main villain, Nidge, while he was engaged in conversation with the Real IRA man seated next to him. The makers would probably call this gritty realism, but all I could think was how demeaning it must be for an actress to be required to perform such a spuriously grotty role.

I seem to be in a minority in my view of this series, which has been much trumpeted in various media outlets and much praised by people who would run under a bus to avoid any of its characters if encountered in the real world. And, yes, I concede that it’s expertly made in a sleekly bland style that comes from fusing the stylistic tricks of various British and American crime dramas. But I wrote after the second series that I’d no desire to spend my sitting-room evenings in the company of psychopathic scumbags, and the opening episode of the new season merely confirmed me in that view.

And while there are scumbags galore in The Sopranos and The Wire and Breaking Bad, context is all, and in those series you get the satisfying sense of a wider society with which these characters occasionally interreact and to which they might somehow be answerable. But the thugs in Love/Hate inhabit an airless cocoon which permits of no such resonances or repercussions and in which even the dramatic possibilities of language (a big plus in The Sopranos and Breaking Bad) never extend beyond expletive-laden threats.

As if acknowledging the straitjacket they created for themselves, the makers have now come up with antagonists from the Real IRA, but in Sunday night’s episode nothing interesting about society or subversion got said – indeed, aside from a couple of trite political exchanges, these new antagonists served only to up the villainous ante, being even more fearsome adversaries than other rival gangs.

And that’s Love/Hate’s major problem. Expertly acted it may be and expertly filmed and edited, too, but it never transcends its basic storyline of scumbags killing each other for the viewer’s cheap thrills.

I hadn’t expected thrills from 21st Century Railway (RTE1), but nor had I had imagined that this new series would simply be a slavish PR exercise on behalf of Iarnrod Eireann, with whose “co-operation” it was made.

However, from the outset I feared the worst as narrator Liz Nolan intoned a script by Paul Howard (also producer-director), informing me of a recent rail network “transformation” that amounted to a “renaissance” and that “could only have been dreamed” of by Irish transport pioneers in the 1830s.

Indeed, after decades of neglect in the mid 20th century, our railways were now “back on track” in what was described as a “golden age”. Let the good times roll, though hopefully a little more speedily than in this piously dull first instalment of a series, which only served to remind the viewer how engaging TG4’s series on defunct local railway lines managed to be.

Almost as sluggish, though somewhat more interesting, the first episode of the four-part Ar an Oilean (RTE1) introduced us to some of the inhabitants of Cape Clear off west Cork and Inis Meain off Galway.

The idea is to accompany these people through four seasons on the two islands, but I wondered why most of the chosen subjects happened to be blow-ins – a family on Inis Meain from the mainland and a Dutch woman on Cape Clear, as well as a bird watcher from abroad with the splendid name of Steve Wing.

“The island has its own life”, the Dutch woman acknowledged, though we didn’t get to see too much of that. Maybe next week.

Mario Rosenstock can be very funny on radio, where he thrives on pitch-perfect vocal impersonations and sharp scripts. However, his satirical edge was woefully blunted in the first instalment of The Mario Rosenstock Show (RTE2), while it was hard not to feel that this performer is better heard than seen.

I’m afraid I remained stonefaced throughout his frenetic imitations of Mick Wallace, James Reilly, Miriam O’Callaghan, Louis Walsh, Joan Burton, Michael Flatley and sundry other movers and shakers.


The Booth at the End (FX) began life as a web phenomenon – 62 two-minute sketches in which various characters made a Faustian pact with a mysterious man in a diner who promised to fulfil their deepest wishes if they agreed to perform a specified, sometimes unsettling, task in return.

Repackaged in thirty-minute instalments, it’s now in its second television season and has an eerie, troubling mood all its own, with Xander Berkeley (Jack Bauer’s boss in one series of 24) rivetingly good as the enigmatic problem-solver. FX has been running it every night this week and it became increasingly addictive as it progressed.

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