Lessons Love/Hate learned from US television
Get an anti-hero. Hire Aidan Gillen. Don’t be episodic. These are some of the tricks RTÉ’s drama picked up from across the water
Create antiheroes: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge in the new series of ‘Love/Hate’
Give your lead character an iconic look: Brian Cranston as Walter White in ‘Breaking Bad’
Hire Aidan Gillen for two series: Gillen in ‘Game of Thrones’
Expand minor characters: Laurence Kinlan as Elmo in ‘Love/Hate’
Love/Hate is as good as an American TV drama. This sentence is said often and with surprise. The surprise is that an Irish drama could be so good; 20 years ago, the surprise would have been that an American show could be.
Here’s the potted history of quality US telly: The rise of US cable stations such as HBO, Showtime and AMC in the last two decades has led to a television renaissance. With viewer subscriptions in their back-pocket, these networks no longer had to worry about pandering to fickle advertisers and casual viewers and could instead create complex, long-arc television drama shows such as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones. These were programmes made for DVD box-sets, internet analysis and binge watching, and before long even the mainstream US networks were regularly creating quality drama (CBS’s The Good Wife being a standout example).
Love/Hate might be the first Irish- accented drama to explicitly take its cues from these developments, but it won’t be the last. Here’s what the creators learned from American television.
Appoint a showrunner
In olden times, the writer was at the lowest rung of TV’s creative ladder, there to be towered over by snooty directors. Since then, television has become a writer’s medium. Writer/creator “showrunners” oversee television production from start to finish and keep every narrative and character detail straight. The best of these include Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), David Simon (The Wire, Treme), Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads), David Chase (The Sopranos), Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange Is the New Black) and Mathew Weiner (Mad Men).
Love/Hate creator Stuart Carolan is one of the first writers on an Irish drama to also have an executive production role. He’s a showrunner, a man with an overarching creative vision beyond ratings or taste, who keeps the story straight – or crooked, as artistically appropriate.
It’s the age of the television antihero – mob bosses such as Tony Soprano, philandering advertising executives such as Don Draper (Mad Men), meth dealers such as Walter White (Breaking Bad), and, if you’re a member of the American Republican party, evil Democrat presidents such as Josiah Bartlet (The West Wing). The rise of the anti-hero with whom we troublingly identify, is explored in a new book by Brett Martin, Difficult Men. As a TV trope it’s getting a bit tired. But Irish TV drama hasn’t really done the anti-hero before. Admittedly, Love/Hate doesn’t have one consistent personality at the heart of the action. The initial central character, Darren (Robert Sheehan), was more tragic hero than anti-hero, a man with good intentions brought down by fate. But with the more definitively sociopathic Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) at the core, we have a classic anti-hero.