Gun play: how 'Love/Hate' became RTÉ's best drama
Those of you who haven’t watched the first two series of the RTÉ crime drama Love/Hate might be confused about what it’s actually about.
Its press photos (used here) have been lampooned for representing Dublin gangsters as dishy boyband lookalikes (indeed, those who’ve dipped in only briefly, might be forgiven for thinking it was a docudrama about One Direction going off the rails). It was also initially condemned for its apparent glorification of gangland. Many reviewers claimed to hate it. However, there’s a fine line between hate and love (literally in the case of Love/Hate) and by series two, because RTÉ stuck with it, and because it’s genuinely very good, many haters revised their opinions.
Love/Hate is the best drama RTÉ has produced. Created by writer and former Last Word producer Stuart Carolan with director David Caffrey, Love/Hate tells the story of feuding inner-city gang members and their wives, girlfriends, drug-connections and victims. The penultimate episode of last season pulled in an average of 659,000 viewers to watch brooding, morally-conflicted Darren, aka Robert Sheehan, knock-off paranoid, shifty-eyed crime boss John Boy, aka Aidan Gillen. (Both actors are, incidentally, internationally successful sorts, not usually found slumming it at the national broadcaster.)
What’s different about it? Well, we’ve come a long way since the 1978 drama The Spike was taken off the air because it featured a naked lady. Love/Hate not only features naked people, but recreational drug-taking and ultra-violence. If you happened to think RTÉ was still following the educational template it set with The Riordans, a programme partially designed to teach viewers about modern farming methods, you’d assume that Love/Hate was produced to teach us about new-fangled drugs, sex-positions and murder techniques.
This filth didn’t come from nowhere. “I remember coming home from England and being surprised at the nudity in the first episode of Raw,” says softly-spoken ac-tor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, sounding nothing like his character, rising crime-boss Nidge. “I think things had already changed a lot. Saying that, I think the first series of Love/Hate was a slightly watered down version of what the second series was, and now I think we’re making the series that was in Stuart’s imagination. I don’t blame RTÉ for being cautious. It was an unknown entity and no one knew how it would be received. As it was, the Irish Times TV critic said it didn’t have enough violence.”
But violence, drug use and rumpy-pumpy do not in themselves a mature television programme make. Love/Hate is also a dark, thought-provoking drama littered with funny, characterful lines, subversive plot turns and wordless, musical montages. Even its minor characters feel like they have stories to tell. All of these features suggest that Love/Hate is made by people excited by the innovations of US telly.