Criminals, comedy and alcohol - all without leaving the house


TELEVISION:When ‘Love/Hate’ first hit the screens it was too cutesy and tame. Now it requires viewer helplines

As the credits rolled in Love/Hate (RTÉ One, Sunday) a voiceover directed viewers “affected by any of the issues” to a helpline page on Aertel. It’s common advice following a documentary, but I’ve never heard it after The Sopranos or Breaking Bad or any number of dramas featuring violent, nightmare-inducing scenes. Maybe RTÉ considered its Dublin gangland drama so real – or so local – that viewers might need counselling. There’s no denying that the violence in Love/Hate was viscerally brutal. Just as you finished shuddering at the kneecapping there was the shocking rape, followed by a beer keg slammed down on the head of a dying man – but it says a lot for the superb direction, by David Caffrey, and the first-rate acting that it all seemed both deadly realistic and intrinsic to the character-driven plot.

The pace never let up in a beautifully filmed triumph of an opening episode, tightly written by Stuart Carolan, that was loaded with atmosphere and menace.

The backstory was briskly sketched: the gravestone of previous kingpin John Boy; the rise of Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) to take his place; the gang members’ domestic situations and the return from prison of baby-faced psycho Fran (Peter Coonan). It also, almost casually, established the way the gang earns its money from running brothels and selling drugs.

And just as they survived losing their leader, Love/Hate has smoothly moved on from losing Aidan Gillen, its star actor. Nidge has evolved from the likeable eeijit footsoldier of the first two series to being a credible leader. With Vaughan-Lawlor’s seemingly effortless skill, the jokiness is still there but it’s menacing, a thin layer covering an incendiary rage. The scene is set for a feud between “the Ra” and the Dublin gang – though how they’re going to up the ante in terms of violence after that brutal opener is hard to imagine.

Reviewing the first series of Love/Hate, two years ago, I said it was too tame to be real, with its cute-looking crims and lack of violence. It’s not that any more, and it’s all the more compelling for it.

There wasn’t much doubt that Love/Hate would return, but a new series of The Hour (BBC Two, Wednesday) was a surprise. It arrived last year with an avalanche of hype, sold as a British Mad Men set in a TV studio. It turned out to be a good-looking but dull drama that never quite knew if it was crime noir, complete with secret codes in newspaper crosswords, or a tale of a career girl and her office romances. It had a top cast, though, in Romola Garai, as Bel, the young producer of the nightly BBC news programme; Dominic West, as Hector, the smooth news anchor; and Ben Whishaw, as Freddie, the maverick reporter. They’re back with Peter Capaldi – always a reason to tune in – as their new, eccentric boss.

The Hour still looks great in its retro authenticity; in this opener we were in Soho in 1957, where sleazy nightclubs were the centre of forbidden glamour and celebrities like Hector rubbed shoulders with London’s criminal underworld.

The episode ended with the assault of a dancer. Her lover, the very married Hector, is in the frame for it. Things aren’t going so well in the BBC newsroom, either, with the new ITV nipping at its heels. The big themes are still there – the nuclear threat, the cold war and the changes in Britain prompted by immigration – but they’re not shoehorned into the plot. This time The Hour is worth watching.

A Monty Python sketch in the early 1970s called Australian wine Chateau Chunder – “to lay down and avoid” – but as the superbly entertaining documentary Chateau Chunder (BBC Four, Tuesday) showed, the Aussies have had the last laugh. They didn’t help themselves in the early days with names like Kanga Rouge, and even as recently as the 1980s many Europeans, particularly the French, regarded Australian wine as less drinkable than dishwater. But by the noughties brilliant marketing and a scientific approach to wine production meant that more Australian than French wine was imported into the UK.

Screwcaps, “sun in a bottle” Chardonnay and labels that demystified wine all helped to propel its great success. As the story of a country with a product that nobody wanted but that figured out a way to make it a global success, it was fascinating.

Even a mimic as talented as Mario Rosenstock must admit that when it comes to some figures in Irish life – Willie O’Dea, Ming Flanagan, Mick Wallace – it’s nearly too easy. Rosenstock’s accents are spot on, as we’ve heard in his Gift Grub sketches on Ian Dempsey’s Today FM breakfast show, and his gentle roasting of public figures might make some of them blush, but it’s not going to burn them. It’s the same in the TV version, The Mario Rosenstock Show (RTE Two, Monday). It was the sketches that relied more on satire than on mimicry and parody that stood out, particularly a lemon-sharp one in which a family left their house for the last time, as filmed for a TV show, Eviction Live! “And now for your best bits,” chirped the presenter as the crowd clapped and a banker looked on and shots of the family in happier times flashed up, treading a fine line between bad taste and humour, as satire should.

Ones to Watch ‘The Killing’ and ‘Four Born Every Second’

Get your Scandi-knit out of mothballs: The Killing is back, with BBC Four showing the first two episodes (of 10) tonight. To describe this as cult viewing is to undersell it. Sarah Lund (Sofie Gråbøl, right) is marking 25 years in the police when body parts are found hours before a visit by the PM. Then a little girl is kidnapped, and the pressure is on.

Or, for something more real, try Four Born Every Second (BBC One, Monday), which looks at birth and infant mortality around the world – part of a big series about global poverty.

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