More Westlife than Westies


TV REVIEW: Love/HateRTÉ1, Sunday; DCI BanksUTV, Monday; Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?BBC2, Tuesday; Modern FamilySky1, Thursday

IT’S NOT OFTEN my main complaint about a drama is that it’s not violent enough. Or that the language is too clean. Or that it is so lacking in any sense of threat or danger you’d immediately forget that the blokes on screen are supposed to be ruthless scumbags and start noticing their super-long eyelashes and Bambi eyes (okay, that was only one of the cast, but, as Robert Sheehan plays the central character, it was distracting).

RTÉ’s new four-part gangland drama, Love/Hate, has slick production values and a top-notch cast, including Aidan Gillen, Ruth Negga, Brian Gleeson and Killian Scott. But it felt too tame to be true. As far as I can gather from news reports (where else? It’s a parallel world), Dublin’s gangland is vicious, with coke-fuelled, fearless 20-year-olds ricocheting around parts of the city killing each other. And while you imagine they think they’re living a cooler version of GoodFellas, when one is caught, and you get a glimpse of them on the news, they turn out to be so hard-looking, with their pasty, feral faces, shiny trackies and spikyfringed haircuts, you’d cross the street. At one point in the drama a character poses the question, “What is gangland anyway?” I think it would take some convincing to shift those images out of people’s minds.

Getting Aidan Gillen back to work at home was a huge coup for Stuart Carolan, its writer, and David Caffrey, its director, and here he’s a gangland boss one step removed from the action, protecting himself while letting his henchmen do the business. Except there isn’t enough business. Shouldn’t these guys be drug dealing or threatening or doing whatever they do in a day’s work? Or, this being a drama, building up to a major deal or heist that will propel the plot and make you want to tune in next week?

The expletives flagged by the programme announcer at the start of Love/Hatecame mostly from the American rap soundtrack, but that felt like last-minute window dressing tacked onto make the whole thing seem edgy. Episode one was dominated by the death of one of the gang: the shooting, the morgue, the wake and even a close-up of the coffin deep in the grave. It was all I could not to shout at the telly: “I get it, he’s dead!” It’s not for nothing that “funereal” is shorthand for a slow, dull pace.

The point in Love/Hate, or so far anyway, seems to be that these gangland crims are people too, with sisters to mourn them, not just brothers to avenge them, and they have complicated personal lives – witness the thwarted, straight-out-of-chick-lit, doe-eyed relationship between Negga and Sheehan. Then there’s Nige (Tom Vaughan Lawlor), who’s got a Glock in his waistband and makes his income from crime, but lives with his missus and small child in a smart new house – heck, he could be your neighbour.

The problem with Love/Hateis that Gillen’s gang just don’t seem hard enough; they’re soft around the edges, with a script that makes them too nicely spoken – some of the attempts at a flat Dublin accent are distractingly rubbish. You just couldn’t see any of these characters in a hoodie being led from the Four Courts on the nine o’clock news. Three more episodes to go. Maybe it’ll be tougher and rougher next week: more hate, less love.

I SUSPECT countless viewers tuned into Love/Hatesolely for the star power of Aidan Gillen; they may also have been drawn by the big-name pulling power of the crime thriller DCI Banks: Aftermath. Last week’s first episode of the two-part drama drew in more viewers than the BBC’s super-successful Spooks, which was on at the same time, probably because it stars Stephen Tompkinson as DCI Banks.

Best known as a sort of good-natured Everyman ( Ballykissangeland Wild at Heart, that weird Africa travelogue where he went ballooning), Tompkinson plays a grey-faced, disillusioned, middle-aged cop, estranged from his wife and children, whose idea of a fun night in is a glass of whiskey with some jazz riffing in the background. Of course there’s a policewoman whom he instantly hates – and even though he has the personality of a depressed marmoset and she’s gorgeous and much younger, they end up back in his cosy cottage smooching on his sofa. Stop me if I’ve missed any cliches or if Wallander and all those who have gone before want to sue for personation.

The two-parter was adapted from a Peter Robinson thriller, which was another reason to tune in, but, after a promising first episode last week, this week’s finisher lost the run of itself entirely, with hysterical confessions, unlikely psychobabble and see-them-coming-a-mile-off coincidences.

The drama started with the discovery in the basement of an ordinary suburban house of the bodies of four missing teenagers. At the end of the first part the killer dies, so case closed. Except DI Banks must work out who the killer’s accomplice was (there’s a choice between either of two quite bonkers women, the wife or the lover) and find the fifth girl who has gone missing from the grim northern town where she lives and who inconveniently keeps appearing as a vision at his garden gate to remind him of his failure.

It was all so obvious I expected a thumper of a twist. There wasn’t – just the inevitable dash to the moors to find the body and extract a confession. More predictable than it was worth, but it was a pilot, and thrillers are endlessly popular even when they’re not that thrilling.

WHEN NEWS and current-affairs programmes are unremittingly grim, a wildlife programme is usually the perfect antidote: cuddly animals, stunning scenery, committed experts, reassuring David Attenborough. What’s not to love? Well, it turns out that we have not only made a complete mess of the land bit of the planet, we also wrecked the watery bits. The stunningly beautiful-looking Horizon: The Death of the Oceans?spelled it all out. (I suspect the question mark is only there to give a little hope so we wouldn’t all hurl ourselves lemming-like into the sea and thereby cause more stinky pollution.) If we continue over-fishing there won’t be any fish to catch by 2050, and the implications of that are more serious than simply not having something to go with your chips.

Our CO2 emissions aren’t just causing problems in the air; they are devastating underwater, choking the life out of the coral reefs and – this is the bit that for some reason tugged on the heartstrings – causing whales top have trouble communicating with each other because all the noise from the shipping traffic is wrecking their inbuilt sonars.

The programme was full of scientists catching and counting fish, cataloguing marine life and trying to find solutions. Attenborough was encouraged by the findings of the huge ongoing Census of Marine Life, which is finding new species every day.

“Don’t for a minute believe that we can’t screw it up much worse than it is today,” said one scientist gloomily. Another thing to worry about.

Not the kiss of death: The gay smooch that didn't ruin the ratings

After all the controversy it was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment in the “The Kiss”, the second of the back-to-back episodes that kicked off the new series of the Emmy award-winning Modern Family.The row began with a Facebook campaign last season when some viewers noted that, in the hilarious mockumentary-style comedy, heterosexual couple Claire and Phil kiss but gay couple Mitchell and Cameron hug. And it’s not as though everyone doesn’t know Mitch and Cam are gay. When compared with the chaos that goes on in the other households, their relationship is the most traditional, boring even, with Cam giving up his job to stay at home to mind their adopted daughter, Lily, while lawyer Mitch brings home the bacon. The set-up was that while exuberant Cam can find any excuse to kiss – “finding jalapeno-stuffed olives, making the light on Maple, every time we see a VW bug” – Mitch doesn’t do public displays of affection because, as Latina Gloria diagnoses, his own father didn’t show affection. Cue Mitch’s dad, Jay, kissing him and then later, in the background, Mitch giving Cameron a chaste kiss. Job done, controversy over, the sky didn’t fall in and – probably more crucially from the point of view of ABC, the network that makes Modern Family – when “The Kiss” aired in the US last month the ratings didn’t collapse.