Television: All filler, no killer as ‘Love/Hate’ runs out of ammunition

It started off with a bang and a cat killing, but it looks as if RTÉ’s biggest drama has used up its nine lives. At least ‘Downton Abbey’ has given up all pretence of making any sense

Boxed in: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge in last weekend’s Love/Hate finale

Boxed in: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge in last weekend’s Love/Hate finale

Sat, Nov 16, 2013, 01:00

Such was the hype ahead of the finale of Love/Hate (RTÉ One, Sunday) that Stuart Carolan, its writer, and David Caffrey, its director, could have delivered The Godfather and it would have struggled to measure up.

Its actors were on chatshows and in fashion shoots, and rarely a day went by without media speculation about the plot or earnest radio discussions assessing the veracity of various scenes. One newspaper went so far as to print a Love/Hate supplement. And that’s not counting the absurd handwringing about the (pretend) shooting of the cat.

Love/Hate is RTÉ’s most successful and most expensive drama series, and its production values are a huge leap for home-grown drama. This season’s opening episode was strong, with Nidge, the gang leader played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, now a paranoid, hunted man, with a new adversary in Det Mick Moynihan, played by Brian F O’Byrne: two top actors in juicy roles, with the promise of a tense confrontation. And they did come face to face in the final episode, on Moynihan’s turf, when Nidge was arrested, but there was no tension, no sense that this was what the previous five episodes had been inexorably leading up to.

That scene got to the heart of the problem with this series: the policemen were underwritten. They looked like an interesting bunch, but they never became the three- dimensional characters that viewers need in order to invest in the cops-versus-robbers set-up. Tellingly, the only backstory that emerged did so in the off-screen hype: the revelation that Moynihan’s sidekick was, in real life, a garda, doing an acting nixer. With nothing else to go on, just knowing that made him more interesting to watch.

If key characters were underwritten, so was the storyline: the importation of a huge shipment of drugs is a television standard, and far too thin to carry six hours of TV.

So it’s not surprising that the final episode needed so much padding, with multiple shots of clouds scudding across the Dublin skyline, speeded-up shots of traffic, and everyone spending lots of time in their cars. Surveillance isn’t a new dark art that needs to be explained in such tedious detail: all those scenes of Nidge getting in and out of his car, and of police muttering instructions into walkie-talkies, were unnecessary.

It was Nidge’s series, and he was never going to be killed at the end: he’s needed for the fifth series. Instead, a promising character, his young protege, was murdered, and the dentist, unable to fight his way out of a plastic bag in a most improbable scene, was killed by Fran, the psycho. Why the police, who appeared to do little except tail cars, didn’t follow Fran, a big player in the drug heist, to the dentist’s house is just another of the many holes in the story.

The final episode also showed how forgotten the Love/Hate women were and how their characters – well-drawn previously, with huge potential – evaporated from lack of plot. Aoibhinn McGinnity, as Nidge’s wife, Trish, was given as little to do as Charlie Murphy was in the role of Tommy’s wife, Siobhan.

There was, though, the inevitable Nidge-having-sex scene and the gratuitous shot of a gorgeous-looking woman in her underwear.

In the end, Nidge contrived to get himself arrested, and we saw, in a cringingly indulgent scene set to Anarchy in the UK, the crime boss screaming, ripping his clothes off and tearing at his flesh. Importing edginess through a Sex Pistols song showed how out of ideas this series of Love/Hate was.

Also commissioned for a fifth series after a run that ended this week was Downton Abbey (UTV, Sunday; TV3, Wednesday), which to its credit doesn’t even bother trying to make much sense any more and skites along from one improbable scene to the next. But the costumes are still lovely, and Maggie Smith as the dowager countess of Grantham trots out the occasional funny line. At this stage in Downton’s history that’s really all that matters.

The expressionless Lady Mary ended the series with enough suitors to raise an eyebrow (the only part of her face that moves). I can’t tell one from the other. Bates appears yet again to have gotten away with murder, but at least with the man who raped his wife, Anna, out of the way she can stop leaning against the walls. And flighty Rose’s improbable dalliance with the black singer is over – another of Julian Fellowes’s clunky storylines to show how Britain is changing.

It packed a lot, both upstairs and downstairs, into the finale, including packing off a pregnant Lady Edith to Europe with Aunt Rosamund. “I thought I’d go to Switzerland, ” says Rosamund breezily. “You know what the French are like. The Swiss are so clean.”

And they’ll do it all again – or a very slight variation of it – next month, in the Christmas special.

After being Hercule Poirot, with his mincing walk and waxed moustache, for 66 adaptations of the great crime writer’s stories, David Suchet bowed out in superb style from Agatha Christie’s Poirot (UTV, Wednesday). Visibly weak and shrunken in his wheelchair, but with his enormous ego intact – “I’m a ruin, but my brain is as magnificent as ever” – the Belgian detective returned, for Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case, to Styles Court, the scene of his first investigation, which had become a faded B&B.

He summoned his old sleuthing partner, the rather good egg Capt Hastings (Hugh Fraser), to be his eyes, ears and legs as he attempted to avert a murder. This being an Agatha Christie whodunnit, the fine ensemble cast, including Anne Reid, Helen Baxendale and Philip Glenister, were gathered together many times in gloomy rooms while the murders piled up and Poirot’s grey cells kicked into action.

It was a classy piece of work. The mood throughout was sombre, with many conversations about death, while Poirot, knowing his end was near, prayed and clutched his rosary beads. The most startling shock came when he admitted to sometimes wearing a fake moustache. Mon Dieu! The twist was a surprise, confounding everything we thought we knew about the detective.

tvreview@irishtimes.com

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