Television: Drop the dead cat. Nidge’s nine lives keep us watching ‘Love/Hate’
The fourth series of Stuart Carolan’s drama is darker, grimmer and even more addictive, but ‘Homeland’ has lost the plot
Monstrous: Peter Coonan as Fran in the opening episode of the new series of ‘Love/Hate’
The opening scene of the new series of Love/Hate (RTÉ One, Sunday) was one of the best in a strong episode: it succinctly showed the strengths of the provocative gangland drama and why it has become such a hit. In front of some rundown Dublin flats a feral-looking teenager pulled a machine gun from his holdall and bragged to his friend that he had to kill someone. Then, out of boredom, bravado or both, he shot a cat, and there was a bloody dead mess. And nobody paid any attention.
It was spare, grim and almost cinematic. The only flourish was the music, a snatch of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground playing underneath; the clear message was that the cycle of gang violence will go on no matter what follows. And it looked real, all of it, down to the dead cat, which is probably why there were so many complaints from animal lovers. None about the terrifying kidnap of the suburban family, mind you, or the beating of the driver or the assault on the prostitute – and those scenes looked horribly real, too.
It was a dark opener to the fourth series that challenged its writer, Stuart Carolan, to sum up what had gone before and set a direction for the next five episodes. It’s all about Nidge, the paranoid, psycho gang leader played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The Continuity IRA is after him for killing one of its own. Having arrested a brain-damaged Tommy (a great performance from Killian Scott), the Garda, led by Det Insp Mick Moynihan (Brían F O’Byrne), is getting closer. Moynihan, a new character, is as cunning, cold and manipulative as Nidge, so he may have met his match.
Love/Hate has always been controversia. – the dead cat is just the latest distracting row. When it began, in 2010, there were accusations it glamorised violence – and it did, what with all those pretty gang members and all that consequence-free criminality. It doesn’t any more, and not just because we saw the prettiest of them, Darren (Robert Sheehan), in the morgue, his blood congealing on the slab.
Not knowing much about the American sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson, I can’t say how true to their lives or characters the glossy biographical drama Masters of Sex (Channel 4, Tuesday) is. It’s a top-class production, though, even if it is top-heavy with titillation. The 12-part drama is a coproduction with the US cable channel Showtime (maker of Homeland) and is set in St Louis in the 1950s, so there are plenty of gorgeous retro interiors and Mad Men clothes.
Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan are superb as the leads. He’s the brilliant fertility expert, egotistical and chilly, setting out on a secret exploration of the science of human sexuality, and she’s his sexy, strong assistant, twice divorced, with no medical experience but with an ability to persuade hundreds of people to get their kit off and have sex in the lab while wired up to clunky monitors. He hires her for her insider knowledge. Why, the academic Masters asks the sexually experienced Johnson, would a woman fake an orgasm? “So she can get back to what she’d rather be doing,” she says, bewildered by his cluelessness.
There are passing references to other aspects of the United States in the 1950s (a nurse questions why a black woman isn’t in “the negro ward”) but not enough – yet. So far Masters of Sex is, probably not entirely unexpectedly, a lot of sex, and although the researchers included all shapes and sizes in their influential study, it’s all skinny minnies and six-packs here.
The first tightly packed episode in the new series of Homeland (RTÉ Two, Tuesday) showed promise that the show, which was so compelling when it started, might just recover after a dire second series. But this week’s episode lost the plot, dividing itself into two flabby yarns. One was about Dana’s teenage romance (who cares); the other, about Saul’s follow-the-money plan to find the terrorists, might be riveting if you’re an accountant. It was two different dramas welded together in desperation. Brody had better arrive soon with one heck of a plot or this series of Homeland is going to be even worse than the last.
Malala: Shot for Going to School (BBC One, Monday) has the same brutally honest title as a BBC Four documentary of just a few months ago, but maybe it’s Malala Yousafzai’s destiny, initially at least, to be labelled this way. That BBC Four film saw its reporter, Nel Hedayat, visit Pakistan and the Swat valley to talk to Yousafzai’s friends who were there last October when the Taliban shot the teenage activist for demanding education rights for girls. This Panorama film was a companion piece, because back then Yousafzai, who is now living in Birmingham, was too ill to be interviewed. Here the 16-year-old gave a poised, serious interview to Mishal Husain.
If anything it was Husain who seemed overwhelmed by the celebrity of her teen subject, gasping girlishly at seeing Malala’s desk in the classroom in Pakistan. It’s difficult to imagine a young life changing more in just a year: from the Swat valley, through recovery from a murder attempt to a packed timetable of international engagements that include meeting a whirlwind of high-profile politicians and celebrities. It looked overwhelming, but Malala seemed calm, and never more so than when, to resounding applause, she delivered her simple message to the UN: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pencil. Education can change the world.”