It used to be the sheer exoticism of gangland dramas, with their extreme violence and perverted notions of family and community, that appealed to us. Observing the activities of a bunch of characters with all the values and morals of a snake pit provided a vicarious thrill. It's fascinating to get a glimpse into such a world, even though you'd certainly never want to be a part of it.
Which brings us to the problems faced by Love/Hate, RTE1's ambitious four-part gangland drama written by Stuart Carolan. The escalating violence among Dublin and Limerick's drug gangs, which has spilled over into the everyday lives of ordinary, decent people (as opposed to ordinary, decent criminals) and claimed a number of innocent victims, means we're all being dragged into that world for real.
Newspapers and television are saturated with stories of gangland hits every week. TV3, meanwhile, continues to gleefully bombard us with cheap and trashy documentaries relating the sensational stories of self-mythologising thugs who revel in their media monikers.
So, a fictional drama centred on the kind of people most of us revile -- and one that attempts to make them in some way sympathetic -- is always going to be a hard sell. To be fair to Love/Hate, it makes a stylish pitch. Punctuated by a soundtrack of hip-hop -- the music of choice of Glock-wielding hoodies everywhere -- it's slick, flashy and crackles with kinetic energy.
It opens with Darren Tracey (Robert Sheehan from E4's excellent Misfits) making a weekend trip to Dublin from Spain, where he's been hiding out for a year after a gun was found in his house. Danny is risking having his collar felt because he wants to see his brother, who's being released from prison that same day.
The latter has been out of prison just minutes and is talking to Danny by mobile phone when a car pulls up and a gunman pumps him full of bullets -- thus setting us up for a story of revenge and retribution.
Much of the first episode of Love/Hate was taken up with establishing the characters and their relationships with one another. There's Danny's closest friend Nidge (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and their associate Tommy (Killian Scott).
The finger of suspicion briefly turns to Tommy, who was supposed to be outside the prison to collect Danny's brother, but was busy having sex with Danny's sister Mary (Ruth Bradley), who he's been seeing on the quiet.
Danny is arrested but quickly bailed following the intervention of an oily lawyer paid for by high-level gang boss John Boy Power (Aidan Gillen), who may or may not have had something to do with the murder.
Despite a slight lull in the middle and a couple of scenes of clunky, expository dialogue, Love/Hate is polished stuff that moves along at a fair clip. Where it trips up is on the casting.
Robert Sheehan, with his big, soulful eyes, is a fine young actor with charisma to burn, yet he's simply no one's idea of a Dublin gangster. Nor, for that matter, does Aidan Gillen convince as a gang boss.
Gillen was in The Wire, which has proved to be a badge of honour for every actor involved, yet he's just as mannered here as he was playing the undercover cop in ITV's recent Identity.
The supporting cast, which includes Brendan Gleeson's son Brian, don't wash either. You never feel you're watching anything other than a group of young actors pretending to be Dublin hard-chaws, while straining desperately hard not to be caught acting.
Love / Hate **