Sunday 17 December 2017

Let's all look back at the year 2000

So, it's welcome back Reeling in the Years, even if it does feel like the series, which seems to have been running in a loop of repeats almost since its first screening, has never been away.

It's gratifying to see that everything, including the opening and closing titles, remains just as it was in previous series -- although without the built-in nostalgia/novelty factor, the programme faces a new challenge: to make the events of our recent past compelling.

It got off to a potent start with, among other items, U2 receiving the freedom of Dublin and exercising their right to graze their sheep on St Stephen's Green (and a lamb exercising its right to relieve itself on Bono), the emergence of the young Brian O'Driscoll, the Abbeylara siege and the "election" of President George W Bush.

The best moment, though, was reserved till last: then finance minister Charlie McCreevy, his coal chute of a mouth dangling open in smug contempt at how Ireland's economic miracle was being "derided by left-wing pinkos".

If it's possible to admire something without actually liking it very much, then that's how I feel about Love/Hate.

I don't love it, I don't hate it; in fact, it doesn't make any strong impression. It just whizzes past, slickly produced and briskly directed, but without anything to engage the heart or convince the head.

I'm guessing this is a minority opinion. The reviews I've read have been mostly complimentary, and I imagine it's pulling in a huge number of viewers -- though probably not among the criminal fraternity it strives to depict, who, if they're tuning in at all, will most likely be having a good snigger at the wrong-headedness of the whole enterprise.

My initial quibble was with the casting and acting, and these remain Love/Hate's most glaring shortcomings.

Apart from a couple of performances -- Brian Gleeson as coked-up, trigger-happy psychopath Hughie Power and Killian Scott as Tommy -- most of the actors struggle to nail a basic working-class Dublin accent ("burthday" for "birthday", anyone?) and the erratic results are enough to make the hammiest cast member of Fair City blush.

Robert Sheehan is simply too well-groomed, too boyishly handsome for the role of hardchaw Darren (can you REALLY imagine this guy outside a courtroom, giving the middle finger to the cameras?), while his puppyish romance with old flame Rosie (Ruth Negga) feels like a clumsy attempt to drum up some sympathy for what are essentially unsympathetic, unsavoury characters.

Aidan Gillen, as preening gang boss John Boy Power, continues to punctuate his performance with bizarre little tics and twitches.

However good he may have been in Queer as Folk and The Wire, here he looks and acts like someone who'd be more likely to spray you in the eyes with a can of hairspray rather than a can of mace.

Still, after a sluggish opening episode, it was to be hoped that Stuart O'Carolan's script would eventually ignite.

With three episodes gone and one remaining, it hasn't.

O'Carolan seems to be straining for an epic feel that, despite the large cast and the various subplots, never materialises. Love/Hate is a small tale writ large: a skeleton of a story whose bones are poking through its thin, overstretched skin.

Aside from a few scenes last night involving the pick-up of a huge consignment of drugs, there's no sense at all of the wider world -- or even the wider Dublin -- in which these characters are supposed to be operating.

Thus, there's no real sense of tension, no real sense of danger.

With Love/Hate's central mystery solved -- mad Hughie murdered Darren's brother Robbie over a piddling €300 debt -- all that remains now is the inevitable bloodbath finale. Disappointing.

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