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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Love it or hate it…

If you live in Ireland, then you haven’t been able to escape the TV program that dominates the local media. Personally, I’m not sure exactly what I think of it, but my relationship to it could be fairly described as “love/hate.”

Actually, that’s the name of the thing: Love/Hate. Frankly, it’s a rubbish name. The very name put me off giving it a try when the series debuted back in 2010 with a four-show run. Also, the subject matter—gang wars in Dublin—was not of particular interest to me. I’ve seen more than enough crime shows in my time. And I had been getting my fill of vicarious Dublin life with the primetime soap operas that the Missus likes, like the medical drama The Clinic and the restaurant potboiler Raw.

But as Love/Hate progressed through a second and third series, it became inescapable. It was so discussed and mentioned that you really felt out of things if you weren’t in the know. This sort of phenomenon happens in the U.S. and the rest of the world as well (the concluding Breaking Bad is a recent worldwide example), but in a country as small as Ireland—where there are basically only four real indigenous TV channels—you really feel the sense of exclusion if you’re not watching along with everyone else.

So, even though I long ago got my fill of violent dramas about criminal gangs, the Missus and I bit the bullet and caught ourselves up over the summer with reruns helpfully aired by state broadcaster RTÉ. (DVDs of each series and box sets are also inescapable in the shops for those with a need to own all the episodes.) It wasn’t exactly what I had expected. I suppose it is at least partly inspired by such anti-hero-centered crime dramas as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad in which the bad guys are humanized and even sympathetic. What was particularly striking was the “ripped from the headlines” feel to many of the vignettes. Notorious crimes and incidents of the past few years that everyone in the country would be well familiar with were portrayed in realistic detail. The characters were colorful and larger than life. Personal excesses of bosses like “John Boy” Power (played by a chilling Aidan Gillen, whose other notable TV character, Lord Baelish on Game of Thrones, is downright genteel by comparison) seemed to be a comment on the unholy legacy of the Celtic Tiger economy.

We had a somewhat sympathetic point-of-view character to begin with in the person of doe-eyed Robert Sheehan as young Darren, who longs to have a more normal life and get back with the nice girl he let slip away. But over the next two series we watched him lose his way and his soul and any hope of redemption. The real main character turned out to be the genially devious Nidge (played by the unsettlingly convincing Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), the henchman who usurps John Boy. Nidge has little to recommend him as a human being. He can be pleasant with his friends and caring, in brief amounts, with his small children all right, but he is clearly some kind psychopath. As with John Boy before him, you can never be quite sure when and how he will explode. Finally, in the just-ended fourth series we got some characters we could root for—undercover cops who seem to have slipped in from another TV show. Generally, the Irish Gardai are portrayed in Love/Hate as being pretty useless.

Much of the show’s appeal seems to lie in its frequent “I can’t believe they’re showing that” moments. Whether it is sickening violence or raw sex, it is hard not to stare—kind of like passing a really bad car crash. The first couple of series made me uncomfortable because, despite the fact that most of the characters seem destined for a violent end, there is something glamorizing about showing violent criminals heading to their next score in slow motion as pop music plays on the soundtrack. If they are going to die young, well, at least the likes of Darren and his friend Tommy (Killian Scott) will leave behind pretty corpses.

Will I keep watching this show? Well, yes. I hear the next (fifth) series will be the last, and I’m too invested to pull out now. But I can’t say I feel entirely good about myself for continuing to watch. It’s more of a case of compulsion than devotion.

The buzz over Love/Hate (and after seeing all four series to date I still don’t know why it’s called that) culminated a while back in the announcement that the rights were being acquired for the U.S. Will the American audience really watch this, I wondered, and will they have to subtitle it? The Dublin North accent can be pretty hard to penetrate even for people in other parts of Dublin, let alone the rest of the country. More than once the Missus was asking me if I knew what they were talking about.

But now the word seems to be that the U.S. will be getting a remake. According to The Irish Daily Star, Colin Farrell, who we are told is “a massive Love/Hate fan,” is contender to play Nidge. Well, that would change things.

On paper that bit of casting sounds fine. Farrell is nothing but authentic Dublin, and he is a fine actor. He has capably essayed gangster roles in movies like Intermission and In Bruges. I have no doubt that he could be a terrifying Nidge. (Would he shave his head?) It would certainly be a contrast to his last TV role, as Birdy Sweeney’s nephew on the fanciful Ballykissangel. But, through no fault of his own, he would change the show into a completely different animal. To be blunt, he would bring the stench of Hollywood with him.

The inescapable fact is that Farrell is a bona fide and recognizable international movie star. His very presence—plus the unsubsidized American TV market—would up the ante considerably, and it would show. It brings to mind the game I used to play with my friends Michael and Darlene at the Seattle International Film Festival, the one where we would imagine what Hollywood actors would be cast in an ill-advised Hollywood remake of some really cool little foreign film we had just seen.

If they change the setting from Dublin to some American city, that will defeat the whole purpose. If they leave it set in Dublin, the changes likely to be made to make it more “accessible” to an American audience will drain out the authenticity that is the show’s main attraction.

Here is my advice. Just export the show as it is, but have the original actors redub their lines to make it all a wee bit more comprehensible to an international audience. Of course, they might have to pay a premium to bring Robert Sheehan back. He seems to be on his way to becoming the next Colin Farrell.

-S.L., 13 November 2013

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