** Spoiler Alert ***
Okay, I’m hooked. After several years of being told what I was missing, I finally broke down and began watching the Irish gangster series “Love/Hate” on Netflix.
In fact, I’ve been on a binge, catching up with four years of episodes which, thanks to Netflix, you can watch consecutively.
It is the show that has taken Ireland by storm, ripped from the headlines of the seemingly never-ending war between working class Dublin drug dealers, money lenders, extortion sharks, and bootleggers. Close to a million Irish people watched a recent episode, an extraordinary audience on an island of five million people.
It is “The Sopranos” Irish-style, but more like a “Miami Vice” treatment with lots of handsome actors and pretty damsels in distress, though it does have occasional flashes of the true grittiness of “The Sopranos.” Like that famed HBO show, it uses real life criminals in bit parts to add authenticity.
The lead actor in the series, Robert Sheehan, would never be mistaken for Tony Soprano – he’s far too young and good-looking for that.
He nonetheless becomes a compelling character as when, Soprano-like, he struggles with the conflict between the brutality of life as a vicious gangster and his need to act on his better instincts.
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor plays Nidge, short for Nigel, the best-drawn character in the series, who mixes tender loving moments with his wife and child with stunning violence.
Aiden Gillen plays John Boy, the suave gang leader whose psychotic brother and chief enforcer Hughie was at the heart of the early episodes before Hughie topped himself accidentally when he did not realize his gun was loaded.
Dublin has never looked so good either, with showy and flashy camera work turning the often dull and seedy metropolis into a Flash Harry kind of joint.
The interplay between the rival gangs is at the heart of the series, which airs on state broadcaster RTE. When the police appear they seem merely stock figures and resemble the “Keystone Cops” – always arriving too late.
The glamorization of the criminal life must be a concern with this series, as a succession of beautiful women, hot parties and overseas trips make it seem like a desirable existence.
The drug use is pretty blatant too, with every main character regularly snorting cocaine through rolled up bank notes.
But that may well be the way things are in Dublin these days. Like “Law and Order,” the plot lines seem ripped from the day’s headlines.
There is hardly a day goes by that another gangland shooting or killing doesn’t take place, and the series portrays the psychotic nature of the lead gangsters very well.
Violence is stitched through every episode, but the series realistically depicts the casual killing and violent behavior that is the staple of the real-life Dublin gangland.
These are the people who murdered journalist Veronica Guerin, who shoot and kill each other sometimes, it seems, for sport.
They have names like “The Viper,” “The Monk” and “The Don.” One of them, Martin Cahill, “The General” became so infamous that Hollywood made a movie about him.
As Whitey Bulger and the Westies gang proved, the Irish in America do gangster as well as the next group.
So too can the Irish in Ireland as the headlines attest to. “Love/Hate” captures all that in its decadent and often depraved brilliance.
Here’s an RTE trailer for season four of “Love/Hate”: