It’s conventional wisdom these days that the downward spiral in the quality and intelligence of Hollywood’s output is directly correlated to the golden age of long-form television. The talent that goes into series like Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad has migrated from movies to the small screen. The best movies these days seem to come from outside the US or from indie producers.
All of which means there’s plenty of good stuff on the telly – if you’re prepared to pay for it. With the exception of the occasional good series on Prime and interesting movies on Maori Television, the pickings can be pretty lean on free-to-air television. Take out a Sky subscription including the main movie channels and the choice improves, but not much. To get the really good stuff you need to break through Sky’s double paywall and stump up the extra for Soho, Rialto and perhaps the Arts Channel.
Even then the output can be patchy, but it’s the only way you can guarantee you’ll see all the great shows that everyone talks about around the water cooler. That’s unless you want to get your hands on a box set or access the shows online through not-strictly-legitimate channels.
Normally you can rely on the mainstream media – The Listener or Sunday Star Times, for example – to give you a heads-up when anything from the quality end of the market is about to hit the screens. But not always.
My case in point is the brilliant RTÉ Television (Ireland) series, Love/Hate. Rialto has just finished screening the first four seasons back to back. A fifth season will show overseas later this year with the sixth and final season next year. I stumbled across the end of S1 Ep1 when channel surfing. Some scared looking young Irish lads were out in the forest playing chicken with guns and I could hardly understand a word they were saying. I stuck it onto series link and started watching a few full episodes. I was hooked.
It’s set in and around Dublin in the gritty underworld of drug gangs, with a core cast of a dozen or so. Given the life they lead there’s a bit of turnover in the cast. Like The Sopranos, this show looks at the whole gangster, including their insecurities, weaknesses and the banalities of family life. Again, like the Sopranos the choices made by their wives and girlfriends to ignore where the money is coming from throws up some interesting moral conundrums. It’s gritty and violent all right but also funny and thoughtful with an excellent script and well realised characters. It takes a while to get your ear attuned to the Dublin working class dialect, (“Oi tort oi told yous ta boorn the care!” – I thought I told you to burn the car) but it has its own poetry.
This show is every bit as good as The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, but with a budget of about €600,000 per episode I suspect it’s a lot less expensive to make. Most of the cast will be unfamiliar to New Zealanders, with the exception of the excellent Aiden Gillen, best known as Petyr Baelish in Game of Thrones. He’s a bad bugger in Love/Hate as well, but on quite a different level.
Get hold of it if you can. It’s the next big thing.