Tuesday 6 December 2016

Close to The Wire for homegrown hoods and mums

RTE does the dirty on Love/Hate and stay-at-home mothers, says Carol Hunt

Published 14/11/2011 | 06:00

TELEVISION: IT was inevitable. Having nabbed Aidan Gillen to play paranoid crime godfather John Boy in RTE's drama Love/Hate, attempts to mould it into something resembling HBO masterpiece The Wire for its second series have proven irresistible.

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Gillen, for those of you recently returned from a neighbouring galaxy, appeared in the third and fourth series of The Wire as the morally ambiguous mayor of Baltimore, Tommy Carcetti.

In Love/Hate he is on the other side of "The Game", channelling Pacino's Scarface as the tense, psychotic and not particularly bright gang leader. His newly appointed side-kick, Nidge (Tom Vaughan Lawlor) adds just the right amount of thugishness on the side.

Robert Sheehan (playing Darren Tracey, miraculously recovered from what looked like a fatal shooting at the end of season one) still looks as if he was accidentally transported from the glamorous show Entourage to the middle of the Love/Hate set.

He wanders around mournfully, big puppy-dog eyes begging us to excuse his involvement with these nasty scumbags. With those eyelashes, Bob? We'd forgive you anything ...

This was the main complaint about season one: it was too pretty, too smart, too benign, too potentially attractive to gullible youngsters sitting at home unemployed, looking for ways to earn a few bob and wondering if Psycho Sid-the-Dealer from down the flats would be able to hook them up with the kind of hot birds and powerful blokes they were seeing on the telly.

You could argue that Al Pacino in Godfather was a bit of all right, Tony Soprano has his soft side and Bonnie and Clyde were portrayed as glamorous misfits -- and you'd be right. But this is Ireland. Have you ever come across a dealer or drug "lord" who looked anything like Robert Sheehan? Nope. Me neither, Bud.

So this season -- Sheehan's angelic beauty aside -- L/H is meaner, tougher, nastier and has the confidence to give leading characters few, if any, redeeming qualities.

The birthday party scene in the local, complete with a seedy stripper; her slobbering sub-human acolytes; the pretty druggie who's ready to swap blow-jobs for gear; the sluttish wife impressed by her old mate Nidge's new dangerous career prospects -- these all showed the mind-numbing stupidity of those involved in the drug game. Written by Stuart Carolan and directed by David Caffrey, Love/Hate is certainly not yet The Wire, but if the promise shown in this first episode (of season two) matures, we may yet end up with a homegrown classic.

IT was a week of "firsts" on RTE, with Emer O'Kelly bravely -- but perhaps inadvisedly -- taking on the stay-at-home mammies (SAHM) in an hour-long documentary imaginatively -- I jest -- entitled Now It's Personal.

What were the producers thinking? All over the country stay-at-home mothers were throwing their cups, saucers, glasses of wine, remote controls and, probably in some cases, the odd baby or two, at their TVs.

Were they annoyed that their decision to stay home with the kids had been outed as a luxurious choice? Did it really -- as one mother of four put it -- "beat sitting in the office any day"? One suspects that not all harassed mothers, dreaming fondly of a child-free work zone, would agree that it beats sitting in the office.

Perhaps some joker in the RTE production team thought it would provide gripping drama if a successful and opinionated career woman who had never experienced what it was like to juggle children and work was sent around the country to ask (stay-at-home) mothers what the hell they thought they were doing?

Now, perhaps if we lived in a country where we had state-supported childcare and monetary recognition of the work that women -- and some men -- do in the home (instead of just an insulting nod to it in our constitution), this scenario would have had validity.

But we don't. The vast majority of women in this country work part-time. Many of them would have liked to continue with their careers -- making best use of their education and qualifications -- but realised the impossibility of doing so, usually after child number two arrived and creche fees exceeded salary.

And in a country where men still earn more than women -- it's still, in the main, the woman who cracks first.

O'Kelly is spot on when she says that women have a responsibility to become participants in the economic life of the state. No money, no power.

She's also correct in worrying that women are wasting good, expensive educations if they end up staying at home with a rake of kids.

God knows, it took years of protest to ensure that girls were accorded the same education as their brothers -- and there are still many who say: "What's the point, if all they're going to do with it is stay at home baking bread and changing nappies?"

What this programme never managed to get across, and one has to wonder if it ever intended to, was the fact that when kids arrive, principles often have to be abandoned.

Not permanently, and for some women, not at all, but in the main getting the balance right between career and the needs of children is a messy, exhilarating, surprising and sometimes disappointing business.

Surprisingly, none of the mothers featured in this programme cited financial issues as a reason why they had decided to remain at home. Nor was there any discussion of the hundreds of thousands of women who have no choice between working/staying at home as economics has already made the choice for them.

The superficial handling of this very sensitive issue by the programme-makers was unfair, not just to mothers all over Ireland -- working inside and outside the home -- but also to women who choose, for whatever reasons, not to have children in the first place as their valid reasoning and opinions (in the form of Ms O'Kelly's) were derided and disregarded. In one ridiculous scenario, O'Kelly was made to care for an annoying "robot baby" who provided all the downside to childminding with none of the highs. Wisely, she locked it in another room. I would have been tempted to flush it down the toilet.

Potentially, this programme could have started a worthwhile debate about the actuality of choices available to women working and rearing families in recession-hit Ireland. It failed miserably due to no fault of the participants. The robot baby was the highlight.

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