THE best thing about 'Love/Hate' is that it's so different to what's gone before. This is Irish television unlike anything we've seen.
It's not just the grittiness, though the show is unflinching in its portrayal of the deranged half-life of gangsters, and probably pushes the envelope further than ever in terms of sex, violence and language. But we've seen all those before, while dramas like 'Prosperity' revealed the depressing underbelly of Irish life. 'Love/Hate' is more than that.
It's different because, firstly, it's so good. The writing, acting, directing and cinematography are comparable to other great TV shows and movies. It's different in that it doesn't just show us terrible men doing terrible things: the programme tries to find a deeper truth, something universal.
And 'Love/Hate' is different most of all in its choice of actors. With the exception of Robert Sheehan (Darren), none of the players was well-known before this show – and even he isn't some global celebrity.
The producers have assembled a cast who, while all matched perfectly to their roles, are relative unknowns. It gives the programme great freshness and vitality.
Shows like 'The Clinic', 'Raw', 'Bachelors Walk' and 'Pure Mule' were commendable in their own way, but the viewer always half-expected to see the same faces pop up on screen, and almost always their expectations were met.
It's understandable in a small country with a presumably small talent pool, but it still rankled a bit. You'd see, for instance, Charlene McKenna – a fine actress, used here simply as an example – in 'Raw' and think: "Haven't I seen her somewhere before?" And you had: in 'Single Handed', 'Whistleblower', 'Pure Mule' and elsewhere.
For some reason, it becomes harder to buy into an actor, as a particular character, when you've watched them too many times, in similar Irish dramas, over a short period of time. The cynical part of your mind jokes: "Is there some statutory requirement for Keith McErlean, Aisling O'Sullivan or Don Wycherley to appear in every RTE production?"
'Love/Hate' doesn't have that problem. The main character, Nidge, for instance, is played by a guy called Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, who I'd never heard of before, and he is absolutely brilliant. It's a masterclass in acting; he imbues this scummy greaseball with the psychological complexity of great theatre.
Best of all, you don't really associate Vaughan-Lawlor with anything else. You don't get that weary feeling of deja vu.
Which is why it was a little disconcerting to see Sean McGinley (pictured) pop up at the end of last Sunday's third episode. Again, he's a fine actor – but McGinley has been virtually ubiquitous in Irish dramas for 20 years.
Since making his bones in Roddy Doyle's 'Family' in 1994, the Donegal man has appeared in – deep breath – 'Pure Mule', 'On Home Ground', 'The Tiger's Tail', 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley', 'Man About Dog', 'The General', 'Resurrection Man', ' Michael Collins', and many more. Worse, his 'Love/Hate' character is a menacing IRA man – precisely the sort of role McGinley specialises in.
You'd hope this isn't a sign that the show is about to tip over into banality, or embrace the easy option of casting big names and well-known faces. Because the problem with those faces is that many of them have passed from well-known to over-familiar.
'Love/Hate' is something special, carving out a unique niche in Irish television history; and its brave, imaginative casting is a large part of that.