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From Downton to Dublin's gangland - Sunday is saved

MY poor wife has succumbed to an epidemic that's affecting millions of people in Britain, along with a few hundred thousand more on this side of the water.

She's suffering from a melancholic condition known as Downton Comedown Syndrome.

The third series of Julian Fellowes' wildly popular fancy-dress soap Downton Abbey, which was rather better received than its predecessor (even its staunchest fans admit season two went a bit nutzoid on the melodrama front), wound up this week.

Viewers who just can't get enough of frocks, bonnets, big houses, vintage cars, scheming manservants, Hugh Bonneville's convincing impression of a man with untreated bowel trouble, Dame Maggie Smith's withering putdowns, plus posh types interacting with the lower orders in a manner never recorded in any known sociological history book, will have to wait until the two-hour Christmas special for their next fix.

While nothing has been officially confirmed, it's pretty much a given there will be a fourth series, to which Fellowes said he'd like to add a multicultural element -- although only, as he told a newspaper this week, if it can be done convincingly.

This would certainly make a refreshing change from the historical and linguistic anachronisms which tend to dog the scripts and send the internet's serial mistake-spotters into bursts of outrage.


As you may have guessed, the series is not really my cup of Earl Grey, although I can empathise with how down Downton fans feel right now.

I used to feel that way when ER and NYPD Blue at their respective peaks came to the end of a series, and I felt that way again after the nailbiting finale of the first series of Homeland.

But where will devotees of the dramatic entanglements of the Crawley family and their below-stairs staff go now to fill the Downton-shaped hole in their Sunday nights?

If TV audience migration patterns are to be relied upon, plenty of Irish viewers will relocate from the lush, green landscape of Hampshire, where Downton is filmed, to the gritty streets of Dublin gangland.

After several weeks of Dermot Bannon knitting his eyebrows in Room To Improve, which was about as suitable a presence in Sunday night primetime as a conger eel in a public swimming pool, the much-anticipated third series of Love/Hate begins on RTE One on Sunday.

It's comparatively rare for a drama to improve the longer it goes on, rather than fall victim to the law of diminishing returns, but the intriguing promos for series three of Stuart Carolan's saga of violence, duplicity and betrayal in the city's drug-peddling underworld suggest it's going to be even more tense and nihilistic than the previous two.


For me, the standout performance has come from Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Nidge, the character whose story arc has by far been Love/Hate's most compelling element. Aidan Gillen and Robert Sheehan might have been the marquee names when it began, but Vaughan-Lawlor is the breakout star.

You wouldn't care to spend one second of your time in the company of a real person as repellent as Nidge (and there are plenty of them around), yet in the tradition of classically-styled gangster dramas from The Roaring Twenties to The Godfather to GoodFellas, Love/Hate has all the fascination of a snake pit and Nidge is its most dangerous reptile.

Downton Abbey and Love/Hate are at completely opposite ends of the TV drama spectrum.

They couldn't be more different. And yet experience shows that if there's one thing the public loves, it's a big, solid, chunky Sunday night drama they can lose themselves in.

No amount of Dermot Bannon will ever match that.