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We're feeling the Love/Hate

Love/Hate (RTE1, Sun) The X Factor (TV3/UTV, Sat and Sun) I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here! (TV3/UTV, Sat and Sun)

THERE'S a thin line between love and hate, and I've crossed it with Love/Hate. I'm happy to say I'm finally feeling the luuurve -- and feeling it big-time.

I wrote a few weeks ago that the second series of Stuart O'Carolan's Dublin gangland saga seemed to be a big improvement on the first: grittier, edgier and less inclined than its predecessor to flirt with romanticising its rogues gallery of thieves, drug dealers and murderers.

The improvement even since that opening instalment has been nothing short of astounding. I don't think I've ever seen a drama series so utterly transformed from one season to the next.

Mind you, it's not an unconditional luuurve. I'm still not the slightest bit convinced by reluctant pretty-boy hoodlum Darren (Robert Sheehan), who continues to look like he's strayed in from a commercial for man-scent, or by his winsome girlfriend Rosie, played by the equally miscast Ruth Negga.

They're supposed to be the ones we're rooting for, the shaky moral centre of an otherwise corrupt sub-world, yet every time they appear on screen, separately or together, credibility takes a dip.

Aside from some snuggling up on the sofa and a surprisingly frank sex scene, they barely figured at all in last night's episode. The truth is they weren't missed.

If there's to be a third series of Love/Hate (and as far as I know there is), it could conceivably dispense with either or both of them. If the Devil has all the best tunes then Love/Hate's bad guys, repellent as they are, have all the best lines.

Aidan Gillen's rapidly unravelling gang boss John Boy, coked-up to the eyeballs and positively sweating paranoia, is a masterclass in how to play a hair-trigger psycho. But good as Gillen is, for my money the most compelling performances come from the secondary players, such as Tom Vaughn-Lawlor as John Boy's sidekick Nidge, chillingly switching from doting husband and father (in one comical scene, rushing into a hospital on Christmas Eve, laden down with a case full of clothes and a baby car-seat, in time to catch his wife giving birth) to ruthless, cold-eyed enforcer.

This time around, O'Carolan has dared to do something rare: write a television drama in which virtually none of the major characters has a single redeeming feature. He's also deflected accusations, initially valid, that Love/Hate glamourises the criminal lifestyle by showing its creeping, corrosive effects.

Tommy (the excellent Killian Scott), one of the few in John Boy's gang who seems to have a shred of his soul left, vomits with fear before carrying out a bungled hit on violent loanshark Fran (Peter Coonan, also outstanding).

Fran himself returns home to find his despairing partner dead in the bath, her wrists slit. A swaggering young joyrider who unwisely acted as a getaway driver is ruthlessly shot in the head and dumped on a rubbish tip. Even a blameless swan gets it in the neck, quite literally, in a crushing closing scene.

Crime might not pay in the long term, but at the moment it's paying rich and compelling dramatic dividends for Love/Hate.

Best Reality TV Moment of the Weekend #1: Janet Devlin, the hiccupping Celtic pixie, finally being booted off The X Factor, having forgotten the words to MMMbop.

Not that the sing-off survivor, Misha B, a big-mouthed would-be R&B belter with all the vocal subtlety of an ambulance siren, was much better.

She somehow managed to get the lyrics of Cyndi Lauper's 80s bubblegum pop anthem Girls Just Wanna Have Fun wrong, although the judges didn't seem to notice.

Best Reality TV Moment of the Weekend #2: Fatima Whitbread propelling a cockroach from her left nostril on I'm a Celebrity. If that woman isn't crowned queen of the jungle after that, there's absolutely no justice in the world. Although I do feel a tad sorry for the cockroach.

Love/Hate 4/5 The X Factor 4/5

I'm a Celebrity -- Get Me Out of Here 3/5