RTÉ’s moody new crime series, Kin, has been heralded as the second coming of Love/Hate. Yet this tale of an explosive blood feud between two drugs cartels in contemporary Dublin – you wonder where they got the idea from – is its own thing and not at all a facsimile of the broadcaster’s gonzo gangland caper of several years ago.
Kin (RTÉ One , 9.30pm) is quieter and gloomier than Love/Hate and more blatantly indebted to the clichés of the prestige television mobster genre. That may have something to do with the fact it is a co-production with US network AMC, which has already debuted the first episode on its AMC + streaming platform.
AMC presumably wanted something it could file under “The Sopranos but in Ireland”. And that is essentially what co-creators Peter McKenna (The Last Kingdom, Red Rock) and Ciarán Donnelly (Altered Carbon, Vikings) have shepherded to the screen.
International backing augers well for RTÉ’s attempts to stake a claim in the global streaming gold rush. However, for viewers in the old country hoping for a reincarnation of Love/Hate’s tracksuit tyro Nidge, there is a risk of Kin initially coming off as underwhelming. This slow burner is less Love/Hate than Love/Wait.
The best thing about the first of eight instalments is the acting. Aidan Gillen puts in a twitchy, understated turn as dapper gangland boss Frank Kinsella. And the show has given him a worthy nemesis in Ciarán Hinds's heroin wholesaler Eamon Cunningham. He's a slug in a suit, with slicked-back hair and bottomless pits where his eyes should be.
Those blank peepers are pointed straight at Frank. Cunningham’s goons have been encroaching on the Kinsella turf. And when Frank confronts Cunningham, his erstwhile business partner has a blunt message. From now on the Kinsellas buy drugs exclusively from Cunningham or there will be trouble.
Kinsella's clan are Godfather-esque gumbo of hot-heads, sadists and misanthropes. Frank's son Eric "the Viking" swaggers around like an MMA fighter with anger management issues and is played by Sam Keeley as a mix of Sonny Corleone and Conor McGregor.
But the meatiest parts go to Emmett Scanlan and Daredevil's Charlie Cox (the Londoner affects a flawless Dublin accent) as chalk and cheese brothers Jimmy and Michael Kinsella.
Jimmy is a thug with a man-bun and a determination to bring his older son into the family business, over the objections of upwardly mobile wife, Amanda (Clare Dunne). Michael, meanwhile, has just been released from Mountjoy. He seems to be quietly struggling with PTSD while trying to go on the straight and narrow in order to win back visitation rights to his daughter.
Kin’s rag-tag of antiheroes and lost souls spend most of their screen-time in part one slouching through a noir-ish Dublin. The city, for once, looks fantastic on the screen. Imaginative use is made of the docklands, with Cunningham gazing down on his empire from his penthouse at Capital Dock (kudos to the producers for fooling the world into thinking Dublin has a grown-up skyline and that it doesn’t cower in mortal terror of buildings taller than four storeys).
There’s a dynamite conclusion, too, as tensions between the Kinsellas and Cunningham’s men culminate in a confrontation in which Eric is injured and Jimmy’s son killed. The scene goes off like a powder keg. After endless table-setting, it’s just what the episode needed. It also confirms Kin as a family affair worth sticking with.