You never know when love’s around the corner – or clambering over your garden wall. That’s the message of Sky’s latest, Belfast-set series, The Lovers.
Seamus (Johnny Flynn) is – in a word – slimy. He’s a political broadcaster whose world expands no further than the borough of Islington. As he readies himself for work, he reads tweets from adoring fans (ignoring one calling him a “f***ing dick brain”), before taking a nauseating selfie with his homemade green juice.
His life couldn’t be easier, until he’s suddenly shipped out of his comfort zone and into Northern Ireland (despite protesting his Irish roots, and name, he couldn’t sound more English) to film his new current affairs commentary show: This Sunday with Seamus O’Hannigan.
Janet (Roisin Gallagher) is a supermarket worker in Belfast, and gets herself through the day on a diet of chocolate bars and verbal abuse towards her coworkers. She has no care for the lives of those around her, and even less care for her own. When she decides to take one final, horrifying leap into the abyss (topped off with the charming goodbye note “boo f***ing hoo”), she’s interrupted by a panicked, slightly bloody Seamus scaling her garden wall in an attempt to escape a group of lads who weren’t so pleased to hear his take on their employment status in a segment for his show.
From this high-stakes meet-cute, involving a foot chase and a loaded gun, to a kiss ending up in a bloody nose, this love story is as unlikely as they come. The two could not be worse suited, yet they find themselves inexplicably drawn together. But the more they want each other, the more the politics of their vastly different lives threaten to ruin it all.
The Lovers is exactly what you could hope for in a romantic comedy – it has laughs, darkness, and undeniable charm. It hits every romance cliche you could possibly hope for, yet each moment is subverted by a bumbling quirkiness that makes it stand out from the rest of the genre. Whether its Janet’s foul mouth or Seamus’s awkward compulsion to prove his own woke-ness, no tender moment goes by without its own eccentricities (the supposedly comforting “don’t be f***ing nervous” song being a real highlight).
As Seamus and Janet, Flynn and Gallagher exude an infectious chemistry that has your heart fluttering. Somehow, being ambushed while naked in the shower and telling tearful stories of ex-husbands dying in freak sex accidents become moments that feel as charming as they are bizarre. And in spite of each character’s long list of flaws, it’s easy to fall for them, despite your – and definitely their – better judgement.
Alice Eve and Conleth Hill also stand out as Seamus’s B-list (but scraping her way to A-list) actress girlfriend, Frankie, and Janet’s boss Philip. Eve (a veteran of these kinds of roles) is the loving girlfriend who’s wrapped up in the elitist bubble of the celebrity world and exudes both kindness and self importance. And Hill’s sweet, well-meaning Philip (who happens to be a huge fan of Seamus) is a great foil to the fiery Janet.
But what makes the series stand out is its determination to show the real world and all its dark corners. Janet’s Belfast upbringing was defined by violent political conflict, which has affected her more than she lets on, while Seamus accompanies “the Troubles” with inverterted commas in a passionate-yet-patronising piece to camera for This Sunday with Seamus O’Hannigan. As they both confront their pasts, there is no subject too taboo (though divulging exactly what they are would be spoiling things), and the show is all the better for it.
It is written by the much-acclaimed playwright-turned-screenwriter Northern Ireland-born David Ireland whose darkly funny stage works include Cyprus Avenue and Ulster American. After working on episodes of the brilliantly funny Young Offenders on TV, he was overdue his own show, and he pulls it off brilliantly.
The Lovers has as much bite as it has heart, and serves as a reminder that rom-coms don’t have to exist in a made-up reality where everything works out simply because it has to. It’s not just a must-watch for rom-com fanatics, but for anyone who wants a smile on their face.
The Lovers is available to watch on Sky Atlantic from September 7th