Episode 1: They Bite
Let’s face it, Demons is, for all intents and purposes, ITV having a barely-disguised stab at making the British Buffy. The question is, of course, is this really necessary?
The last time I looked, us Brits were perfectly happy with the proper one. You’d think Shine Productions would have gathered this when their previous attempt was cancelled after two poorly-received seasons. Remember Hex? No, me neither.
They don’t call them vampires in Demons. They don’t call them demons either, which seems slightly odd. Just “freaks” or “half-lives”, graded by the level of threat they pose to humankind. Some look like monkey-gremlins, others like fox-faced hoodies.
One regurgitates dollops of digested food in front of horrified waitresses and wears a silly hat. So far, this reviewer is yet to quake in her boots; teatime slot notwithstanding, the show could afford to rack up the scare factor a bit.
Rather than the trusty stake, these nasties can be dispatched with oh-so-convenient special bullets which will give a human a mostly harmless ‘bump’, but cause a freak to dissolve into a cloud of Barbie-pink vapour.
Oblivious to such supernatural shenanigans is Luke Rutherford (Christian Cooke, permanently looking as if he’s wondering whether he left the gas on and thinking he’ll probably cry about it if he has).
Luke is your average teenage boy; he loves his mum, he goes to college, he’s entirely unaware of the fact that his best friend is in love with him.
He is also the descendant of renowned demon-hunter and literary icon, Abraham Van Helsing. It takes the sudden arrival of Luke’s eccentric, enigmatic and flamboyant American godfather for him to discover his true destiny (yawn).
Demons has decided to set itself in a kind of Bizarro-Buffyverse, in which we have an English male Chosen One being mentored by a middle-aged American, instead of the Buffy-Giles setup we’re used to.
The American in question is Rupert E. Galvin (and I’m sure we’d all agree that first name was bestowed upon the character by crazy random happenstance). The role gives Philip Glenister a chance to play the worldly-wise, cynical, trilby-wearing street-warrior archetype, spouting sanctimonous dialogue about being in “the coldest of cold wars” and “keeping the freaks in their place” which make him sound about as hard-boiled as a Cadbury’s Creme Egg.
As for the accent, he sounds pretty much as you’d expect: like Gene Hunt doing a Harry Callahan impression. Badly. To give him his due, though, the man has charisma in spades and does the best he can with an as yet two-dimensional character forced to deliver OTT lines about ‘smiting’ every five minutes. They even make him say “thee” for heaven’s sake.
Completing the line-up, we have the radiant Zoe Tapper, bringing gravitas and mystery to her role as the blind, psychic concert pianist, Mina Harker, and Holly Grainger as Luke’s friend Ruby: looks cute as a button, whines like a bitch.
When the two meet, it’s hardly the beginning of a beautiful friendship; Mina is disdainful and scathing towards Ruby, while Ruby wonders how a visually-impaired ivory-tinkler could possibly bring anything of value to the table, even invoking the Bigot’s Gambit, “I’m not being funny, but…” Now, now, ladies. The fate of the world is at stake here.
Well, actually, no it isn’t. The plot, such as it is, is your typical heroics-by-numbers setup: a helpless Ruby is kidnapped by ‘Type 12’ freak Gladiolus Thrip and Luke must rescue her before it’s too late (it would seem the show has no intention of mimicking Buffy’s feminist agenda then).
The ludicrously-monikered Thrip – played with relish by Mackenzie Crook – is a wiry, dandified, bouffanted scene-stealer with an unsightly and unexplained fake nose.
Whether he’s a marvellously cocky arch-villain or an irritating Cockernee ham is up to the tastes of the individual viewer, but either way, he doesn’t last long, as Luke discovers his true capabilities and, like, learns to believe in himself and stuff. While shooting the Pseudo-Scientific Bullets of Convenience from an archaic-looking gun.
They Bite makes for a solid start to the series, if not an adventurous or particularly impressive one. There is nothing new here so far, but perhaps over its six-week run Glenister and Tapper will be allowed to show what they’re made of and we will see the show gain some decent baddies, find its own identity and emerge from the dauntingly huge shadow of BtVS.
So, no pressure then.
7 January 2009