The last time Ashley Pharaoh and Matthew Graham joined forces to launch a new series of a show, the end result was Ashes To Ashes. The terrific final series of that show, including a last episode that did the whole story arc justice, sometimes betrays the fact that it didn’t get off to the surest of starts. In fact, the first three or four episodes of Ashes To Ashes see it struggling to find its feet, and also battling to step out of the shadow of its forerunner, Life On Mars.
With their new show, Eternal Law, Pharoah and Graham don’t have the legacy of Life On Mars to directly follow, and while quieter, it allows them to get their new production off to a steadier start. It’s not bereft of elements of their earlier work, with a case of the week sat in the middle of, in this instance, fantasy elements. But the tone and feel is a lot gentler, even if the case itself isn’t.
The basic concept here mixes angels with barristers. Zak (Samuel West) and Tom (Ukweli Roach), both sporting quite splendid wings, have been sent to earth, and find themselves as lawyers, attached to a small law firm. Their broader aim is to do good on earth, and help humans (albeit with a rule as to how far they’re allowed to intervene). The day to day seems to involve them taking on unwinnable cases, and trying to win them.
The show is set around the city of York, and director Adrian Shergold certainly makes as much of the city as he can. Furthermore, the performances are roundly good. Inevitably, characters are some way from being fleshed out, but it’s an engaging company that’s been put together here.
At its best, Eternal Law is breezy, quite witty, and while a good deal softer in feel than Pharoah and Graham’s preview work, it’s a genial way to spend the best part of an hour. It never grips you by the collar, perhaps, but then it’s not really that kind of show. At least, not yet.
There are niggles, though. The case of the week element in this opening episode is breezed through with speed, without much in the way of depth to it. That’s understandable: this is an opening episode, that needs to establish the characters, the situation, and the scenario itself. Furthermore, there’s a desire on the part of the writers to cut as quickly to the chase as possible.
The problem, though, is that there’s not enough room to comfortably squeeze everything in. Here’s an opening episode that could have used the extra ten minutes that it might have got had it not required the ad breaks. As it stands, by the time the twist ending to the case was presented, it lacked some of the impact you might have hoped for, arguably because there wasn’t that much meat to it in the first place.
Furthermore, it doesn’t really leave you with a compelling hook to come back for more. I quite enjoyed Eternal Law, but it’s not a start for the show that’s instantly led plenty of crumbs leading me to the same time next week. It’s a modest beginning, in that sense.
But it does have things to build on. The pairing of Samuel West and Ukweli Roach is promising, and the base concept – which seems to marry up a little bit of Wim Wenders with a more sizeable chunk of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – leaves plenty of room for exploration.
Which hopefully, the second episode will do. We’ve got glimpses of Tobias Menzies’ antagonist here, and the base establishing work is now in place. The challenge for Pharoah and Graham is now to take their base concept and see just what they can do with it. They’ve got fine heritage in this area, and that – combined with this solid, if unspectacular opening episode – suggests it might be worth keeping an eye on Eternal Law.