This review contains spoilers.
While across the pond, zombies are allegedly the new vampires, closer to home, it seems ghosts are the supernatural successors to the navel gazing undead, as BBC Three’s latest original drama, The Fades, kicked into life.
A much-heralded co-production with BBC America, writer Jack Thorne (Skins, This is England) originally pitched The Fades as “a cross between Freaks And Geeks and Ghostbusters.” Given that, between them, those two franchises gave the world its first glimpse of, among others, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Busy Phillips and the all-conquering humour of Judd Apatow, and made superstars of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd respectively, that’s setting the bar stratospherically high.
Admittedly, that bar was set five years ago, and clearly the show has clearly undergone some fine-tuning since then – angsty teens versus the world of the supernatural is so mid-90s, and died with the demise of one Buffy Summers. Lucky then, that rather than focus too much on the angst, Thorne has come up with an altogether darker prospect – think Supernatural in Grimsby on downers, and you’re some way there.
Not that this is a bad thing – far from it. The premiere episode was surprisingly engrossing, peppered with what could be some very interesting concepts. This is a reality where death is not quite so straightforward as Highway To Heaven would have you believe. In the world of The Fades, life is a bitch, and “Death is similarly crap.” There’s no white light, no fanfare, definitely no long lost relatives, and for more than a few, no anything at all.
Even the afterlife is depressing in The Fades. With “ascension” to a better place essentially a lottery, the town is teeming with dead people with nothing to do but a spot of parkour. And it’s into this world that 18-year-old Paul – nerdy, highly strung bed-wetter – is unwillingly thrown, after a chance encounter in an abandoned shopping centre.
Okay, so there might be a little angst, but it’s in no way gratuitous, mostly because there’s no such thing as gratuitous angst when you’re an 18-year-old bed wetter. That encounter – with a ghost, and a buster – leads to the revelation that not only is Paul one of the few who can see the ghosts, or fades, as they’re known, but that he’s psychic as well.
As is always the way with these things, there’s a big bad a-coming, and only a handful of plucky souls able to fight it. Paul, like it or not, is about to become one of them, which unfortunately for him and his untamable bladder means the constant threat of, if not actual, death. Two members of the ghostbusters have already died, and there were only three to begin with.
Given that one of the deceased busters was a priest with a healing touch, clearly this thing means business. Which leaves the fate of the world in the hands of a bed wetter and a one-eyed man. Surely those are odds even the mighty Buffy would have baulked at.
If nothing else, it’ll be a good fight. The creepy eyeball/tongue interface was without doubt one of the better horror inspired moments of the episode. And there were a few – although not as gory as they could have been, the horror elements were well placed and reasonably effective.
As you’ve no doubt heard, premiere episodes are extremely tricky things to review. Stories and characters are brand new, and a series always needs a few weeks to bed down. Let’s not forget Supernatural was atrocious for at least a dozen episodes before it settled into the kickass show we can’t live without twelve weeks out of the year.
Having said that, what started off with a run of the mill horror convention, quickly became something far more interesting. Yes, the big bad/accidental hero/plucky band of warriors is well trodden ground, but the conceit – that death itself will cause the end of the world, all the while avoiding any religious implications at all – is nothing if not refreshing.
Added to this the incredibly well written script, just the right side of self-referencing, with some excellently deployed Matrix quotes, and the darkly lit, atmospheric direction, and what you have is a show filled with possibilities. But the real revelation here is Iain De Caestecker (16 Years Of Alcohol), who plays the angsty psychic teen. Engaging and engrossing from the start, this is perhaps the best casting decision the BBC has made in a very long time. Particularly when you consider that this is a channel that still gives Will Mellor work.
So, a promising start for the UK/US co-production – if you ignore the blatant rip off of The Gentlemen from Buffy, for the look of the big bad – and if they keep this up, I just might be tuning in a lot…