BBC3 seems to be casting around for a successor to its cult media smash-hit Being Human and is hoping that this might hit the spot. Based on the first episode, I’d have to say that while it has its strengths, it’s unlikely to succeed.
The good side first: there’s some lovely plotting and dialogue on the “ordinary life” side of things as two school friends just struggle to get through the normal perils of growing up, which involved girls, cigarettes, bed-wetting, school and swearing. Iain De Caestecker is strikingly good as the introverted, troubled Paul; and Daniel Kaluuya (best known as Tea Leaf in Psychoville) is great as the comic relief best friend Mac with a killer line in popular movie references including The Matrix and The Sixth Sense. The latter movie has a good deal in common with the basic premise of this first episode, as Mac points out.
Unfortunately, when it lurches into the ‘cult’ part of the story, it does so with all the subtlety of a major head injury: introducing ghouls and ghosts and zombies and monsters and brain-pulverising apocalyptic visions/dreams that immediately clash with any sense of the normal reality the show is purportedly set in. It does it very early on in proceedings, too, without having earned any claim to our suspension of disbelief, and the whole thing comes over as overblown and rather silly – despite some excellent work from the director and production team who are clearly stretching a meagre budget far beyond what it should be capable of doing.
Maybe shows for a ‘youth audience’ feel they need to dispense with subtlety and smash straight into the gore (and there are a couple of eyeball-related scenes here that will have all but the hardiest reaching for the remote control to turn over.) Personally, that doesn’t work for me, and simply makes it impossible to ease into accepting the world that the programme is trying to build around us for the characters.
Moreover, the ‘weird’ stuff on offer here feels very derivative. The visions are straight from the likes of Constantine or Max Payne, the zombies straight from 28 Days Later, Blade 2 or The Walking Dead, and the basic premise of what happens to those who die feels like a bleak British gritty kitchen sink drama take on that US saccharine mush-fest Ghost Whisperer – only, a bit sillier.
I really want to like this show – partly because of the core of good stuff and strong performances it contains, but also because I’d love to see British TV take more chances with cult TV offerings. But this one feels like any number of similarly offputtingly weird shows we’ve seen come and quickly go over the years, from the likes of Strange to Demons, doomed never to find even a niche audience able to justify its continuation.
I guess the one thing it does is cast light on how inspired and well executed the rare true gems that do work are, like Being Human and Doctor Who and even Primeval are, and how they’re not to be taken for granted – because it’s harder to make these things work than it looks.