There is so much to say about DIGITAL CHANNEL OF THE YEAR BBC3’s new supernatural yoof drama The Fades and its pocultural significance. There’s no time right now because I am out of town sans laptop and am soon going out to see Sweet Sweet Lies do their epic thing and witness Dot Cotton hosting Rock n Roll bingo. For real. I love Brighton, like you have no idea.
But when I get back, we’ll be talking about this!
Happy weekend all.
After the dominance of the vampire/werewolf canon, the other paragons of the paranormal are having their day in the sun. So to speak. New supernatural yoof drama The Fades started last week, going out on BBC3/BBC HD Wednesdays at 21:00 (repeated all through the week.) Fairly modish cast the DIGITAL CHANNEL OF THE YEAR put together here. Notables include thinking telly aficionado’s fox Natalie Dormer who properly sexed up S2 of ludicrous historical melodrama The Tudors as foxy, devious Anne Boleyn and most recently went blonde for blockbusting flop Captain America. She seems to be the estranged wife of Tom Ellis off Miranda.
Poor old Lily Loveless seems to have been cast simply so that the producers can say she’s in it, bringing that vital Skins capital with her, because she has around three minutes screen time, which she spends being a brat. Hopefully she’ll have more to do in weeks to come. She plays twin sister to protagonist Paul and the siblings seem to be following in that obnoxious American tradition of vile, disrespectful teenagers who cannot obey instruction or speak civilly to their parents. Are so many kids really like that? It feels like lazy shorthand from the writers.
This ep’s got a pretty cool aesthetic, which is vital for the style-savvy demongraphic. [That was a typo, but then I really liked it, so now it’s a word. So there. Sx] The title sequence looks like a mash up between Misfits and True Blood; doubtless intentional- laying out all their goods in the shop window.
I really appreciated the saturated, sodium palette and shiny, grimy urban dystopia of the opening sequence. The DOP and crew have taken notes from the sparse look that works so well for Misfits and looks sharp on a budget.
Beautifully framed long shots abound with squares and bars of light. Silhouettes flitting about bleachy estate-scapes speak of an urban visual language familiar from the independent British cinema of the last ten years.
The linear grey of the psychiatry session in a bare, intimidating room, is redolent of A. Some limbo or hinterland scene, quite possibly set in a character’s subconscious or B. The Skins hyper-reality of unreliable or absent adults. Throughout, the cameras are close and intimate with the actors, but on first watching, the first fifteen minutes is all action, no character. A rewatch made me revise that opinion however.
So what of the writing?
A rather hammy death scene from Dormer as Sarah, mostly
down to somewhat hackneyed dialogue from well-respected scribe Jack Thorne, who is fast becoming the Abbott, T.Davies or even McGovern of his generation. Though on the basis of this episode, he’s no Potter. Then there’s ‘Mac’ the wisecracking, 80s film buff sidekick, who promises to become more dimensional when he gets a storyline of his own, but for now exists to provide dense and outdated popculture references in what one has to hope is a self-aware parody (costume design included.) They are described as geeks, but I think ‘losers’ is more apt really.
The eyeball scraping scene seemed like an unnecessary attempt at edginess, and the whole exorcist vicar bit is just courting controversy. At the midway point this episode just wasn’t happening for me. Too mumbly, too clunky, no magic. A trendy cast and a classy DOP just aren’t sufficient to make this happen. The trailers promised spangly grit, like diamond dust ground into school playground hard-core.
We interrupt your scheduled programming for six minutes of expositional mythology. Do not adjust your set. The Fades establishes its own mythology, as all supernatural series must, and as the boundary between life and death is the core concept here, the resident expert (there has to be one) old one-eyed Neil explicates for apprentice Paul about ‘Passing Places’- points of ascension for the glowy recently-deceased. It transpires that concrete traps souls on this plane. Could be clever, mayhap just convenient. It does at least give a reason for why the issue is relevant now. In a series like True Blood, the newly-public vampires necessarily have to explain their customs and differences to humans, in Lost Girl the Fae, begrudgingly, enlighten Bo to their deeply ingrained social structure and all the different types of demon an fairy there may be. It’s an SF trope; at least the above can cite their sources though. Giles had his library, but corporeal Fades are a new phenomenon. It’s pretty Sixth Sense. Speaking of which, while they truly and thoroughly spoil the film for the three people in the world who didn’t know- that was a very nice observation from Mac. That’s the kind of thing I say, before people get pissed off with me for overthinking. This Mac character may well grow on me.
Is it jumping on the bandwagon? BBC3’s flagship series Being Human is soon to commence its fourth series, which I anticipate to be exemplary. Canadian channel Showcase (home of a number of respectable exports) have their very promising Lost Girl debuting on SyFy (YouTube it. You’re welcome. Zoie Palmer=NewBestThingOnTelly) True Blood is still winning ratings, despite losing its way, Misfits of course is epic and there is still heat behind the V reboot and more: yet another series in the same vein might just be over salting the gravy. I fear this may be another Trinity. Oh, you didn’t watch Trinity? Weren’t enticed by ITV2’s stab at a late night, supernatural university drama? Kind of British Gossip Girl + Demons production… didn’t drag you away from that lukewarm pint festering on a sticky pub table on a midweek evening? No. Still, The Fades does seem to be an improvement on Aunty’s Sea of Souls from a few years back, which reached such a critical mass of ridiculous it literally imploded. [Speaking of late night ITV drama, anyone remember Night and Day? Shane Ritchie was in it before he got famous again.]
What did you think of The Fades? As Skins has become the benchmark of all youth drama, so anything else grubbing for that golden [silicone? Sx] demographic will inevitably be compared to it. For all its flaws Skins at least had the miasma of zeitgeist about it and as each cohort grows up and moves on from its adolescent shenanigangst [Does that work? Sx] another set comes up to claim the next Gen as their own. That is why it prevails where Glee will die a messy death, in the same way that Fame couldn’t sustain. They have neatly avoided the trap that The Inbetweeners has edged into too; to whit- why would these characters remain together? By constraining themselves to a timeframe which cannot be circumvented they have ensured freshness and therefore longevity. It took a couple of episodes for fans to overcome the passing of Gen1, but now the bi-annual reboot is an integral part of the Skins draw.
So what is the special appeal of the supernatural? The unprecedented successes of Buffy and the X-Files in the nineties must have made the genre-mainstream crossover seem like a safe bet. There are the obvious metaphorical allusions of puberty and difference and sexual appetites, there is just the plain sexiness of superhumans and their ilk (quite very literally in the case of Lost Girl.) The paranormal and the questions it raises about death and mortality are pretty contentious, especially in the States. Are we ready for a renaissance of thought in this vein? With the virtual death of philosophy, religion rendered either toothless or hell bent and science evermore morally bereft, we are sorely in need of a public forum for such ideas. Whether The Fades can provide any answers though, or even facilitate debate, remains to be seen. I’m doubtful though.
Ben Dowell over at the Guardian TV blog had some thoughts on the matter too. He reckons that E4 and BBC3 are doing good work in the field of original British drama too. Plus I learnt that the producer of Misfits is called Petra Fried. If that’s her real name I’ll eat my hat/ buy a shot of real Absinthe for her parents. Of course it isn’t the case that young people can only watch television aimed at them, good telly is worth watching, target audience regardless, but a young cast and an irreverance and willingness to deviate from convention will always make for spare and sound drama.