ITV do bad sci-fi.
This wasn't always the case. I have very fond memories of Sapphire & Steel as a kid but I'll be the first to admit that my powers of discernment were a little erratic when I was 10 years old (I also rated Chorlton & The Wheelies among my favourite shows).
But in later years ITV has consistently failed to produce / buy-in a decent sci-fi show. God knows they've tried. For example, in recent years we've had the God-awful Primeval. That show tried so hard to attain the level of "sci-fi cool" it was too painful to watch.
And now - broadcasting for the first time last night - we have Demons.
I'm sad to say that it suffers from the same malaise as Primeval. Stilted, amateurish scripts, transparent plotlines, sketchy characterization and a too heavy reliance on CGI effects and rubber latex (as in face make-up rather than anything kinky in the bedroom - alas).
It's a pity. It has some winning ingredients: Philip Glenister; that sexy doc girlie from Survivors (Zoe Tapper). And, er, that's about it.
But really that should be enough. Glenister is just cool per se. He holds the screen like a Hadron Collider magnet. And Tapper just oozes a rampant snoggability that promises to set the screen alight.
So why doesn't it work?
It doesn't work because the writer's at ITV are plainly clueless in the art of using an asset to its full potential. They lumber Glenister with a "rilly stoopid" American accent. Glenister is a fine actor but he ain't no Chicago street punk. And for some reason they've decided that Tapper's character should be blind - which means most of her dark, smouldering looks are directed at various inanimate objects such as vases, pillars and Ikea bookcases. What an effing waste!
But worse still is the sad, creatively bankrupt adherence to a sci-fi formula that ITV have yet to realize doesn't work: young pretty boy in the male lead and young pretty girl as his counterpart (and "will-they-won't-they" love interest). The trouble with pretty young-things (especially when they're virtually unknown) is that it is damned hard to care a gold-plated fart about them. I spent much of the show hoping they'd both get dragged down to Hell and demoned up like Pinhead from Hellraiser.
Alas it was not to be.
The entire episode felt like it was a first draft (or an idea from one of those annoyingly funny Orange cinema adverts)... It was clumsy. It was cynical. It just doesn't work.
The BBC are far more subtle in their approach to sci-fi drama. Whatever misgivings one may have about Doctor Who or Torchwood I have to admit that they're casting has been consistently good and they're not afraid to cast against type and allow actors to surprise us with their range. ITV, however, consistently play it safe and what we get is a wishy-washy, story-by-numbers, spooky horror story that is kid friendly but hopelessly mediocre if you're an adult.
And as for the demons... geez, they're not scary at all. They're grotesque, yes, but in a comical Carnivalesque sense. There's no sense of unholiness or otherworldliness about them. I like my demons to be genuinely unsettling - think Clive Barker or Aleister Crowley. Not people daubed in weird latex and plastic that appears to have been transported through time from the 1970's.
Which brings me back to Sapphire & Steel.
Was it really any good? Or have ITV always sucked at sci-fi?