Sunday, January 04, 2009

Go To Hell

Philip Glenister in DemonsITV 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?

20 comments:

Deirdre said...

Yes...they don't do Sci-Fi or costume dramas as well as the Beeb.......but I still love Corrie...and a happy and healthy new year to you and yours ...I know I'm late but I have been under the influence of lemsip paracetamol and cough mixture for nigh on a week now and am only just starting to feel better...onwards and upwards and hoping 2009 is good for everyone...

Steve said...

Hmm... maybe Corrie could be improved with the addition of Philip Glenister? Just a thought... sorry to hear you've had to imbibe a medicinal cocktail but I hope it is having a positive effect! A very Happy New Year to you and yours too, Deirde!

Sky Clearbrook said...

UFO and Space 1999 are worth a look. They often pop up on ITV4.

Sapphire and Steel used to put the shits up me no end. I particularly remember the one with some kind scary hooded figure on a rocking chair at the end of an ever-lengthening corridor - and the other one set in a railway station waiting room haunted by some wartime ghosts singing It's A Long Way To Tipperary. Ugh. Got the shivers just thinking about it!

kate5kiwis said...

steve,
i remember the name *sapphire and steel* but cannot remember the programme. BD's older bro is staying here and i just asked him, he loved the first one but the rest were cr*p, he says X

Steve said...

Sky, I don't recall UFO at all but I do have fond memories of Space 1999 and in particular of a redhead called Romana(?) that could change into animals at will? Or am I confusing that with something else?

Kate, I have a few hazy memories of the stories from the show - the on Sky mentions above stays with me as does one with a ghost trapped in a series of 3 mirrors, each reflecting into the other. I seem to recall the show's popularity waned rather quickly...

KAZ said...

'rampant snoggability' - great phrase.
Sapphire and Steel - now that brings back memories.
David McCallum is in NCIS and Joanna is ... blogging I hear.

The Sagittarian said...

OOOH, I agree with you about Phil Glennister. He's an enjoyable fella to watch and I really liked him in Life on Mars. Haven't seen much TV lately and no doubt it will take ages for that programme to screen in NZ anyway.

I also used to get a bit freaked by Sapphire and Steel (tips her cork-ringed hat at Sky Clearbrook) but there were one or two old Dr Who episodes which had the same effect on me.

Steve said...

Kaz, alas,'rampant snoggability' is a phrase that is used too little these days whereas its counterphrase 'rampant unsnoggability' is used too often. I sometimes fear what we as a race are coming to. And as for Joanna blogging...?!? Good grief. What a loser!

Amanda, the only episode of Sapphire & Steel that really freaked me out was in the first series... it may have been the WWII / train station one but Sapphire / Joanna ended up with her face resembling a plate of baked beans. It put me of Heinz for months...

Rol said...

Once again, I can always rely on you to watch the shows I can't be arsed to watch and confirm my expectations.

And yes, Sapphire and Steel WAS good. It was so bizarre and unformulaic that it wouldn't even get through the commissioning process these days - not even for BBC4.

Steve said...

Rol, I am considering charging for this service. Your summary regarding the modern commissioning process is, I suspect, depressingly accurate...

Daisy said...

steve...i don't know why but when reading this i thought about when i was a child and the tv broke...the best thing about it was that my siblings and i would come up with shows and act them out the way we thought they should be for the entertainment of the rest of the family...that was the best part of tv for me...well that i remember anyway...

Lucy Fishwife said...

I gave it 5 minutes and was so deeply embarrassed by it that I changed channels. The demons were straight out of Gremlins, which ISN'T SCARY , and why?? why??? the stupid accent of the otherwise truly lust-worthy Philip Glenister?? WHY?? If they want to sell it to the Americans they have to put an American in it, not some Brit they've never heard of doing an American accent. WHY????????? It was almost as embarrassing as your mum and dad slow-dancing when they come to pick you up from a school disco and catch the last song. I used to love Sapphire and Steel though... And The Tomorrow people (which was also ITV I think?) HAPPY NEW YEAR btw...

Steve said...

Daisy, what a fabulous idea: I've a feeling I could greatly improve my viewing pleasure by re-enacting all my favourite shows and films the way they should have been filmed! I may have to sabotage the TV to that purpose (just don't tell the kids)...

Lucy, that's exactly what I said to my wife as I watched the end credits roll up and felt the after taste of bitter disappointment upon my tongue... there is utterly no need for Glenister's character to be American anyway and as you say, if they needed an American why not hire one in? Or get John Barrowman to do it? No, wait, wait... the show was bad enough already without going that far...

Annie said...

I didn't notice that the Mina Harker character was blind - it shows how captivated I was hehe!
(I played Mina about 20 years ago - and have got the photos to prove it!)

Love Daisy's home entertainment memory.

The Tomorrow People? That's was a long time ago - and sadly I'm old enough to remember it!!

Steve said...

I know of The Tomorrow People, Annie, but don't recall ever watching it. It's one of those programmes that just slipped beneath my childhood TV viewing radar - like all the classic Doctor Who series. I suppose my credentials as a TV reviewer are pretty suspect as a consequence.

Reluctant Blogger said...

I did try to watch it on account of the fact that I like Philip Glenister and find Zoe Tapper rather nice to look at. But we didn't last till the end - I switched over to The History of Scotland which was far more interesting.

I always loved Space 1999 as a child though. I must have fancied someone in that too - the woman who could talk to the cat, whatever her name was, I think I had the hots for her!

Steve said...

I think if I was watching it on my own I would have bailed out too, Gina, but the eldest boy was well into it... so there you go. I regularly make such sacrifices for my family - especially when it keeps them quiet! ;-) I think the girl you're referring to in Space 1999 is the one I mention above - Romana(?), I can't recall her exact name and am too lazy to research it online. Couldn't she change into animals as well as communicate with them? As a young boy I also had the hots for her...

Old Cheeser said...

Stevenage,

Delayed response.

The redhead who could transform herself into any creature at will in Space 1999 was Maya, excellently played by the alluring Catherine Schell. Great character although her rice crispie eyebrows were a bit dodgy.

And if you want the lowdown on Sapphire and Steel you could always try here (some weird post from some dodgy defunct blog...):

http://trashcheesevision.blogspot.com/2008/01/cheesers-choice-sapphire-and-steel.html

Simply copy and paste into your browser and voila!

Your own memories of Sapphire and Steel are pretty accurate though. As are your comments on how the quality of ITV's sci-fi output these days is pretty rubbish - I agree the Beeb do it miles better. (although the recent remake of Survivors was a bit sucky I thought....)

Doctor Who is, admittedly, a tough act to follow! By the way what do you think of the choice of new Doctor?

Steve said...

OC to the rescue! Many thanks Cheeser and nice to have you breezing through these parts once more! Maya - yes! Now it all comes back to me and the eyebrows certainly loom large in my memory. She was still a top redhead though. Thank you for the link to S&S - it'll be fun to mug up on it once more. I may have to treat myself to the boxed set if there is one available. As for the new Doctor... hmm. I'm trying to reserve judgement. He certainly has something about him but I must confess my initial reaction was "Ooh, way to young and far to close to Tennant in wacky ambience and hairstyle"... but I'm very aware that Catherine Tate proved me wrong so I shall hold my tongue and see how he pans out. I shall put my faith in Steve Moffat's superlative writing! Hope things are well with you, my friend!

Old Cheeser said...

You certainly SHOULD get the boxset, Steve...There's one for about £30 with all six stories which is well worth checking out. The railway station story is particularly brilliant and spine chilling! As I said in my review, if S & S has any drawbacks it's mainly the lack of budget and dated special effects, but the quality of the acting, ideas and sheer unusualness of the whole thing may it worthwhile. Not to mention David McCallum's wonderfully terse Steel and the simply sublime Joanna Lumley.

I know what you mean about the new Doc - my reaction was the same. He certainly seems to have the necessary eccentricity required for the part of the Doc - not to mention weird looking features but at other times I think he DOES look too baby faced for the part. But as you say, we were all anti-Catherine T and she surpassed people's expectations. We shall see.

Yes I am good if busy as usual ... work etc! Hope all's good at your end too and best wishes to Karen and the kiddies!

OC x