The Fades: Episode 1 (Ashes to Ashes, Funk to Funky)

“Are we about to get assassinated? Because I'm not ready to die. I haven't decided what my last words will be yet.”

It took me a while to really get into The Fades.

I wasn't really impressed with this first episode when I initially watched it and decided not to bother with the next one. There just wasn't anything that excited or interested me. It wasn't until after season one had finished airing, and a lot of people started raving about how good it was, that I decided to give it another go. And I was glad I did because exactly halfway through its first season The Fades suddenly got good. Very good indeed. So good in fact that I wish the BBC would hurry up and announce season two already. All this waiting has me worried it's been quietly axed due to budget cuts.

The Fades is a supernatural series from the BBC, created by Skins writer Jack Thorne and new Doctor Who producer Caroline Skinner. It tells the story of Paul Roberts (Iain de Caestecker), a geeky teenager in a small English town, who is able to see spirits of the dead, known in the series as Fades. Fades are what is left of humans who have died but not been able to ascend to the other side. Normally, they cannot be seen, heard or touched by other humans but somehow they have found a way to regain control of touch and have started killing Angelics, people like Paul who have the ability to perceive the Fades.

Despite eventually winning me over, I still didn't enjoy this episode. I've watched it three times now and my feelings about it haven't changed since the first time I saw it. I don't think it was terrible, just sort of 'meh'. After a tense opening, it just sort of plods along for the rest of the hour, shuffling from scene to scene with no clear sense of direction. As first episodes go, it does do an effective job of introducing all the principle characters and establishing all the basics of the series' mythology. The problem, for me anyway, is that the mythology isn't all that interesting yet and neither are any of the characters.

The show has a talented cast, but by the end of this episode I did not feel any kind of attachment to a single character. Normally, I would be wholeheartedly rooting for a geeky duo like Paul and Mac. Instead, I'm resisting the urge to slap the pair of them. Mac is a one man geek culture reference making machine, a machine that is almost out of control. Honestly, the guy can't seem to shut up. Mac, I want to like you, so please tone it done a bit because your numerous references often feel forced and overdone. The female characters also need some serious work. Anna has no personality beyond being the bitchy older sister, Jay is the nice but bland love interest, Helen is your basic super-powered, gun wielding, female priest (yeah, like we haven't seen that a hundred time before) and Sarah gets little to do beside have some visions, die and then glow in the dark.

Refreshing as it is to have a supernatural series that doesn't feature vampires or werewolves (or the Winchesters), when you get right down to it, The Fades is nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before. There just isn't a very original idea at its core.There have been hundreds of books, comics and TV series about a teenage kid discovering they have superpowers and becoming humanity's last hope against the forces of darkness. With the school setting and teenage heroes who only communicate in witty geekism, you could argue that The Fades is actually the closest we've ever come to having a British Buffy. And before anyone says anything, Hex does not count. I don't care if Michael Fassbender was in it, it was crap and should be forgotten about completely. But likely won't be because freakin' Michael Fassbender was in it.

I know this review comes off as rather negative. But please don't let that put you off. Even if you felt the same way about this episode as I did, stick with the show. Trust me, it does get better.

Notes and Quotes

--What was Sarah thinking going into that dark alley alone? Has she never seen a single horror film in her life?

--Okay, be honest, hands up who didn't squirm at the DIY eye surgery scene? Ha, liars.

--The cast is like a game of six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but for British genre telly. Daniel Kaluuya (Mac), Tom Ellis (Mark) and Claire Rushbrook (Paul and Anna's mum) all appeared in Doctor Who. Ellis also had a recurring role on Merlin. Natalie Dormer (Sarah) is set appear in season two of Game of Thrones. Kaluuya and Sophie Wu (Jay) both appeared in Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror but in different episode. Kaluuya also appeared on Skins as did Lily Loveless (Anna) who also guest starred in The Sarah Jane Adventures, which is a spin-off of, you've guessed it, Doctor Who.

--Daniela Nardini and Lily Loveless are the only actors to appear in both the series and the original pilot episode. All the other roles were recast. Lacey Turner (Eastenders, Being Human) was originally going to play Jay.

--Top marks need to go to director Farren Blackburn because, despite the character and story problems, there's no denying that The Fadesis brilliantly shot. The scenes in the disused shopping centre are suitably creepy and atmospheric. And the apocalyptic visions that Paul and Sarah share look fantastic and have a real sense of foreboding.

--I'm almost certain that Sarah Lund would kill to her hands on Paul's collection of naff jumpers. And I don't doubt that she'd be able to pull them off, too.

--The special effects of the various Fades standing on rooftops looked hopelessly fake. Is it really that difficult to have a bunch of stuntmen stand on roofs?

Paul: “This is a bad idea.”
Mac: “Correction, this is a good idea with bad possibilities.”

Meg: “I don't know what's going on with him.”
Anna: “It's called being a teenage boy. He should be wanking, not pissing.”

Anna: “Fuck off, Paul! How we came out of the same egg is a mystery to me.”
Paul: “Womb. We came out the same womb. Egg and we'd be identical twins. There are certain differences between us, in case you hadn't noticed.”
Anna: “Yeah, you're retarded.”

Paul: “Tolkin had a twisted sexuality?”
Mac: “The eye of Mordor, the guy was clearly petrified of vaginas.”

Neil: “Yeah, that's right, kid, I'm a Ghostbuster.”
Paul: “And none of this... none of this stuff's in my head?”
Neil: “Ghostbuster's honor.”

Paul: “Would you say everything you've ever learned about was from films, Mac?”
Mac: “No. Television's been doing some important work for me. Then there's the complicated yet thorny issue of Internet pornography.”

Mac: “Which makes my best friend Indiana Jones. Which is good, because I always wanted to be Short Round in The Temple of Doom. Or Marion Ravenwood from Raiders.”

Neil: “Death is random. Same as life. Life has famine, illness, shitiness, death is similarly crap.”
---
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

8 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Thanks for reviewing this show for us, Mark. We saw it last night and had exactly the same reaction you had at first -- that it was somewhat meh. I also found it frustrating because Mac talked a mile a minute, but I didn't understand most of what he said. (No close captioning on high def BBC America. I imagine you guys on the other side of the pond have the same problem with regional American accents.)

But I'll keep watching because I am taking your word that it will be good. I believed Josie when she told me The Vampire Diaries became awesome, and she was right.

Did you mean to say more in the bit that starts -- Top Marks...?

Josie Kafka said...

I am always, always right!

Mark, I'm happy you're reviewing this because our readers seemed so excited about it when it aired Over There. I look forward to getting that excited about it soon. Right now, I'm in the "meh" camp.

Mark Greig said...

Yes I did, Billie, and for some strange reason its cut out. Thanks for pointing that out, fixed now.

morgan india said...

Yay for The Fades, Yay for Mark reviewing The Fades.

I liked this episode, sort of. Boo for Anne Boleyn being blonde, though. I was hoping Natalie would be brunette again. I love Natalie Dormer, but strangely enough I don't think she looks good as a blonde, despite it being her natural colour.

I'm very, very happy that you're reviewing this, Mark.

Paul Kelly said...

Initially, I thought the show felt amateurish. It looked exactly like it was. A horror show written by the bloke from Skins. I couldn't help feel Jack Thorne had a poor grasp of the genre, and that his dialogue and characters (I'm talking to you, Mac), were just awful. So I gave up after two episodes. Then everybody started raving on about how it suddenly "got good", so I caught up on iPlayer, and indeed it suddenly did get good.

If they can get a second season, and carry on the mid-season tempo and quality, I think this could be a decent show. I even started to like Mac towards the end. Not Big Macs though. I still hate those. I don't trusty the sauce.

Stephen said...

Yay, The Fades!!!! I thought this was worse than "meh" when i first saw it, but trust me, it really does pull a Vampire Diaries! Anyone thinking of giving up on it, just stay til the fourth episode, and if you still don't like it, I'll eat my fez

Anonymous said...

This has been sitting on my planner for months now, and I keep trying, but still haven't made it past the third ep... (How bad is it? I watched the entire first series of the really very silly Teen Wolf AND Strikeback: Project Dawn that were also sitting on my planner rather than watch one more episode of The Fades just yet. At least they were amusingly daft.)

I know it's just about to get good according to everyone else, but seriously?! Leaving four episodes (out of such a short series) until the interesting stuff kicks in suggests to me that there's something badly wrong with the plotting/writing. Something tells me you wouldn't get away with it on a commercial station, but that's half the reason why the BBC is a wonderful thing, and half the reason why it can afford to indulge its writers a little too much going by this.

Sitting through 3 solid hours of fairly dull stuff to get the same amount again of interesting stuff is quite a lot to ask when I have so many other things demanding my attention - including, ironically, the first series of Vampire Diaries. Which I am giving another chance, on the advice of just about everyone... ;o)

Sooze said...

I must be easy to please...I just watched the first two episodes and didn't find it "meh" at all. Guess that is why I am not a TV critic...I'd be giving everything a thumbs up!