05 January, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Demons"

Charlie Brooker, The Guardian

"The first week of January is an odd time for TV. For one thing, half the audience is suffering the traditional post-festive daze, lying sprawled across the sofa in a confused funk, blinking in slow motion, spittle trickling from the chin, lazily demanding fresh entertainment - preferably nothing too taxing, please. All of which makes it a good time for the networks to wheel out new hits or, conversely, sneak out clunkers. Pretty much anything is guaranteed a warm reception provided it isn't full of Christmas trees. By this point we'll put our foot through the screen if we see another bloody Christmas tree.

Demons (Sat, 7.20pm, ITV1) doesn't have any Christmas trees in it. But I'm genuinely not sure if ITV are wheeling it out as a hit or sneaking it out as a clunker. Perhaps watching it well in advance of its transmission date didn't help (I have to pen these early January columns way back in December), but I scarcely understood it. That alone makes it a rarity, since in this day and age every drama on television comes equipped with a bullet-pointed script and plenty of ADR (additional dialogue recorded on the soundtrack after the fact) designed to hold the viewer's hand through every second of the plot, over-explaining the story to such a degree that anyone with an IQ higher than the average pork knuckle can't help feeling patronised and vaguely insulted. David Simon's justly lauded series The Wire stubbornly refused to do this at every turn, and in fact even went the other way, deliberately including scenes of indecipherable jargon in order to force the viewer to "lean in" and concentrate on what was happening for themselves.

Demons isn't The Wire, though. I'm not stupid (really, I'm not) but I had a hard time figuring out what was going on, and - more importantly - why. It stars Philip Glenister as Rupert Galvin, a sort of undercover agent waging war on the "half-live", a bunch of monstery-vampirey creatures that apparently live among us without us ever noticing. For no good reason, Rupert is American, though it could be to make the series easier to flog in the US, or possibly just to differentiate the character from Gene Hunt.

Important though he is, he's not the story's primary focus. That task falls instead to Christian Cooke as Luke Rutherford, who discovers in episode one that he's descended from the Van Helsing family - furthermore that he's the last one there is - and that he, therefore, represents mankind's final hope in an ongoing war against the beasties. Luke's a teenager, which means the whole thing inevitably starts resembling a sort of British Buffy The Vampire Slayer with a male lead and, sadly, about 100 times less cohesion. There's a fair bit of CGI involving a kind of half-mechanical gremlin, some overtly comic panto villainy from Mackenzie Crook as a monster with teddy boy dress sense and a stuck-on beak for a nose, plenty of running about and shouting, and ... that's about it. I was so underwhelmed, my mind kept wandering, followed by my hands, which repeatedly flipped open a laptop and started checking emails until I realised with a jolt that 10 minutes had gone by and I hadn't paid attention, which meant I had to keep rewinding the show again and again. Or perhaps that's unfair. Perhaps I was disorientated by having my expectations thwarted: for some reason I'd been under the impression this was going to be a dark, post-watershed adult thriller, until about halfway through when I paused the DVD to check my suspicions that - aha, yes - it's actually an early-evening family-friendly romp in the vein of Primeval. Clearly Primeval's been such a success for ITV they decided they needed a second monster-hunting series with a different name and a few Potter-esque touches (Mackenzie Crook's villain is called Gladiolus Thrip).

So far I'm not convinced.

Maybe it'll find its feet later, but for now ... well, it just felt like a string of cutscenes from a quirky gothic videogame. With the keypad buttons deliberately locked so you can't skip anything. And in case you're wondering, that's not good."


Sarah Dempster, The Guardian

"With a swish of its improbable CGI tail, Demons (ITV1) landed with a shriek in the Saturday evening schedules, and set about busting some non-righteous demon ass with its special guns and lines such as "Let him go or I must surely smite thee, ya freak!" The action is snappy and Philip Glenister (as ace vampire smiter Rupert Galvin) sizzles like a hot steak in his Milk Tray turtleneck, but this is thin soup for an audience weaned on the otherworldly warmth of Doctor Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer."


Kevin O'Sullivan, The Mirror

"Demons is daft... but wonderfully watchable

Starring the great Philip Glenister and Mackenzie Crook as a top-notch baddie, ITV's new Saturday night special-effects blockbuster Demons was diabolically daft...and wonderfully watchable.

The secret descendants of vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing fight a ceaseless war with the deformed fiends the rest of us don't notice on the streets of London.

Sounds like a documentary!"


Kim Newman, The Times

Demons is a show I'd really like to like, but it needs to free itself from the templates it's adopted to develop its own personality. The elements that intrigue all come from Stoker's still-influential novel, while the encrustations derive from more recent glosses on the great Van Helsing tradition."


Audience commentary and debate at Digital Spy



New ITV1 Phillip Glenister drama Demons began with 5.7 million viewers, a 24% share at 7.20pm. The Buffy-style drama – a contemporary twist on the Dracula story – beat BBC1's Your Country Needs You, in which Andrew Lloyd Webber helps pick the UK's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest."




Dan said...

A lazy, plodding, embarassing mess, I thought! A 10-year-old could come up with the premise, and beyond that there was nothing of interest.

Hopefully it will find its groove now the exposition's been dealt with, but why fuse Harry Potter with Buffy and forget about what made those franchises so great was the characters, imagination, dialogue and stories? It's like they've thrown together actors from better SF/fantasy series and hoped for the best because it's associated with vampires and has half-decent CGI. A late Christmas turkey, I reckon.

Robin Kelly said...

"but why fuse Harry Potter with Buffy and forget about what made those franchises so great was the characters, imagination, dialogue and stories?"

That's the question that's currently doing my head in. But I'm trying to forget about it until I've seen episode 2.