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Welcome to 2009!

HeyRick is currently off-line, and I'm about to restart work. It's all happening! Whatever, the website will be brought back up to date soon and I'll get back into the swing of things equally soon. Well, that's the plan. ☺

 

Demons

What can we say about this ITV programme? I think it is fairly typical of British home-produced drama that has a reasonable idea, but doesn't quite know how to execute it... For those who don't know: there's a teenage boy who finds out he's the last Van Helsing. There's his cute girlfriend (is Holliday really her name!?!), there's Philip Glenister (aka the ponce-bashing coppa' from Life On Mars) sporting this incredibly poor American accent. And there's a blind research-girl.
Together, they go and smite demons.

First, let's eyeball the competition.

  • Buffy is obviously going to come up. And it's a hard act to follow, for provided we kindly agree to overlook the nonsense that was The Initiative (i.e. most of season four), and the utter drivel that was Buffy falling for Riley and various assorted bad-boy vampires (Spike? WTF!?!?); this series offered many strong moments, from the single simple line that changes everything (up in the bell tower where Buffy is saying that nobody cares about your pain because they are all busy dealing with their own) or the the sublime kick in the balls that came at the end of "the musical episode" where just when you thought it was all getting a bit too silly, Buffy lets out that, basically, (paraphrased) "I was happy in heaven, and you brought me back here, thanks Willow, thanks a lot"; to the single most powerful 45 minutes of televised fiction produced - the episode called "The Body".
    The hook in Buffy was that an attractive though not overly bright blonde cheerleader walks down a dark alley at night and creatures of the night devour... oh, hang on, this chick's dealing out a whole lot of whoop-ass... and from that premise the series blossoms to include a number of three-dimensional characters, some recurring themes and characters, and all sorts of real questions (a recurring one, she didn't choose to be the Slayer).
  • Supernatural is more in the heart and spirit of Demons. Two good-looking brothers travelling America dispatching demons to the strains of a well-chosen soundtrack. It is edgy, and moody by the bucketful. It isn't afraid of hard topics, it oozes atmosphere, and just when you think you know where it is going that beat-up old car does a U-turn. This is what Demons wants to be when it grows up.
So we return to Demons. The first episode besically introduced everything, while the second was a reasonable story about a demon in the guise of an angel who abducted children, and the angel effects were a whole lot better than the actual demon (which, while proficiently done, can't escape the human-in-a-latex-suit aspect).
We have issues like the boy thinking his driving test is more important than killing monsters, and we have hints that the pseduo-Yank might not be entirely who he pretends to be (this being said by a 400-odd year old nutter living in a church). However the comedy moments are verging on the side of "unintentionally funny" and the scary moments... aren't. Although it goes out at 8pm in the UK, it plays a bit like a daytime edit of Supernatural.

So let's examine the characters in more detail, for I have often said the success of something depends upon the characters. No, not the curse of British television which is overcharacterisation, but people who you care about. Read my movie reviews, I've said it dozens of times, if there is no emotional connection with the character, ask me why I'm supposed to care?

  • The boy Luke (Christian Cooke) - seems a fairly typical teenager with a fine line in narcicism, but not one with too many dimensions (yet?) so if he smites or if he croaks, do we care yet?
  • The girlfriend Ruby (Holliday Grainger) - cute, big eyed, is actually taking it all rather well. We'd probably care if anything happened to her because we tend to care more about cute things (why do you think most of the sorority chicks that get slaughtered in horror films are semi-naked sex obsessed bimbos? it's a stereotype, the cute girl makes it to the credits and the rest die). I just wish she wouldn't keep pointing out the bleedin' obvious.
  • The 'Watcher' - to steal some Buffy parlance, Galvin (Philip Glenister), he's the guy who is tasked with bringing the last Van Helsing up to speed. He doesn't have Giles' (Buffy) charm and wit, he doesn't have the father's (Supernatural) raw determination.
    In fact, with his stream of cheap one-liners ("Denial is NOT an option") he is actually highly annoying. And the person who decided he should be an American (some excuse about making it more internationally-friendly?) should be smited themselves. The best thing they can do is have him reveal he was faking being an American to give himself a whole different persona as some appalling demon is looking for him. [credit though, Glenister's response to playing a Texan was 'bollocks to that' (source: Wiki) so at least it was clear that a Dubyah-alike would have been a Texan too far]
  • The blind girl Mina (Zoë Tapper) - is it just me or does she give out that "I have a big secret" vibe? As in common with television 'blind' people, she spends a lot of time staring into the middle-distance. I point this out because I knew a blind girl many years ago and her eyes spent most of the time flitting around. It was a bit odd at first, and she seemed to find a lot of the other kids didn't want to be her friend (comments ranging from "creepy" to "possessed") which was a shame as she was a lovely person. That said, I've only ever known the one blind person so I cannot say if this was normal or not...
    By the way, wasn't there a Mina in Stoker's book? It's been like two decades since I've read it...

Where to go from here? Okay, we can't be too hard on a series that has only revealed two episodes so far, however if we're to make it to a second season we need to up the ante. A lot. We desperately need some deep emotional involvment and more than anything we need to give Luke some serious purpose. Not simply smiting demons because he's the last Van Helsing (that fact is repeated a lot, as if we are a bit brain-dead and didn't already make the Stoker connection).
Oh, and given that Galvin is supposed to be American, and Van Helsing is of Dutch origin, and everything is taking place in contemporary time... can somebody please explain why we have such clunky dialogue as: "Turn and face me... or I will most surely smite thee"?

In case you aren't up with your archaic English: to "smite" is to affect with a powerful blow, usually in order to punish. Once upon a time miscreants would be smitten with the cane.
Nowadays that sort of carry-on is illegal and few people (if any?) actually use a word like "smite"; perhaps a few religious people that would say they were smitten by the flu, as if the illness was something sent by God specifically to bring them to their knees for some sort of sin that had previously been committed... as opposed to the science of virology and not being innoculated, which is a more proficient explanation than God-sent hoodoo.
Of course, we could discuss at length whether flu is capable of smiting, for it can hit hard and it can certainly punish, but there is no intention behind it. It doesn't say "oooh, you've been baaaad" and then wham! ... but this is straying off the topic somewhat!

Here's an idea: The mother buys it. Violently slain. Ripped apart. It isn't pretty (and probably hard for the broadcast timeslot to achieve (not that such concerns seemed to factor into Wallander's level of hyper-clinical accuracy). This will make it a personal vendetta for the Luke ... and Ruby can act as his grounding, stop him going off the short end and self-destructing (like the German girl was in The Bourne Identity). If Galvin dares to say "this time it's personal" I will smite him myself. In fact, he should take more of a back seat as the boy goes and smites anything not of this world (and time). As for research girl, Mina, she should be hard at work trying to correlate all the information, for every episode our otherworldly entities give conflicting information. Who/what did that to his mother? Why? We really really don't want to have it answered and spend several weeks on the hunt. It would ring false. Much better for the assailant to be unknown, and every clue they get contradict the others, more like reality, so it isn't just a simple chase but is rather something they have to go looking for, even those times when all the leads have dried up and they are all out of ideas.

Don't make it like Buffy where the bad entity is finally killed in the end. It would be so much better if it turns out that either this entity was working under orders, or that it was actually an alibi - it wasn't 'X' and as it dies it takes with it the knowledge of who/what really did it and why, thus the hunt continues. And please, PLEASE don't make all the other-worldly creatures know each other like a great big family.

So you're sitting there saying "you wanna bump off the mother, are you for real?". Actually, yes. Deadly serious. Some of the most shocking and affecting moments in television series are when 'safe' characters buy it (if you watch ER, how long did it take to get over Lucy and Andy's sudden violent demise? I'm not sure I ever did...); thus removing the sanctity of the safety that is the central character set. It has to be done with care, you can't just indiscriminately wipe out people.
I think the main four can make a good team together so they are 'safe' for now. The next closest who could be expendible are Ruby's younger brother and Luke's mother. We can discount bratty brother as murdering children is still something of a taboo, and it isn't necessarily Ruby's fight. That makes Luke's mom an ideal target. Mess up his life in an irreversible way. Bring it all home and dump it on the doorstep. At the risk of bitch-slapping myself for the rest of the year... this time it's personal.
For this is what I see as one of the failings of so many programmes of this nature. The big Why?. For Buffy, it was pre-established (via the oft-maligned movie). For Supernatural it was very personal.
They would appear to be starting this move with Luke, having his father's early demise being otherworldly; however he has had a long time to come to terms with the car accident (that wasn't), so finding out the truth now isn't going to change a lot.
My father is dead. If I found out, now, that he was actually targetted by the Mafia for a drug deal that went sour, I'd probably let out a Keanu Reaves style whoa! and then that would be that. It wouldn't make me want to go out and slay Godfathers and Wise Guys - for he's been dead a long time. I've come to terms with it; and whatever the excuse, from Mafia mobsters to alien abductions, it isn't going to alter the fact that dead is as dead as can be, and I've come to terms with it.
Now if Luke should go home one day and discover what's left of his mother... well, that would be a reason to consider smiting to be more important than a driving test.

 

Demons - and another thing...

It would be kinda cool if a character turns up intent on smiting humans considering that they are the bacterial version of half-lives. Refer to the Agent Jones speech just before the minigun/helicopter stuff in "The Matrix" for a good idea of where I'm coming from with this. It would be nice to have a programme of this genre that isn't afraid to fly in the face of the supposed human superiority. What makes us 'superior' except that we say we are? God's sake, there's a load of reasons why we could be considered to be somewhat less than superior, such as:
  • We s**t in our playpen all the time; ripping down forests and burning fuels known to be linked to climatic disturbances and dumping waste into the oceans.
  • We (mostly) need an emotional crutch on which to hang our lives, and we are prepared to fight to the death to defend the idealism of this unproven (and most likely nonexistant) creator figure...
  • ...who, incidentally, created us in his image - if that's not a human ego at work, nothing is!
  • Our best way of moving beyond the confines of our planet is akin to a giant firework. We'll never conquer space (or even have pretentions of doing so) if it takes several months just to blast ourselves to the neighbouring lump of rock.
  • A housebound paranoid agoraphobic could urinate out a window and reach further, in proportional terms, than we've made it from our planet. If there are Greys in space craft, that wooshing noise as you get abducted is not the anti-gravity device, it is laughter. And they are abducting us in the hope of finding somebody that realises we are not the slightest bit important. We are nothing more than a celestial ant-hill with way too damn many ants.
  • We have devised medical systems hell-bent on preserving life, and a legal system that prevents anybody from saying "enough is enough" and letting a person choose not to continue.
  • Our ecomony is a global mess where bad sub-primes in one country can cause a quarter of a million to lose their jobs in a different country; yet this totally flies in the face of the fact that everybody gets all protectionist when anything bad happens - we either share the pie equally or we all bugger off and make our own way. Pick&Mix is just insane.
  • Sex matters. Loads of us want to get some. Some will pick a person at random and commit an offence known as rape. Some will pick a person of their own gender (and then be "proud to be gay", though quite how somebody can proclaim pride in sticking their penis inside another man's anus for the purpose of sexual gratification is beyond me). There even some who have an opposite-gender pairing and religious beliefs that preclude the use of birth control, so when they get some they might end up with a lasting reminder.
  • I could go on... but when you look at it, for all we have achieved, we may be the most superior being on our little planet; but it's a stretch to go any further than that. However in typical human egotistical fashion, we will elevate ourselves to the most superior being in existance by pooh-poohing the concept of life in outer space either on scientific grounds (SETI has heard diddly-squat in many years of looking) or religious terms (which roughly translates to "bollocks! God made the Earth, The End.").
How about some character or other to challenge this "I shall surely smite thee on my trip of self-superiority" idea.

 

Cold drivel

I've been up through the night recently, waking around 7pm and going to sleep around 11am. This is because with the outside linging around -6°C and our kitchen at 3°C (my bedroom at 11°C), it is necessary to turn on the water taps about every hour. This will cause the pump to kick in, and should therefore stop ice developing. The picture you see below is me, standing on our pond. All 65kg of me was carried effortlessly by ice that was nearly five centimetres thick. Yes, I'm standing on the edge. Going out to the middle might have been a possibility, but it wouldn't prove anything.

I've been programming, catching up on XviD'd stuff I'd not seen, or watching NHK World, for the utter drivel on British television after-hours defies description. Once FilmFour and Zone Horror have shown their programming... it's teleshopping, repeats with sign language, repeats, or "let's watch people sleeping in the Big Brother House". Woo.

 

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