This show screams CW, from the premise, its casting, through to the money you can see on the screen. It’s clearly cheap sci-fi, and doesn’t have an iota of the grimy realism of the BSG re-imagining, or even the sheen of a modern day Star Trek series. The sets are more in the Stargate/Farscape/Lexx cheaply-made-on-a-Canadian-sound-stage mold.
Presumably catering to it’s intended audience’s attention span, the show does however bound along at a fair old pace; five minutes in and we’ve met the cast, had the expository voiceover, been introduced to two major locations… it’s breakneck stuff, and is done so efficiently, it actually works. It helps that we’ve seen this all before, letting the screenwriter and director rely on a fair bit of genre shorthand – if you’re familiar with any combination of The Hunger Games, The Warriors, West Side Story, The Tribe, Lord of the Flies or The OC, then you can probably connect the dots and see that we’ve got a fairly typical futuristic, teens-without-supervision, heavy on the interpersonal crises, light on the CGI monsters kind of show.
The comparisons continue, the lead female protagonist clearly chosen more for the her visual blend of Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Stiles, rather than her acting chops, and Allessandro Juliani for the fact that he was actually in BSG, but hasn’t worked much since.
Cutting to more specifics, the 100 themselves are all teen convicts, sent back to an evacuated, (possibly) radioactive planet Earth so the rest of the orbital-space-station-bound survivors of a vague environmental Armageddon can find out if it’s worth an attempt at re-population. Cue earth bound jungle hijinks, and some confusing, extremely forgettable space based scenes between some of the 100’s parents and a station Commander with a face like a melting Dustin Hoffman.
This is all accompanied by a constant soundtrack of what I can only describe as teen pop music. I think it’s pop. Maybe it’s what passes for rock? Whichever, it’s terrible middle-of-the-road rubbish (I’m guessing these aren’t credible artists? It’s certainly nothing I recognise, and to assume these are popular bands would be far too depressing). At points, it’s hard to tell if it’s their for our benefit, or if it’s being heard by the cast too, played from someone’s iPhone 3000, like kids at the back of the bus unable to sit for 20 minutes without background music.
All in all, the pilot falls squarely between two posts; it’s not got enough of the angst that made something like The OC so watchable to an all-ages audience, and it’s missing the budget and scripting of a must-watch science fiction epic, like BSG itself. I may dip in now and again to see how it’s faring (we’re well into the second season at this point), but I’m not sticking with it in the short term.
This week on Constantine, we see our eponymous occult-detective anti-hero attempting to save a besieged child from the clutches of a nasty looking demon, with a bit of help from his undead best mate and psychic lady-friend, and including a few flashbacks exploring his troubled relationship with his dad when he was growing up. No, actually wait, sorry, that’s the plot of The Dresden Files pilot from 2007 (Season 1, Episode 1. Obviously).
Okay, maybe I’m overstating the similarities slightly, but it’s interesting to note that this set-up has already tried and failed once before (Constantine now being officially put out of it’s misery). The tone isn’t a million miles away, both playing their stars as cranky and sarcastic but actually well-meaning, with moments of darkness thrown in, but overall sticking to banter, quips and one-liners. Sure, this worked for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer for years, but then again they never tried to take Buffy into really dark territory, at least not in the early days, and by the time they did, they’d built up a large, loyal following of Whedonites. Plus, that was a cast of kids; they had an excuse for levity and lightness.
For my money, I wish they’d risked taking Constantine down a more serious route, playing it off as a horror show with the odd joke to break the tension, rather than the über-formulaic genre exercise they settled for.
But I digress, back to The Dresden Files. The pilot doesn’t mess around; we’re quickly introduced to Harry Dresden (Arrow’s Paul Blackthorne), Chicago-based wizard for hire, and Bob, his pet ghost (Terrance Mann, who I’m sure you all remember from all four Critters films. Just me? Fair enough, go look them up, I’ll wait) and then we’re off to the races with a standard monster-of-the-week set-up.
It’s all good fun, Blackthorne and Mann are likable, and play it with the right balance of seriousness and tongue in cheek hamminess (Mann especially does well not to crack up with some of the lines he’s given). It’s got lots of elements that should, and frequently do work; the obvious Hellblazer elements (and therefore unavoidably the tone of Mike Carey’s novel-only John Constantine stand-in Felix Castor), shades of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett’s battered gumshoes, and a procedural vibe that plays like a supernatural version of Law and Order.
I’m intrigued, I’m having fun, but I’m not fully convinced that I’ll come back for the remaining 11 episodes. It’s all too obvious, too ‘done’, and there’s just far too much competition – I’ve not seen Supernatural, but at 10 seasons and counting, it sounds like a much likelier prospect. Realistically, I’m more likely to delve into the Jim Butcher series of Dresden books that the show is based on; the 15th in the series coming out only last year, there’s already more written material than was ever filmed, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. There’s also a few graphic novels and mini-series available from Dynamite Entertainment, though these don’t look to be anything particularlay special, and may be better suited to Dresden completists.
I’ll finally get round to the two part The River pilot for next week, and might check in with Person of Interest as it hits the half-way point of season 4.
Jim Stafford might be the newest THN Love Slave but, honestly, who can keep track?!