This week I have been mostly watching programmes featuring ghosts. The sudden burst of supernatural series onto TV could indicate that world events are making people more inclined to look for spiritual answers, or it could just imply that enough time has passed since The Sixth Sense was released for TV executives to feel confident in raiding it.
Sky One’s Hex has already ensured its place in the directory of interesting TV characters by having Thelma the lesbian ghost as one of its main characters. Unfortunately, I suspect that it’s all it will be remembered for, as the rest of the programme is a rather uninspired rip off of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Rippng off other programmes is a staple of programme creation, of course, but if you’re going to slavishly copy a series it’s usually best to either add something new or borrow wholesale from a programme that no one else has seen. Unfortunately, not only have Hex‘s creators forgotten that, they also seem to have decided that the best series of Buffy to borrow from is the sixth one, where not much happened except various characters wandering around being angsty and angry to each other and made something that’s little more than Hollyoaks with the odd demon wandering around in the background.
Of course, I’m probably not the intended target audience for Hex, being someone who watches TV for character, drama and plot. As it comes from the same production company as Channel 4’s Hollyoaks-with-interesting-camera-angles teen drama As If, it was clearly tailor made for slightly depressed teenage girls with too much time to obsess over. A quick look on the internet reveals that it already has more than its fair share of garishly designed websites filled with bad poetry and fan fiction, so it will no doubt live forever. The rest of us will just have to wait for Russell T Davies to get bored of Doctor Who and decide to make the Thelma The Lesbian Ghost mini-series.
Sometimes, there are reasons to be thankful for American TV’s survival of the fittest attitude towards new programmes, with those that underperform in the ratings being pulled off screens before they’ve even had time to broadcast three episodes. Yes, it does mean that potentially great series like Clerks or Firefly never get the chance they deserve, but it also limits the number of people who may be exposed to pointless crap like CBS’s Ghost Whisperer. I’ve been trying to work out just how this managed to get a pilot episode made, let alone get on air, and then I realised that it was clearly originally intended to be a comedy version of The Sixth Sense in which a woman couldn’t tell which of the people she saw around her were dead and which were alive with the usual hilarious consequences. Looked at that way, even the bizarre name makes a sort of parodic sense, given that no one in the programme actually whispers, to ghosts or anyone else. However, this may also be because it stars Jennifer Love Hewitt, whose acting talents allow her to display only slightly more emotions than a corpse.
Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, someone invited noted real-life medium (there are other words to describe him, but then there are also libel laws) James Van Praagh to consult on the show, which means it’s now like a comedy with the laughs surgically removed and several kilos of saccharine inserted in its place to boost it up to an hour-long drama. It doesn’t even fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category, it’s just so-pointless-it’ll-soon-be-deservedly-forgotten.
Which means, almost by default, the best programme I’m reviewing this week was on ITV. There’s a sentence I don’t expect to be typing too often. It says something about ITV’s current output that one of their ’50 years of ITV’ promotional films features current stars of the network at a party with the stars of their old shows which is just a sad reminder that the network that gave us The Avengers, The Prisoner, Rising Damp, Brideshead Revisited and so much more is now offering us little more than an infinite stream of identikit soap stars and light entertainment presenters.
Afterlife, though, was an interesting attempt at something different from ITV. It’s still a long way short of being great TV, but it’s much better than the insult to your eyes pieces of star casting and faux sensationalism that characterises most ITV drama nowadays mainly because in Lesley Sharp it has a lead actress who can act. Whereas Hex, Ghost Whisperer and other shows have to give their ghosts some physical form on screen just to give the actor and the audience something to relate to, Sharp’s talented enough to make you believe she’s talking to the dead without some special effect or Bruce Willis there just to show you it’s ‘true’. There were some rather large holes in the script, but they were forgivable for an opening episode which had to get the characters into place for the rest of the series, teaming up Sharp’s medium with a sceptical psychologist (a nicely understated Andrew Lincoln) in the traditional believer/sceptic odd couple format. There’s potential for Afterlife to turn into a really good series, if ITV give it a chance and don’t either shunt it off after midnight to make way for another show with Celebrity in the title or insist on forcing it into a crossover with Bad Girls.
Finally, I leave you with the first in an occasional series: Characters on American TV series with rather silly names. This week, ABC’s Invasion introduced us to the character of Dr Mariel Underlay. Only Allied Carpets can save the Earth, I think.