The BBC has been putting out some great SF/Fantasy shows in recent years. The new Doctor Who is one of the best shops on the air, Torchwood is excellent, and Being Human is always fun to watch. So I was excited when I heard that 'the Beeb' was going to try its hand at a dark fantasy/horror series involving ghosts and zombies. Sounds like it could be very interesting. The result is The Fades a six-episode series that aired on BBC 3, and is a frustrating show to watch. It starts off slow and confusing, gets very good in the middle, and then ends on a low note. It's too bad that the weak characters, poor lead actor, and countless plot holes outweigh the genuinely suspenseful parts of the show.
Paul Roberts (Iain de Caestecker) and his best friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya) are high school students and general outcasts. Nerdy beyond belief, no one at school pays any attention to them, and even Paul's twin sister Anna (Lily Loveless) shuns him. Part of the problem that Paul is so awkward is because he has trouble sleeping at night. He has horrific dreams of the end of the world that often cause him to wet himself.
One evening Paul and Mac break into an abandoned shopping mall to look for props for an amateur horror film they're making. They split up to search and Paul encounters Neil Valentine (Johnny Harris), a creepy guy with a gun who is looking for someone named Sarah. He yells at Mark to run, but instead of following that sage advice, the idiotic teen tracks the maniac with a gun and sees him being attacked by an undead 'fade.' With Neil down and the Fade sitting on top of him, Paul finally realizes that making tracks might be the best thing to do and flees.
The next day Neil tracks Paul down (the Fade, who ended up killing Sarah, decided to let Neil live and only poisoned his eye... yeah, it doesn't make a lot of sense, I know) and fills him in on what is happening. It turns out that Paul is special. He, like Neil and Sarah, can see dead people, and that means he's an 'Angelic' (whatever that means... it's never explained). After someone dies their spirit has to go to an 'ascension point' where they 'ascend' and go on to their justly reward. (When this happens they turn into birds, and if they don't ascend a bird dies and falls from the sky... or something like that. Neil's always looking at dead birds, but they pretty much drop that whole thing after the first episode, so don't worry about it. But then they made the bird thing a cover motif for the Blu-ray release, so I'm a bit confused.) Unfortunately ascension points have been closing, trapping spirits on Earth.
These trapped spirits are Fades. They can't interact with the world at all. They can't touch or smell. Oh, but they can hear. And see. And talk. And I guess they might be able to smell. It never really came up. So when Neil says that they can't interact at all, what he means is that they can't touch anything or be touched, or be seen by normal people though they can see us. This 'touchless' existence has made them a bit cranky after decades (the oldest one is from the 40's... Neil hypothesizes something about that's when man started building things with concrete. He's not a great historian that Neil.) They continue to after death too. (Well, the males do. The females stay young. After all, old men are creepy and scary but young women are hot even, if they're dead.) Many of them go insane.
That's shouldn't really matter. I mean they can't touch living people, so who cares? No one, until one Fade, John, figures out a way that he can gain the ability to interact with the living world and even become reborn as an immortal. The trick, it turns out, is to eat human flesh. (One of the few plot holes they do explain is how John was able to taste blood for the first time.) Once one Fade can interact with the living world, he can grab people and feed them to other Fades, who can continue the process.
Which brings us back to Paul and Neil. Neil is convinced that a war is coming between Angelics and Fades and that Paul has special abilities. He takes the young boy under his wing to train him, and the first thing he tells him to do is to cut all ties with everyone he knows... including Paul's hot and popular new girlfriend. (All of the popular girls really lust after the geeky kids who are socially awkward, not the jocks. That's one of the many truths that this series is not afraid to reveal.)
Things are moving faster than Neil figures though, and when people start to go missing at an alarming rate, even the police are baffled and helpless. All of the Angelics gather, but even their combined strength (and what is it that they do, aside from seeing dead people??) isn't enough to stop John and his army of reborn Fades.
This series should have been very good. It has a lot going for it including some very surprising twists and some very suspenseful episodes, but in the end it just falls due to the many weaknesses.
The overall story is interesting but it gets all muddled up in the details. There's one scene in the fourth episode where Mac and Paul are playing a game: one of them says the title of a movie and the other has to shout out a plot hole. This gets my vote for 'ironic scene of the decade' because there are so very many dumb, unexplained, inconsistent, and plain stupid plot points littered thought these six episodes. (And only one person wrote it.) Aside from some of the silly things, like the fact that Paul sprouts wings when his masturbates (I kid you not), there are some basic questions that are left unanswered.
What did Angelics do before John became solid (which had to be only a short time ago)? Why are they organized? How did they get organized? Why did Sarah, who was at an ascension point, not ascend? Why did Jay not turn into a Fade when she died? How come Fades can't affect the living world, but be affected by it? (If you shut a Fade in a room, he is trapped there until someone opens the door. He can't open it himself, but he can climb stairs and stand on a roof. They show a Fade trapped on a roof. Why doesn't he just jump?) It turns out that Paul is the only one that can 'kill' a Fade after they've become solid. How is that different from them ascending? Isn't it the same thing? Why doesn't Paul want to kill them, but he does want them to ascend? Why Fades trap a helpless Neil THREE TIMES and let him live each time while killing every other Angelic they encounter? I could go on and on.
Then there are the really idiotic plot points that are put in because the writer has to get from point A to point B some how, so he just does it. Making a popular girl in school sleep with Paul is just ludicrous, but what's worse is how Mac's father acts. He's a (black) cop in charge of the missing person's investigation. His boss, a racist, is coming down hard on him and says that he's unqualified for his job. So after some people go missing and a handful of others are kidnapped at a school, he orders the city to be evacuated and admits that the police have no idea what's going on but they can't handle the situation. That's just insane. No ranking police officer would do that with any hope of keeping his badge. Of course, the city is then evacuated.
The worse insult is when Neil, trying to convince Paul to do what his says, kills his girlfriend. It works. Paul sees the error of his ways and goes along with Neil who has just killed the one girl who ever cared for him. Yeah, right.
End of Spoilers
The characters are pretty poorly crafted too. Paul is very wooden and for the life of me I can't see why anyone would want to follow him. The worst offender is Mac however. He is easily one of the most irritating characters ever. I can only hypothesize, but my guess is that he was created after watching Big Band Theory and a bunch of Kevin Smith films. In those they have likable characters who spout clever pop-culture references in an amusing and endearing fashion. Mac, on the other hand, just makes movie and TV references constantly with no real context, wit, or heart. He's a nerd that nerds would shun. When he's trapped in a room with a girl and zombies are trying to break in to eat them, he asks her which character from ET she would want to be. He tries to impress a hot girl by telling her the plot to Star Wars. That's not clever, that's moronic. The worst offense is at the end of ever intro that he does speaking to the camera, he tugs his ears and says "na-noo na-noo." Dear god. I was a big geek in high school and even I didn't do that, and Mork and Mindy was on the air at the time!
It wasn't all bad, which makes the show worse in an odd sort of way. If it was just totally horrible I could write it off as a piece of rubbish and be done with it. As it is, there are some solid sections that show what the show could have been, which make the flaws all the more heartbreaking. Once the plot actually gets moving (at around the half way point) the story gets pretty good. The attack on the school eerie, surprising, and well thought out. Some of the other sections are very creepy too, like the visit to the old orphanage. There were some plot twists that I didn't see coming too. It's just too bad that the rest of the show was so poor.
The Blu-ray set:
The six episode series arrives on two Blu-ray discs in a single-width double case.
The 1080i 16:9 image looks fine overall, though there were some flaws. Being a recent production, the level of detail was very good and the image was sharp and clear. The drab color scheme played out well in HD too, giving the whole production a nice depressing atmosphere that the creators were undoubtedly trying to achieve. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of aliasing through the program. At one point Paul wears a shirt with thin horizontal lines and when he runs the lines break and create a stair step effect. The same happens when the camera pans across a cityscape scene. There was a bit of grain in some darker scenes too, but it was minor.
Like this whole production, they come close but don't hit the mark on the audio. The show does have a DTS-HD-MA soundtrack, which is great news. Unfortunately it's only in stereo. I can't imagine why they didn't splurge for a full 5.1 audio track, especially since an atmospheric show like this would have really benefited from the extra effort. As it is, the two channel mix is fine, but it's not immersive like it should be (the scene where Paul goes to the abandoned orphanage just screams out (no pun intended) for some eerie audio effects from the rears). It is hard to understand what some people are saying when they're talking quickly, but that's mainly due to the accents and it's rare. Luckily there are optional subtitles if you really get lost. It is a good audio track, but it could have been so much better.
The bonus material consists of many short clips scattered across the two discs. First off there's Mac Explains, where Paul's best friend fills you in on what going on in the show, just in case you weren't able to follow along. There are some scenes that I assume were supposed to end each episode (*thankfully they were cut) where Mac and Paul chat about trivia, a series of deleted scenes, interviews with cast members Johnny Harris and Natalie Dormer, and some outtakes. Nothing that really got me excited.
Though there are some parts that are truly very good, this show isn't. It has a plot filled with inconsistencies and huge plot hole, one of the most irritating characters to ever grace a TV screen, and way too many silly bits. Just pass this one by. Skip it.