Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Geeks Get the Creeps: The Fades

Paul Roberts and Mac Armstrong are obsessive Stars Wars fans. They claim to hate Twilight, but are far too familiar with the franchise mythology for that to hold water. It is just as well though. They can use some uncanny insight when Roberts starts seeing ghosts. All is not right with the afterlife in Jack Thorne’s The Fades (promo here), which debuts for U.S. audiences this Saturday on BBC America.

Roberts and Armstrong are geeks with father issues. The former’s has absconded, while the latter is a less than nurturing workaholic copper. Girls scare them, but Roberts still has a monster crush on his popular sister’s best friend Jay (she’s a girl with a boyish name and bob). For a while, Roberts has been plagued by apocalyptic dreams, but recently he has started seeing apparitions.

After a rather nasty encounter with a so-called “Fade,” the wildly anti-social Neil Valentine explains the nature of the secret battle underway. The Fades are indeed spirits, terrestrially bound because of the inadvertent closure of their cosmic ascension points. Mortals like Valentine and Roberts who can see them are known as “Angelics.” Some of the brethren have special psychic abilities and Roberts might just be the most powerful of them all. That will be a curse, rather than a blessing. Some rogue Fades have developed an ability to touch the living, in a really bad way. It turns out, they have plans and they know about Roberts.

At times, Fades risks overdoing its geek chic. The comedic weekly recap provided by Armstrong’s character at the top of each episode, complete with “nanu nanu” sign off, is a particular case in point. Yet, considering how dark the series gets, the desire for some comic relief is understandable.

As a paranormal thriller, Fades is pretty scary for television, creating a creepily convincing supernatural ecosystem. Writer-creator Thorne nicely preys on viewers’ fears of unseen forces, while mostly respecting the show’s internal logic. Although there is quite a bit of teen angst, it is definitely not for youngsters, featuring some flesh-eating and the occasional spot of NYPD Blue style nudity.

While a bit sullen, Iain de Caestecker makes a passable enough rooting interest as Roberts. In contrast, Daniel Kaluuya’s Armstrong is too shticky for adult tastes. However, Sophie Wu (geek famous for Kick-Ass) brings a bright and engaging presence as Jay. Yet, it is Johnny Harris who really steals the spotlight as the Byronic Valentine. It is the sort of twitchy character and brooding performance genre fans eat up with a big spoon.

Frustratingly, sometimes the wrong characters do not survive Fades’ first season. Still, given the nature of the show, viewers cannot rule out seeing them again. Tightly helmed by Farren Blackburn and Tom Shankland (at three episodes apiece), it is a polished production that should pull in fans of dark fantasy. Pretty good stuff overall, The Fades premieres this week (1/14) on BBC America’s “Supernatural Saturday.”

(Photo: © BBC / Des Willie)