Thursday, 29 September 2011


Thursday, 29 September 2011
I admire elements of The Fades (it's stylish, fairly creative), but I wish I could love it. It's just not coming together for me, yet. Skins writer Jack Thorne seems more comfortable with the teenage angst than the supernatural selling point, as the best scenes are ones where Paul (Iain de Caestecker) and best-friend Mac (Daniel Kaluuya) simply try to get through a day at school and improve their social standing. The stuff with one-eyed Neil (Johnny Harris) showing Paul the ropes, playing Hagrid to his Harry, is currently too obscure and sluggish. This is one of those shows where you hate the characters for being so pointlessly enigmatic, as it's just insulting. There's really no need for Neil to be so guarded about what's going on, if he's supposed to be teaching Paul.

Paul's now having nightmares about his family being slaughtered; the ghostly Fades are getting stronger and can now touch things (an ability they get from eating people, so you have to wonder how they managed to eat their first person!); an elderly reclusive mystic confirmed that Paul is "special", meaning he'll have to leave his family to join Neil's fight against the powers of darkness; teacher Mark (Tom Ellis) is aware his missing (actually dead) wife Sarah (Natalie Dormer) had a secret life he never knew about; Jay (Sophie Wu) kissed Paul at a party organized by his irrationally hateful sister Anna (Lily Loveless); and we learned that Mac's dad is the DCI investigating the case of Mark's missing wife and two schoolboys bullies eaten by the Fades.

There are times when the show reminds me of a British Donnie Darko (Paul's a pariah, bed-wetting replaces sleepwalking, he has an annoying sister, he's destined to stop the end of the world, he even visits a psychiatrist), and The Fades is at its best when it's mixing the ordinary with the extraordinary. There's a brilliant scene where Paul, testing his newfound ability to heal wounds by cutting his forearm, is interrupted by his mother—who mistakes the act as self-harming. It's when the show goes into full-blown supernaturalism that it feels very clichéd (lots of shadowy figures rushing past the camera), or downright silly (Paul shooting fireballs from his palms that somehow managed to accidentally incinerate two birds). There's probably a more interesting show here about a schizophrenic teenager who's hallucinating ghosts and superpowers, encouraged by his fantasy-prone friend, and actually needs to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Donnie Darko meets Heavenly Creatures, perhaps.

Daniel Kaluuya's probably the most captivating actor as Mac, but his character's also hard to like without caveats. The way Mac keeps making tiresome references to Star Wars is lazy shorthand for letting us know he's a geek, and there was a weird moment when Mac's taught Paul how to dance at 2 o'clock in the morning. There are times when Mac's amusing and delivers welcome comic relief, but he's also so strange and self-loathing that it's sometimes uncomfortable to watch him.

I don't know, maybe I'm being too harsh. I'm certainly not bored, and obviously The Fades is still laying groundwork, but the marvelous opening titles suggest a show that's far more energetic, fun and compelling than what I've seen so far. I'm intrigued by things, and there are a few good moments and surprises to keep you happy, but I just want the clouds of mystery to dispel so we can start attacking this story head-on.

written by Jack Thorne / directed by Farren Blackburn / 28 September 2011 / BBC Three