Friday, 6 January 2012

Review: ETERNAL LAW, 1.1 – episode one

Friday, 6 January 2012

Silly concepts need a strong sense of conviction and imagination to see them through; to make an audience suspend their disbelief and enjoy something that might otherwise be too open to ridicule. The idea of two angels arriving on Earth to work as defence lawyers is just such an idea, and Eternal Law lasted about five minutes before cracks appeared. Creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharaoh are good writers, as they've proven with Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes, but their own Gene Hunt-less ideas haven't been very good—an infamous low-point being the BBC archaeological action-mystery Bonekickers. There's the seed of a good idea to everything they do, and heaven knows I prefer something imaginative over a routine cop/doctor drama, but there's also a worrying naivety and ridiculousness to their end results...

Experienced angel Zak Gist (Samuel West) and his novice colleague Tom Greening (Ukweli Roach) descend from Heaven (as shooting stars) one night, appearing in a cornfield just outside York. In the city, they're taken into the care of mysterious Mrs Sherringham (Fringe's Orla Brady), whom I'm guessing is a former angel who gave up divinity to live as a human, and become barristers to help everyday people. It's inferred that their mission on Earth may even have make-or-break consequences for the fate of the world at large, from their boss "Mr Mountjoy" (i.e. God). In this opening episode, Zak and Tom are embroiled in a daytime marketplace shooting, where a sniper was aiming at a nearby wedding party, but after capturing the gunman they're informed they're his defence team. Adding another complication, of sorts, is that the prosecution lawyer is Richard Pembroke (Tobia Menzies), a "fallen angel" with the expected opposing attitude about the condition of humanity and what the world really needs.

On a basic level, I can see Eternal Law working moderately well as a middle-of-the-road drama for the Highway To Heaven or Touched By An Angel crowd, but there are too many stupid and laughable moments for it to be taken seriously. Considering the relative complexity of the average Mars/Ashes storyline from the writers, the case in this episode is laughably simplistic and uninvolving—even allowing for a straightforward story because they're also having to introduce so much information about the characters and show as a whole (like how angels can influence people by showing them the outcomes of their decisions, despite it being against "the rules"). Nobody questions why God allows them to have such a useful power if they can't use it, of course.

The characters are also very thinly drawn, with Tom as the eager young chorister who can't help marvelling at the material world, and Zak as his world-weary counterpoint trying to keep his partner out of trouble—because, rather like Starman, Tom's behaviour and innocent outlook can often cause problems for them with normal people. Pembroke is an uninteresting mixture of demon/villain clichés (superiority complex, sneering expressions, loves to sit surrounded by candles), and it's too early to say if Mrs Sherringham will evolve into anything other than the boy's in-the-know housekeeper. Of mild interest is the fact that Zak is reacquainted with an old flame called Hannah (Hattie Morahan), although she doesn't seem to recognise him in his latest form. There's perhaps potential for a weird love-story to develop here, but there wasn't much sign of chemistry between West and Morahan in their scenes together.

Co-produced by Kudos, arguably the UK's best independent production company (having also done Spooks and Hustle), it looks visually decent as an idyllic interpretation of York, and should help the tourist board attract some custom further up north. The CGI for the angel's wings is also good, although they need to work on an effect to have them "unfurl" during a shot, because one of this episode's biggest unintended laughs happened with an ugly cut of Zak screaming in a hospital room to him suddenly standing with enormous feathered wings splayed out behind him.

Perhaps the biggest problem for Eternal Law is that it doesn't do anything especially well. As a legal drama it's feeble and crude (even the writers lost faith in their climactic "courtroom scene", so they had it interrupted by a preposterous and spatially impossible gunshot); as a fantasy drama it feels pedestrian, unremarkable and quite twee; and there wasn't any heart or emotions being stirred by its supernatural romance component. There's more than enough time for Eternal Law to improve and find its voice, of course, but considering the abundance of problems (which aren't likely to be fixed, based on feedback, till a theoretical second series), and my experiences watching ITV shows like this, the outlook isn't great.

There aren't even any must-see actors or a unique knot in its premise to guarantee I'll be back next week.


  • Samuel West is the son of famous actors Timothy West and Prunella Scales. He also played Frankenstein's Monster in 2004's Van Helsing movie.
  • The Deep reunion! Orla Brady and Tobias Menzes both starred in that BBC1 sci-fi stinker. That's a promising sign, isn't it.
written by Matthew Graham & Ashley Pharoah / directed by Adrian Shergold / 5 January 2011 / ITV1