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Sunday, 11 January 2009

Demons, ITV1



Did we like it?
Perhaps we’re getting soft in our dotage, but this was the third occasion this week when we’ve been sharpening our hatchets in preparation of butchering a pliant corpse of a show, only to have to put them away again and pull out the aromatic flowers. Sure, Demons is a Frankenstein’s Monster of drama that has pillaged its ideas from far and wide with all the shameless grace of Oasis, but they’ve been moulded into an entertaining and gripping whole.

What was good about it?
• Phil Glenister as Rupert Galvin pretty much held the show together through the precarious opening episode. Enigmatic, gruff and American (we hardly noticed the accent by the second episode), Rupert Galvin is the Rupert Giles of Demons – we also admire the way in which Demons lavishly advertises its influences rather than conceals them – as just like in Buffy, the callow, pre-ordained demon-slayer needs a father figure to guide them into the world of the ‘half-lives’.
• Here it’s Christian Cooke as young Luke – that’s from Star Wars, indeed one scene paraphrased the first encounter between Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi about Luke’s father (if so, then we can assume that far from being dead, Luke’s father is the big cheese Demon) – and while we weren’t totally sold after the first episode, in the second he appeared far more confident, wisecracking with Galvin, while also emoting like the mixed-up teenager he is.
• We were also impressed by the way in which his mission to save innocent children from having their souls eaten by a ravenous demon was interwoven with the teenage trauma of a driving test – mimicking the new Doctor Who’s penchant for blending the fantastical and absurd with the horribly domestic.
• Although the most evident domestic influence in the terms of overarching plot and story is the comic Hellblazer, which also has a grizzled demon hunter as the protagonist who is haunted by the horrors of his job. And he even talked forebodingly about how the demon will “take away the children’s souls in one sitting before going back to the half-live”.
• The two male leads are well supported by Zoe Tapper as Mina Harker (a descendant of the Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was, we’re told, built on the foundations of fact rather than fiction), who is archly caustic as she uses her powers to peer into the world of the half-lives, while Holly Grainger is great as Luke’s not-girlfriend Ruby.
• As Demons borrows from so many other sci-fi shows, it might appear that Ruby is a doppelganger for Rose Tyler, and that might have been the intention. But Grainger brings out a unique vivacity in the role, and we hope she becomes much more than just another prop upon which to hang plots about her younger brother.
• Demons also succeeds in that it perversely lightens the bleak tone with black humour, sometimes sending up the obvious influences. Luke’s trauma over his driving test was one such instance, Gladiolus Thrip – the name and the Teddy Boy demeanour and Ruby using the Star Wars staple of “I have a bad feeling about this”.
• While hardly frightening for a generation who have grown up watching Evil Dead, there is the odd chilling moment such as Thrip’s hulking underling trapping Ruby in the lift or the deathly pallor of Ali as she unwittingly acts as a vassal for the demon Gilgamel.

What was bad about it?
• The music is quite appalling. The theme tune sounds as if it’s by The Hoosiers, which if it is, becomes the singularly most egregious example of Satanism in the whole show. While Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs is the sound of someone picking up their feet on the way to the gallows as if hoping it will make a difference.
• However, the weakest element of the first two episodes by a country mile has been the denouements. In the first the homunculus and Thrip’s underling were rapidly despatched by two blasts of Galvin’s gun, while Thrip – who was supposedly a deadly Type 12 – was blown to smegma by Luke’s slightly better gun. And in episode two, Luke engaged Gilgamel with his flaming “sword of righteousness” and after a bit of fencing, defeated him with less trouble than you might normally experience folding up a clothes horse.

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