Did we like it?
Imagination. Invention. Good acting. A drama not set in London or a feeble token effort set in the North inhabited by people who are ‘the salt of the earth’. What have you done, ITV? Keep producing decent dramas like this and you may not have to keep plugging the two-pronged Ant & Dec into each and every show to give it electricity and life.
What was good about it?
• The two main characters – unwilling psychic Alison and grieving lecturer Robert – have depth and a past and don’t seem to have been carelessly scrawled on to the drama like grandiose graffiti. And the pathos in each role is brilliantly brought out by the redoubtable Lesley Sharp and Andrew Lincoln.
• The slow pace of the plot with very little dramatic action distinguishes it from, say, the headrush of Doctor Who or the perils of the X-Files. This enables the script to slowly crawl along like a climber testing out all the handholds before making his next move.
• The lovely panoramic shots of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
• The young cast upon whom the main story focused managed to create an air of believability and contrition into their characters as they tried to cope with the guilt of moving their dead friend into the driver’s seat in their crashed car to conceal the fact that they were drunk, and that the dead girl’s boyfriend, Darren, had been driving.
• While owing much to The Sixth Sense, the twist at the end when it was revealed that the three friends – Darren, Tessa and Liam – had in fact also died in the car and that the other passenger, Sasha, kept on appearing as a ghost to reassure them that they had nothing to feel guilty for was genuinely chilling. But it was also handled in such a way that the viewer’s sympathy was transferred on to the dead teens when they had been previously been shown to be spoilt mercenaries.
• The second twist when it was disclosed that the cheery Cornish cabbie was the hit-and-run driver who had knocked down and killed Sasha as she ran on to the road to get help for her mortally-injured friends.
What was bad about it?
• One of the blokes bopping in the nightclub looked as if were treading grapes and was the worst dancer seen on TV since Quentin Willson.
• Like Doctor Who, Afterlife seemed to struggle to squeeze into the tight-fitting jeans of a one hour slot. While it accentuated and gave vent to Robert’s grief over the death of his son, the subplot of the two arrogant students who were sceptical of the spirit world clogged things up a bit.
• Everyone in Bristol spoke in a middle-class accent, except for the taxi driver who sounded as if were on a day trip from Cornwall.
• Robert seems to need to expound at least one philosophical aphorism per scene.
• While the twist about the teenagers being dead was effective, it didn’t really cover up the holes in the plot. When Sasha was moved to the driver’s seat to make it seem as though she was driving, the police would have seen through this ruse in a wink but they didn’t.
• And it was also mystifying why Darren, Liam and Tessa attended the funeral of their best friend/girlfriend from a safe distance while dressed in scruffy clothes. No reason was given for these two anomalies until the twist.
afterlife, ITV1, Saturday 24 September 2005
What to say if you liked it
A rarity – an ITV drama series that wasn’t overwhelmed by a sense of the usual formulaic desperation to appeal to everyone. Writer Stephen Volk and the cast did great.
What to say if you disliked it
Derek Acorah’s got a lot to answer for.
What was good about it?
• Lesley Sharp is totally believable as reluctant psychic medium Alison Mundy. “Will you leave me be,” she cries as the spirits stop her sleeping. “I just want it to stop. I just want to be normal.” But they won’t and she’s got no choice but to pass on the messages from beyond the grave
• Andrew Lincoln doing quite well as a trendy university lecturer who didn’t believe in Alison (“Bristol’s answer to Doris Stokes”) until she was visited by the spirit of the son he lost in a car accident
• The stunning opening sequence which provided the back story for troubled student Veronica. We saw her as a young girl. It’s Christmas. Baubles, carols, smiles. Then the family is ushered into the car where daddy attempts to kill them all with exhaust fumes because mummy has cancer. Veronica survived (only to perish when she slit her wrists in the bath a couple of decades later)
• Cara Horgan as Veronica and Rasmus Hardiker as one of her student pals.
• The northern, slightly camp charlatan medium
• The advertising slogan used to promote the series: “For once, ITV wants you to watch the other side.” Clever.
• It’s better than Medium, a similar show imported from the US by BBC1
What was bad about it?
• The depiction of modern students as tequila-drinking, dope-smoking slackers who listen to John Lennon when we know they are all tea drinking, non-smoking goody goodies who listen to Keane and are all too desperate to land a 40K-a-year job
• Attempts to create a chilling atmosphere kept being exploded when the ads burst on to the screen every 15 minutes.
• The clichéd creaking noises, flickering lights etc