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Now think for a moment. Just try and think of a scary British supernatural TV series, or at least one that has atmosphere and tension. And for all you older Dr Who fans out there(like myself), that doesn’t include something you saw when you were a kid that scared the hell out of you but now is just nostalgic and rather silly.

You thinking?

Bet your having problems aren’t you.

That’s because we consistently suck at making them.

This type of thing tends to be aimed at the Saturday night, young adult market, just like the recent Dr Who franchise was brought back from the dead like something Dr Frankenstein might have conjured up with a body made out of different TV and film parts and controlled (or adapted) by the diseased brains of a madman.

Actually thats not really fair. I admit that having Billy in the first season was an outrageous attempt to get young girls interested, as well as young boys I betting, and yes, Christopher Eccleston was good, though mere bootshine on David Tennant &John Simms in the next season. But it still was all…well….hmmm… be honest, out of my demographic.

On the whole British efforts at anything fantasy or supernatural are, well,  PAP precisely sums up these types of programs. Come dancing or X Fucktor for sci-fi and fantasy geeks.

Notable examples being shat onto our TV screens by Shine Productions, the gang of  creatively challenged chimps whose strings are pulled by SKY TV and who are responsible for the soul destroying Demons, which hopefully hasn’t crushed the career of Philip Glenister and which in look, content and in fact everything to be honest, is just a total rip off of Torchwood, just with demons and vampires. Such sad examples of midlife crisis TV, simply look like adverts for London docklands and employ the same sense of middle classes yuppie England as an 80’s conservative political broadcast.

In fact the most scary and unnerving thing about Demons was that Mr Glenister and the sublimely stunning Zoë Tapper even chose to be in it.  (The latter obviously should have given up on the whole idea and seriously considered having my children. Or at least having lots of practice with me in the act that can result in having children…I’m too much of a soppy sentimentalist to decide which.)

The ultimate truth here is that Torchwood & Dr Who did rather good for BBC, so ITV got together and in a deluded attempt to get viewers, said ‘Hey, we need something like this for our channel. Quick, get a production company in here!’

This is the problem with British TV.  It’s all about outdoing the competition and nothing to do with creativity. Luckily we have Channel Four who comfortably sits back and lets the other two make themselves look like retards, while airing half decent TV programs and chuckling smugly to itself.

Shine Productions did touch on something with Hex with regards to atmosphere, but given the fact that the producers must have taken and overdose of atmo-pills prior to scripting, it was no surprise that nothing really happened in the first episode until around the last twenty minutes. In fact the pace of Hex over all tends to be on a par with tectonic plates moving, which makes watching Hex an exercise in Zen-like patience, a lesson of herculean dimensions given that life really is too short to waste it on such trite. You could go have a bath and come back to find that you haven’t missed anything, despite the fact that the leading cast had a decent collection of pretties in it.

They also produced Merlin, but as this is about supernatural series, I won’t mention that pile of trash for now.

I personally warn all viewers to look out for the signature ingredients that mark such shows as being potential wastes of life, when it comes to British efforts to create supernatural TV programs.

1 – Young man or woman who has lead pretty normal adolescent life up until someone turns up to tell them that they are special or chosen.

2 – Visual production that takes in some or all of central London’s landmarks.

3 – Middle class interiors. Yep, it just so happens that the young man or woman in question has a flat or house in London that would be on the property market at over 2 million quid and would be totally unaffordable to everyday people. Yes ladies and gents, this says one thing. You have to be bloody well off to be the chosen one.

4 – The young woman or man is lead to a secret HQ filled with technology and information like a vast library. This is the central hub of some crusade against nasties, albeit demons or aliens or whatever.

5 – Secretive organizations albeit governmental or cabalist, which will adopt the chosen one into their ranks.

6 – Watch out for too many environments that are clean and tidy. This is also a bit of a hint that to be chosen you have to be a nice tidy person or verging on the obsessive compulsive side of cleanliness.

Although many of the points raised are actually representations of classic story elements, for some reason the British producers, who I would put good money are all products of middle class education with a comfortable financial background to boot, have followed the Richard Curtis school of filmography and see the featureless concrete sprawl of docklands and the London city central as something of true beauty. You can just feel their desperation to somehow stick in a length ways shot of the Millennium Bridge, just to identify it as a thing of wonder.

Here’s the real deal.

Very few people actually live in the center of London, and those that do, most people will never meet on a social basis. It’s for tourists, and so using such architectural monstrosities in film or TV is also for tourists.

If they actually use those environments to portray London as modern and clean and the place to be, then they are selling something most wouldn’t enjoy and few could afford. These are soulless places, and so produce soulless atmospheres on film.

This isn’t the case of course because inner city London is filled with remnants of its ancient past. (There is a tiny narrow alley off the Strand that is like stepping back into London’s past for instance. If you can find it that is because I saw it once and have never been able to find it again since.) But with shows like Demons, or Primeval or Torchwood, sticking in the occasional dark alley really doesn’t help.

Producers need to spend more time watching gothic masterpieces and less time checking their navels for smelly fluff. They may exist in drab heart wrenching workplaces of clinical concrete and glass but that doesn’t mean they have to force it on us.

Even Hex, which had a beautiful environment to work in, still gave the feeling of the privileged few in an equally privileged environment. How the hell is the average viewing member of the public going to be inspired by something that is so alien to them?

Just as a footnote, the series Misfits is awesome precisely because in atmosphere and environment is it totally realistic and believable. And I’m pretty sure that they use only a handful of locations in shooting it. Fair enough the characterization and script is second to none and the whole superpower idea is hardly new, but it’s realistic you know what I mean.

Now, if you switch over the Atlantic to those shows produced in America and you see a totally different indulgence at play. It’s embarrassing, but US supernatural shows surpass our pathetic efforts because they are realistic. There’s no obvious classism at play here. Things are dirty and grimy and chaotic, or in the classic case of X-Files, just plain dark and gloomy. It’s a simple creative tactic but it works.

So, why haven’t we clocked on to how such basic production techniques are pull the viewing public in?

I firmly believe its snobbism. Oh those shows are so ‘american’, is the cry. We’re British so we do things differently. Yep, we do. We create testes curdling ballshit! AND we do it consistently, which I imagine takes a fair bit of organization if you think about it.



Besides having been written so well, and having two hunks as the main actors, Supernatural breaks many of the points raised above, yet keeps to the basic framework of the story writing process. They don’t have vast resources, or a nice main base filled with goodies, or an extensive organization supporting them. Their library is their father’s diary and an aptitude for using the internet. Two things anyone can identify with in today’s age. They don’t have an unseen limitless cash flow, they rip off credit cards because if your chasing monsters as a business, let’s be honest, you’re not going to get a small business loan for that are you?

They are up against it on a constant basis, while British counterparts seem to just amble along with no real purpose until they are forced to react to something, usually by receiving a phone call. In Supernatural, they live out of hotel rooms and they’re equipment is kept in the boot of their car – a beautiful car I might add.

Who the hell couldn’t buy into that concept?

The X-Files again, though from an earlier period, has the same. The two main characters work for the FBI ok, but their existence seems desperate, below the normal routines of the organization. They are considered weirdo’s and their environments portray that attitude. They get the scraps if they get anything at all and it shows. No one is taking them seriously and so in fact they are not part of the organization as a whole. They work in the dark and in fact a major theme in the X-Files was this isolation and the fact that the organization couldn’t really be trusted. It was far from supportive on the whole let’s face it.

Douglas Adams has a good definition for this situation in Hitchhikers Guide.

`But the plans were on display…’
`On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.’
`That’s the display department.’
`With a torch.’
`Ah, well the lights had probably gone.’
`So had the stairs.’
`But look you found the notice didn’t you?’
`Yes,’ said Arthur, `yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of The Leopard”.'”

In this situation, Arthur Dent would have found Mulder and Scully in there too!

There is another annoying fact about contemporary supernatural series created here in good old blighty.

Our love for CGI.

Since the time of Walking with Dinosaurs British fantasy just can’t get enough of it, despite the clinical and often absurd quality of it.

Demons was a classic example.

Scene One – BAM!    CGI monkey demon!  No, tension, no suspense, no room for imagination. There it is. Bored already?

And they wonder why the costs of making such products are so high! And why broadcasters are so kneejerk reactionary when it comes to cutting such series. Both Demons and Primeval are no more for instance, with Demons alone costing ITV £4 Million and with ratings slumping almost immediately after the first show, it’s no wonder the show got axed.The fact being that most of the viewers were fans of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, two of the best TV series produced for years. So they watched just for Mr Glenister. Then they realised it sucked and didnt watch again.

Have to say I enjoyed the first season of Primeval mostly because I will watch anything that has Douglas Henshall in it, who is a rediculously underated actor, and simply watching Hannah Spearritt is like watching the sunrise over the Annapurna Range from the peak of Sarangkot in Nepal.

I really don’t know what British TV producers think they’re doing, but every time one of their pitiful excuses for a supernatural series hits the pan and is axed, I get the feeling that they pat themselves on the back and say, ‘Oh well, it was good for the CV, now let’s get working on that new series of Ready Steady Cook!’

When what they should be doing it finding the nearest build in excess of 10 stories and throwing themselves off it!

It would be best.

It would make room for up-and-coming creative types to get a foot on the ladder in the hope they come up with something that isn’t the television equivalent of hacking up a fur ball.

In the end I pray for the day when a broadcaster says to a bunch of would be supernatural TV producers, ok, here’s the deal. Make something where you don’t notice the CGI and you have a deal. We don’t want big CGI monsters flopping about all over the place. They leave nothing to the imagination and quite frankly look silly most of the time. Use some skill, maybe watch the 1963 classic, The Haunting or something and keep the audience interested. If you don’t like it, fuck off and go back to making stuff for daytime TV.

oh and if anyone decides to say…’well if you think you could do better than Demons or whatever, why don’t you?’

I have!


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