Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Fades: Season One Blu-ray review

Knowing virtually nothing about it outside of a few enthusiastic remarks, I dove into The Fades. This is increasingly becoming the way I go into things these days: With the least amount of knowledge possible, having only heard something positive. It’s the opposite approach of the me of 15 or 20 years ago, who often devoured everything he could find on a topic before even experiencing the topic itself. It must be, more than anything else, a matter of developing a brand of patience over the years. It’s a good thing, I think, in the case of The Fades that this is how I came at it, because if I knew ahead of time what I know now, I might not have bothered.

The Fades is the origin story of an unlikely superhero (as they so often are) – a teenage boy who is awkward with girls, has a single mother, a sister who thinks he’s a dork, and a best friend who’s an even bigger dork than he is. Powerful forces begin popping up around him, and it’s at this point it dawns on him that he’s not like everyone else, and it scares the hell out of him.

Iain De Caestecker as Paul
The teenager in question is Paul (Iain De Caestecker), who realizes he has the ability to – just like Haley Joel Osment - see dead people. The dead people in question are called Fades, and they’re caught between our world and the next, having failed to “ascend.” But some of the Fades are getting restless, and they’ve found a way to become corporeal again, and it involves eating human flesh. It’s explained to Paul that he’s an Angelic, with the power to see what the normal person cannot. The Angelics, led by the flawed Neil (Johnny Harris), form a group of resistance fighters whose goal it is to stop the vicious Fades. But Paul has powers above and beyond the other Angelics, including, but certainly not limited to, the ability to sprout wings after he orgasms.

Johnny Harris as Neil
That description admittedly ended on a pretty goofy note, but when it happens to Paul in the series, it too is played for laughs. A show like The Fades needs the occasional laugh, otherwise it would get too bogged down in itself and be less easy to appreciate. The series is essentially a graphic novel made for the small screen – the way it’s lit and shot, the grandiose manner in which its layered mythology unfolds, how the myriad characters interact with one another – all of it feels like a comic book brought to life, even though it is not. Indeed, The Fades is more of a comic book than a lot of comic book adaptations (like, say, The Walking Dead, which seemingly trades in its roots for a sort of realism). The show was created by Jack Thorne, who previously wrote for Skins, and the entire six-episode first season is written by him, giving the whole thing almost an auteur vibe, though since he didn’t direct it, that word can’t actually be applied here. That said, the direction, from Farren Blackburn (“The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe”) and Tom Shankland, is arch, over the top stuff, but always highly effective, with shots often resembling comic book panels.

Like many protagonists at this early stage of their development, Paul is not the most interesting character, but rather it’s what he’s going through that makes him worth following (though certainly by the final episode, he’s got far more going on than he did in the first). His best bud, Mac (Daniel Kaluuya), however, is amusing in the extreme, which should come as no surprise, since he’s a raging geek. Check out the following exchange:

Mac: "Your friend is quite the mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything, or anybody."

Neil: "What?"

Paul: "He's quoting 'Star Wars.' Ignore him."

Mac: "I'm not quoting 'Star Wars!' I'm quoting Leia. You can't quote a film! You can only quote a character in a film!"

Daniel Kaluuya as Mac
It’s not enough for Mac to simply quote a movie, he has to dissect the process of quoting. Mac exists on something of a meta level. His presence is practically a necessity in this sort of story, in this day and age. Zombies, demons and vampires (all mythologies from which The Fades borrows bits and pieces to form its own original whole) are presently so commonplace in pop culture, that when a show goes down roads like this, it can help to have a character reference what the audience is thinking. One of the show’s most genius flourishes is to have Mac - in person and talking to the camera - provide the recap at the top of each episode (just wait until you get to the recap at the start of the last installment!). But if the show was all just one big in-joke, it would work even less effectively than if it had no jokes at all. As it moves forward, Mac changes and grows along with the other dozen characters who find themselves suddenly dealing with the notion that death may not be the final word after all.  

I have an irrational resistance to comic book fare these days, which is something of  a shame because I often discover that I’m missing out on some quality stuff (a recent first-time viewing of Thor was further proof I need to stop being so close-minded). Had anyone told me The Fades was a comic book, I’d have immediately zoned out. Thankfully, that never happened. The Fades is  also quality British horror television, replete with blood, profanity and even some nudity, so definitely don’t go into this if you’re on the squeamish side. But the rest of us, after devouring this first season, will be anxiously awaiting the second, as this one finishes up on a nice cliffhanger.

Blu-ray Extras: The Fades comes to Blu-ray with a crisp gorgeous transfer (the screen captures in this piece are not taken from the Blu-ray), though the DTS HD audio mix is unfortunately only stereo. It gets the job done, but one would like for the audio portion of the experience to match the frequent immersiveness of the visuals. There’s a fair amount of bonus material, such as extra scenes, deleted scenes & outtakes and a series of bits called “Mac Explains,” which delves into the mythology of the series, which are all presented in SD. However, there is a selection of behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew which runs about 18 minutes that's presented in HD. All in all the extras add up to about an hour.