— Who’s Cooking Monsters in the Kitchen?
While, erm, slightly obsessing about BBC’s smashing successes Life on Mars and its follow-up Ashes to Ashes, I read some interviews — for example, the following ones, all conducted by Ian Wylie; with Keeley Hawes who plays DI Alex Drake (he posted extras to it on his blog), and with Philip Glenister who plays gorgeous DCI Gene Hunt (again, extras as well). I’d already watched a few episodes of Spooks, but I never got around to watching any other productions featuring Philip Glenister. Terribly ashamed of myself, I took a good look and found: Demons, first aired in 2009. (Beware: Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t watched it yet, but want to, you might want to come back afterwards. This is a review, not an imdb synopsis.) Before I go into detail, let me quote dear wikipedia as to what Demons (originally called The Last Van Helsing) is all about:
The plot follows the adventures of a London teenager Luke Rutherford, who learns that he is the last descendant of the Van Helsing line by the sudden arrival of his American godfather Rupert Galvin. Luke is charged with the role of smiting the gathering dark forces of the world whilst trying to live an ordinary life of exams and parties. Rupert Galvin helps train Luke with the assistance of Mina Harker, a blind vampiric concert pianist and authority on half-lives (i.e., vampires, demons, zombies, and werewolves). Luke’s best friend Ruby also joins in on the action.
I rolled my eyes a bit at the vampire stuff at first, what with Mina Harker and all — I had my vampire fan phase about 12 years ago, when I was 8 and Team Edward members were still wearing diapers, so I’m slightly allergic to the hype the Undead have to put up with these days; but, hell, there are vampires in this year’s Doctor Who (Vampires of Venice — and werewolves in the 2006 series; Tooth and Claw), and I obligingly read the officially official sequel Dracula: The Un-Dead by Stoker descendant Dacre Stoker and co-author Ian Holt, so I did re-evaluate. Also, reviving Van Helsing simply never works without the proverbial “Bite me.” And I’m always willing to forgive a programme its due weaknesses if I really like the lead characters/actors. Which, in this case, I absolutely do.
Anyway, I wanted to see Philip Glenister in action while waiting for this week’s episode of Ashes, so I gave it a try. What did I get? An awesome theme tune! — It’s Eyes of the Night by Starlight Mints, go check it out on youtube!
Well, of course, that’s not all. The first episode starts out with how the half-lives made sure that they were onto the right kid they suspected to be Van Helsing’s last next of kin — by going through his school’s filing cabinet and, well, blasting the unlucky secretary to bits. Rupert Galvin is there to clean up the mess; and it’s later revealed that he hasn’t really disappeared for seventeen years after Luke’s father’s not-so-accidental death, he was actually watching Luke grow up from afar, keeping an eye out for his cover to get blown. Choir rehearsals and everything. Well, he had hoped it “would come across as caring rather than creepy” (ep. 3, Saving Grace). Not really, luv.
The plot is set in Luke’s home town, London, but who had hoped to hear some more of the wonderful “I’m ‘aving ‘oops” Philip Glenister is capable of will be slightly disturbed: As quoted above, Rupert is an American, and hell does that sound weird. He’s gotta work on it, too. (Well, he won’t be, ’cause, sadly enough, there won’t be a second series.) There are moments where it slips just for a syllable, and I find I would’ve enjoyed it more if his character hadn’t been American. Rupert Galvin is badass, as is Gene Hunt, he’s got his own personal coffee machine, he’s got guns, unfortunately no Quattro to fire up, though… Then again, constantly comparing the character to our favourite DCI would be unfair and, more importantly, unwise. Different programme, different guy, dammit, so I’ll stop the moping and compliment Mr. Glenister instead. Speaking of creepy language, though: “I will smite thee!” Hm, Shakespeare would’ve loved that. The Doctor, too.
Other than that, there are a few points that stood out for me while watching, mostly pertaining the plot:
- Of course Mina is the good vampire. She always is. Well, I know she is the only one left with Dracula’s, erm, heritage at the end of Bram Stoker’s novel, so it has to be her if you want to introduce a classical canon vampire character, but still. It’s so League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Dialysis as a way of cleansing her blood and keeping her urges in check — that’s something nice and new, though. At the end of the sixth and last episode, though, it seems she’d like to take a time off from not being a public menace baring her pointy teeth. Sad thing we’ll never get to see how that cliffhanger would’ve gotten resolved.
- Ruby. The other woman. The sidekick. In love with the Boy Wonder, but afraid to admit it. Gets snubbed and ignored a lot, doesn’t get on that well with Mina (though that changes for the better when she manages to dismantle a bomb and save the two of them from blowing up in the Stacks*), but earns respect and recognition from Rupert quite early on. A bit like Mickey the Tin Dog on DW. But, like Mickey, she shows she can actually put that mind of hers to use. Ah, I like her, though she’s annoyingly childish sometimes. The point is, though: it clashes wonderfully with Mina’s 150-year-old dislike of immaturity — bring it on, then! Also, kudos to the writers: Using Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby in the scene where Luke is rushing to her rescue — it’s so lame it’s actually quite delightful.
- Speaking of Rupert. Seems cold like a fish, is really of a caring and affectionate nature. Just can’t show it that well. That’s a bit of a cliché, but it works for him. (I’ll try not to make a comment how well that works for Gene Hunt, too.) But, he’s also getting older. As Mina pointed out, he’s gonna grow old and die right in front of her, and he knows it. Right in the first episode he chides himself for getting too old for his job; he evades questions about his own fitness while torturing Luke with chin-ups. Mina’s comment about his waistline didn’t really help, either. Poor man. But he’s got secrets, too. He’s hiding something — the un-edited version of the tape Luke left for his son shortly before he died, for Luke to watch when he was old enough. Turns out he had noble reasons for keeping it to himself, though.
- Of course the long-serving badass vampire hunter has some demon arch-enemy who killed his family — just the wife, Maggie, in Rupert’s case — , providing the plot fodder for a possibly multiple-series story arch bent on deadly revenge (plot fodder now gone to waste). Tobias Tibbs is, in short, a rat. And he was played by the lovely Kevin McNally, who also appeared on Life on Mars (as Harry Woolf). And in episode 1, Gladiolus Thrip was introduced, a vampire with a dress-nicely neurosis and very colourful vocabulary, played by Mackenzie Crook. Well, you tune in on a new programme and, next thing you know, Pirates of the Caribbean is having a cast reunion.
- Of course there has to be a reasonable series finale scenario — oh, how about driving a wedge between the two lead characters by suggesting that one of them isn’t what they seem, undermining dear godson’s trust? Turns out Jay, Luke’s father, was the real “villain”, if you can call it that. He was planning to hand Luke over to the half-life entities, to let him a become a kind of hybrid, “the dawn of a new era.” Well. Galvin rescued Luke from the burning car and let Jay die, resolved never to tell Luke to keep his dad’s memory intact. Bit Harry Potter… the Boy Who Lived was never told what an arse James Potter was towards Severus Snape until it was literally too late — oh, how things could have been different, had he known.
- What strikes me now: I’ve talked about all the other characters, but not about the character. The protagonist: Luke Rutherfort, last Van Helsing and good-looking future of the smiting business. I don’t know about him. I mean, I like all the actors and their characters’ quirks and focus, but somehow Christian Cooke doesn’t exactly sweep me off my feet. Perhaps it’s because such simply pretty boys aren’t my thing in the real world, too (ha, that would be a fancy thing to say to the twenty-something boy trying to chat up a girl like me at the bar: “Sorry, luv, you’re just too young for me…”), but I can’t put my finger on it when it comes to his acting. He’s expressive, especially in the interactions with his mother, Jenny, but then again: Maybe it’s not his fault, maybe it’s just the writing. The plot seems to move along too quickly sometimes, Luke seems to go along with it not too quickly, but too smoothly. He seems properly bewildered by everything, and, well, it’s in his genes, his innate sense of knowing what to do is probably engraved in his DNA, but I’m missing a bit of inner turmoil. The short bit of denial in the first episode, his stubborn resistence when his new girlfriend Alice was suspected to be a Harpy, and the fall-out between him and Galvin over Van Helsing, Sr.’s death didn’t really do it for me.
What must be my favourite moment in the whole show: Vampires go bowling when they’re bored! And, also in that scene: Zippy is called Zippy for a reason. Kinda reminds me of the Slitheen…
- Another thing: Galvin brought himself a pizza to a meeting with Father Simeon (a sort-of Zombie priest from the 17th century) — “quattro stagioni.” Fire up the Quattro, anyone? Another moment where his native accent slipped in quite deliciously.
- Aand: the girl, Ally, from ep. 2 — it’s Molly from Ashes!
- Note to self: when a zombie’s killed, his mouth spouts flies.
Verdict: It might not be one of the high points of British television, but it is totally enjoyable, it is fun to watch, the characters are interesting, the dialogue has its awesome moments.. I’m not sure I would’ve gone along with it, had it lasted a couple more series, as religiously as I do with Doctor Who, or Ashes to Ashes, but the six episodes that there are were certainly no waste of time.
* The “Stacks” is the gang’s pet name for ol’ Abraham’s library, which serves as their Headquarters.