Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bedlam, Episode One: By The Way, Did We Mention It Was Haunted?

Boy, is there a dearth of scary stuff on television. It doesn't even need to be gory or adult or anything like that. Just something spooky, you know, something to give you a few good frights. Much of what I've seen in the last few years has been courtesy of BBC America - The League of Gentlemen, Afterlife, the occasional episode of Doctor Who (holy shit, "Blink") and Torchwood (holy shit, "Countrycide", "Children of Earth"). So seeing that they were going to premiere Bedlam - what appeared to be a series about a straight-up haunted building - I was all "woo-hoo!" and setting the DVR. The premise seemed a little goofy - former asylum turned into luxury apartments and haunted by the ghosts of patients who died there - but the ghosts looked cool and the setup allowed for both episodic and continuous storylines. So hey, let's check this out, episode by episode.

So the first episode opens with Kate Bettany trying to sell potential occupants on units in her father's newest development, Bedlam Heights Luxury Flats. Apparently, the building has been in Kate's family for generations, since the days when the Bettany family ran the asylum. What they were thinking, calling the development BEDLAM Heights, positioning it alongside the most notorious example of early insane asylums, well, it's TV so fuck it. But seriously, you wouldn't put up condos on the site of a former German P.O.W. camp and call it "Stalag Gardens" or anything. So no wonder Kate's having trouble filling the units.

Kate lives in the building along with her friends Ryan McAllister and Molly Lucas. Molly kind of has a thing for Ryan, but it's tough to tell whether or not Ryan's gay - he might be, but he's not saying. Then there's Kate's friend Zoe, who doesn't live there and isn't really liked by anyone else. They're all trying to get Kate to go out with them for her birthday. Warren (Kate's dad) comes by as she's finishing up for the day and gives her a lovely antique ring for her birthday. "Where'd you get this, Dad?" "I found it in one of the walls." Gee, thanks, Dad. Nothing says "I love my daughter" more than the personal effects of a long-dead mental patient.

Kate puts on the ring, and a hollow-eyed apparition in a patient's gown appears behind her, and water starts running down the walls. Uh-oh.

Rounding the cast of characters is Jed, Kate's cousin. He's muscular, full-lipped, brooding, tormented, and can not only see ghosts, but can also see how they died. He and Kate are just this side of estranged, mostly because Jed's been in and out of mental hospitals himself as a result of his "gift." He's the black sheep of the family. He's back because he keeps getting text messages on his phone that say "help Kate" or "save Kate" or "Kate in danger" or variations thereof. Jed sees the apparition and knows why Kate needs saving, even while Kate rolls her eyes at him and misses death by that much.

I'm not convinced by this first episode. Part of it seems to be the show's attempt to be both a Melrose Place-style relationship drama and a ghost story. The relationships are inchoate, muddled. More goes unsaid than said, and nobody seems like they really connect. Maybe this is by design, but it's tough to tell who these people actually are to each other, so there's not much reason for me to care about what happens to them. The ghost part is equally problematic, because even though the ghosts themselves are effective, their every appearance is telegraphed by a HUGE! MUSICAL! STING! as if we're not going to know there's a ghost on screen otherwise. It's distracting and robs the show of any suspense or tension it could have. This is too bad, because there's a lot of potential here, and Jed's introduction demonstrates that they can handle ghosts subtly too, they just don't. I'd like to think that some of this is down to this being the first episode, but ghosts don't need all of the fanfare. They can just be there in the background and be way more chilling than if someone kept yelling in our ear "THERE ARE GHOSTS! THIS PLACE IS HAUNTED!" Dude, I know, it's why I'm watching in the first place.

IMDB entry
Purchase from Amazon
Available on Netflix

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