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Demons - season one
cast: Philip Glenister, Zoe Tapper, Holly Grainger, Christian Cooke, and Richard Wilson

writers and producers: Johnny Capps, Julian Murphy

264 minutes (12) 2008
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Sony DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by James A. Stewart
Sometimes I get confused; I get kinda cross-eyed in the face of entertainment and have to undertake an internal fight between cinematic snobbery and easy viewing. For example; I always enjoy watching adaptations of comic books, and there have been some modern classics such as Spider-Man, X-Men and the latest Batman movies, the latter being a franchise reinventing itself quicker than the James Bond series. The Fantastic Four was pretty naff, but I watched it twice. Thus, I am comfortable with the fact that I am prone to enjoyable bouts of watching films regarded as pretty poor for the sheer element of escapism that comes from them.

Therefore, in Demons, I perversely enjoyed some of elements of it despite it being a poor adaptation of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Everything about this ITV series shouts 'gimme success on a low budget'. It is conceivable that the writers then sat in a darkened room, poured over a litany of ideas only for the seclusion to lead to a malleable eureka moment when one of them suggested doing a British Buffy: but only to invert the main characters' genders and personalities in order to give a false impression of originality.

In the lead roles we have the acclaimed Philip Glenister (Gene Hunt in Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes), and the simply sumptuous Zoe Tapper. Both of these constants bring an experience and professionalism to the series. Glenister plays Rupert Galvin, a coarse American who mentors the last Van Helsing (Luke). Glenister's American voice is completely wasted in the context of the show, despite it being a decent fist at the accent, and is further eroded by some cringe-worthy Americanisms that any decent writer would be ashamed of. Tapper plays Mina Harker, a character, as with Van Helsing, anyone familiar with Stoker's Dracula will recognise. For much of the series she is a very unconvincing and controlled vampire, a trait that only changes when she has to reach into her dark heart to save her friends.

Tapper and Glenister are joined on a regular basis by Christian Cooke, as Luke Van Helsing, and Holly Grainger as Ruby. Unfortunately, these teens act so woodenly that they could be used to make a garden gate. I still struggle after watching the entire series to understand the need for Ruby, other than to create a tenuous love interest that is so superfluous and pointless that I wonder if the as yet commissioned second series intends to make more of this. Cooke, as Van Helsing, fares little better, save his character is integral to the entire plot. He is a disagreeable character, and I personally struggled to connect with him. Thus, I wasn't too fussed if the at times plastic demons got him.

This leads to probably the major weak link in Demons, there seems to be no overarching story, nothing significant was present to co-join the individual episodes together. Each one could stand alone and week-to-week there was nothing to make the viewer anticipate the next show. In short, it is very 'take it or leave it'. The concept is tired, but no plot is entirely original. The trick is to make the characters interesting. The lead teens are not great, Glenister does a decent job with shoddy scripts, and Tapper works on the basis of her backstory, any vampire aficionado would find the idea of reinventing her character with a 21st century slant interesting. They may not agree with the outcome, though.

There are some well known faces that make guest appearances throughout the series - Richard Wilson as an ancient clergyman is a class act, as always, whereas Mackenzie Crook is his usual annoying self. The demons themselves are in the main not very scary, especially the Rat. But this is not so much a bad thing, as has been demonstrated by Doctor Who quite successfully.

Despite the criticisms above, Demons does merit some plaudits. The cinematography is decent by low-budget British standards. There is potential in the franchise should some of the weaknesses of the first series be ironed out, and I am afraid the bulk of these weaknesses sit with the direction and writing. However, like many supernatural and fantasy pieces there is still an element of enjoyable escapism in Demons which alone makes it worth watching, but not worth the risk of crossing a busy motorway on foot to buy. The pace is fair, and the action plentiful if a bit stilted. It just feels that the creators have settled for mediocrity in writing when a strong script could have made the whole thing much more powerful.

In its favour, the series DVD is fairly priced and the target market of teens will lap up many elements of the eye candy on show. ITV may be considering a second series, if they are, they should read up on the plentiful criticisms of Demons and address these weaknesses, after all, it wouldn't be the first show to bounce back from a poor first season. Demons is easy viewing on a Pot Noodle level, slightly enjoyable and instantly forgettable.
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