The Lovely and Talented Kelvin Green and I spent six weeks delving into The Fades when it originally aired on BBC Three and while we agreed that there were a few dips in quality here and there (most notably the dead-end storyline of Sexy History Teacher), we also whole-heartedly loved pretty much everything else about the show.
For those who didn't read our reviews (for shame!), or check it out during its original run in the UK OR its recent airing on BBC America, The Fades is the story of Paul (played perfectly by Iain De Caestecker), a 17-year old social outcast who suddenly starts having apocalyptic dreams and seeing the dead all around him. He and his best friend Mac (also played perfectly by Daniel Kaluuya) try to deal with this turn of events while also attempting to find girlfriends and keep from dying at the hands of the ravenous dead.
It seems that Paul is The Chosen One (of course – where would a series like this be without its mythmaking?) of the Angelics, a group of mystics with special abilities who have historically been tasked with guiding dead souls toward ascension to whatever lies beyond. But sometime in the first half of the Twentieth Century, something happened and Ascension is broken. Some souls depart, but just as many don't. And who gets to move on and who stays behind is entirely random.
The souls who get left behind, the Fades, are in sorry shape. They continue to age and they can't touch or communicate with the living. So their existence is pretty bleak and hopeless. As a rule, they don't care much for human beings (and when we come into contact, it hurts them, causing them to explode into burning wisps before reassembling).
But somehow, one Fade is different. He has figured out a way to regain corporeality and burst his way back into the world of the living. And it is bloody, murderous work.
So the Angelics' job has changed. Now they are the first and only line of defense against flesh-eating monsters and Paul is their secret weapon. But he just wants to be normal. Of course.
The six episodes of Season One (no Season Two has been announced yet, which is a CRIME, I tell you) get off to a deliberate start, slide a little out of focus as we give attention to a character or two who end up not really being important, but then builds momentum with each episode to reach a world-breaking apocalyptic ending that I loved more than any man had a right to love.
The real highlights in the cast are Kaluuya as Mac, who single-handedly gives this show its heart, its humor, and its humanity; Johnny Harris as the Angelic madman, Neil, who goes from dark hero to frightening lunatic; and Joe Dempsie as the monstrous villain John, who relishes his role as the savior of the dead. Natalie Dormer as the Angelic, Sarah, also follows a very dark and twisted narrative path that helps to really drive home the stakes for which these people are fighting.
The Fades Season One comes to us on two Blu-ray discs in 1080i AVC-encoded video and it looks pretty darned good. The detail is crisp and clear and while the filming is a little dark at times, the visuals are usually very easy to make out, even when things are moving quickly and the action is exploding across the screen. When things get disgusting, they get really disgusting. And moments like the Apocalyptic dreams of ash and rubble are quite stunning.
On the downside, however, some of those darker scenes are too dark, even with the high detail, and that crisp clear vision doesn't do the CGI effects any favors at times. Not always, mind you. There are quite a few of very nice, subtle bits of digital magic that are really enhanced by the high def – particularly the dream sequences and moments of energy building up and bursting forth from things and people. It's TV quality work, but at times it's very nicely done TV quality work.
Plus, there are English subtitles for those who have difficulty with the English accents.
The audio is a 2.0 stereo DTS-HD Master Audio and sounds pretty good, but doesn't go out of its way to impress. It's straight stereo – no surround and all – and the mix is pretty straightforward. Literally. My only real complaint is the huge difference in volume between the audio in the episodes (and the extras) and the extremely loud menu music. I was constantly having to jump on the volume control when going from episode to episode or from extra to extra.
And a play-all option would have been nice for the extras.
- Behind the Scenes (HD, 18 min.): Here we get the meat behind the show, although to be honest, there's not a lot of meat to go around. Six featurettes take looks at different elements of the show, from the design of the Apocalypse, the look and make-up effects of Polus, to short looks at main characters Paul and Neil. There is also a brief discussion with series creator/writer Jack Thorne about his inspirations for the series (notably, a mention of the writings of Susan Cooper, whose The Dark is Rising series was clearly influential). All in all, there are some interesting moments here and there in these tiny pieces, but it all felt a bit thin. I was hoping for something more substantial.
- Interviews (SD, 4 min.): Two short interviews with Natalie Dormer (Sarah) and Johnny Harris (Neil) are all we get here, as the actors briefly discuss their characters. We don't get a lot of insight, and again I found myself wishing for something more.
- Extra Scenes (SD, 12 min.): This is a little more like it. For each episode we get one extra scene between Mac and Paul as they chat about topics both relevant and irrelevant to the episodes they are culled from. It's always good to see these two joking around together, so there's that. But I was hoping, again, for something more.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 12 min.): And it's the same story for the deleted scenes. Although here, at least, we actually do get some nice character development that was missing from the show – particularly from the relationship between Mac and his dad. These are definitely worth a look, and would really be special if there were more to them.
- Outtakes (SD, 3 min.): This is kind of worthless. Moving on.
- Mac Explains (SD, 5 min.): I love Mac. If that hasn't been clear all along, let me just make it plain. His character is the heart of this show and every time he is on-screen, the show is better for it. With that said, these short monologues are essentially Mac explaining things about the show's mythology. Maybe if you didn't know what you were about to watch, this would be a good use of his time. However, if, like me, you've either already watched the show from start to finish (once or twice already) this is a cute addition at best, but could have been something so much more.
In a world of UK sci-fi/horror television where Misfits, Being Human, Torchwood, and Doctor Who are hailed as the brightest contemporary lights, The Fades shines a little brighter than all save maybe Doctor Who. The comedy is funnier, the relationships are more real, and the apocalyptic danger is rivaled only by Who in its biggest and best moments.
If there isn't a second season of this show, then the skies really should turn red and horrible monstrosities should
rain down on us all (but starting with the execs at the BBC). That's how good this is.
Release Date: February 21
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot, Streaming Pile O' Wha?, and Classic Film/New Blu, all here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK, and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.