afterlife (or how a show keeps my attention)
Rarely do I get sucked into a television programme so much that I cannot wait for the next episode - but as I am sure my sister can tell you- with afterlife that was very much so the case. -to the point of annoyance with her I am sure.
A couple of years ago I would have scoffed at a show like afterlife –it’s one of those wannabe X-files type programmes that British broadcasters create to imitate the successes that America have revelled in. I faintly remember other attempts; Bugs, Sea of Souls, Spooks alongside countless others that I have not bothered to learn the names of.
But only up until recently have I really discovered the miracle that is television of the British variety! (I apologise for the numerous references to the X-Files)
The phrase British television for me would always conjure up the drivel that we get -the soap’s- Eastenders, Corination Street, Casualty, Emmerdale… the list just keeps going, but I believe that at the discovery of Doctor Who (or perhaps of allowing to open my mind a little more) something in me has changed. Through thoroughly reading the Radio Times I’ve watched amazing docu-dramas, discovered Jimmy McGovern, great one off pieces such as Longwood, drama series’ like Vincent, Torchwood, Robin Hood, I’m with Stupid (which I loved) and countless other amazing programmes.
This increase in viewing has also led me to discover tens of thousands of great British actors, writers and more. A few months ago, I did not really know the likes of Lesley Sharp, Andrew Lincoln, John Simm, Samantha Morten, Liam Cunningham, Mark Benton, Jason Hughes, Marc Warren, Paul Abbott and Jimmy McGovern to name a few; and it’s also peaked my interest in British cinema as well! Not to mention being able to stand Robert Carlyle (even if its only for his amazing performance in To Be a Somebody; I found a lot to love in Cracker)
So how did I begin watching such a show? Well actually before they started showing the second series on ITV they had begun to repeat the first series Sunday nights at 9pm. I was slightly interested in watching it from knowing of Lesley Sharp from the Second Coming; she’s one of those real British actors, the kind you would never really find from America.
Watching the first episode I was slightly hesitant; after all, the series is about a psychic medium who communicates with the dead. (Already my warning bells are going off to stay well away from the show) If there is one thing I can not really stand it is mediums, psychics all those kind of supernatural spiritual things; personally –no offence to mediums- they always feel so fake to me, and so I felt that this could only be more so magnified in a television series –similar to the awful show Most Haunted, I cannot stand things like that.
Once the show had finished my thoughts were very different from what I had expected. Sure it did seem a tad fake, but could I expect any less from a show about something I abhor. And then you have the Mulder/Scully angle with Robert and Alison, which also seemed to work rather well with Lesley and Andrew.
Of course subsequently ITV decided a repeat of afterlife did not pull in enough viewers, and opted to show Poirot instead, which I just as soon obliged to; though I was actually looking forward to seeing the rest of afterlife, and didn’t manage to until I rented the first series out.
The show pretty much lives off the relationship that Robert and Alison hold; without Robert’s rationalisations the show would seem far too out there for my tastes; there’s something about a person denying what is obviously going on around them that makes good entertainment… when Scully started to believe, the magic of the X-Files sort of dithered away.
Now, there is quite a lot of mixed opinion in regards to the overall acting quality afterlife gives. If it isn’t ‘Lesley doesn’t feel comfortable with the material’, it’s that ‘Andrew can not effectively embody Robert’.
Personally I felt that Lesley created a strange alluring person; with the most vital, dose of slightly crazy –which, may I add really picks up in the second season, episode 6 in particular- Alison is a great character, and if Lesley were not playing her, I am sure the series might have been crap.
In regards to Andrew I am unable to see any real problems with his performance... So I could go a miss with his overly emphatic hand gestures. But otherwise I do not understand what is wrong, sure he’s a little easy on the eyes, but I’m not very tolerable of a no-brained pretty faces –and I hope I stick to that too- after all if I wanted that, I could go and watch some WWE (oh sweet jesus those guys are awful!)
Alison and Robert were literally brought to life by Lesley and Andrew; they are believable characters, and really, can you ask for anything more?
The music and overall soundtrack for afterlife is fabulous; if its not the absolutely beautiful main theme, then it’s the ‘sadder’ theme; all strings and whatnot sounding absolutely beautiful, and if there is one thing that was done well to the highest extent in the whole series it was the music; composed by Edmund Butt.
So, ok I admit some of the programmes I have gotten into of recent are not amazing creations of unique genius; as entertaining as it was, Bon Voyage was simply a horror film, and as much as I keep watching Robin Hood I know that deep in my gut Maid Marian was more realistic…
But when a fairly good writer gets on board with a TV show, the actors merely compliment the process; and all the magic bursts from the scripts.
Good writers and convincing actors are what propel afterlife. With most episodes in both series’ written by creator Stephen Volk (something that very rarely happens in a television series and for that I commend him) you can usually tell when they are written by him; the dialogue is usually snappy, the tensions high, and a slightly spooky occurrence is taking place. The episodes written by others are in some senses weaker; but all close in on the same territory, though perhaps placing emphasis of the show in different areas.
Though in saying this, the change that afterlife has undergone through two series’ must be mentioned; whereas the first series was primarily based on the ghosts Alison must help to pass over (in particular to the running theme of Josh, Robert’s departed son) the second series was a lot more character central which personally I do not mind;( as long as a show has well written characters, I could watch them do anything. After all, nothing really frightens me, so a series just about a bunch of ghosts would turn me away, which is where afterlife makes a difference) granted some people do not like this particular aspect. But I never really watched the X-Files to see what new alien/monster is popping up; I watched it for the dynamic between Mulder and Scully.
I’m sure I’ve said this a thousand times over in my other rants/opinions of numerous media; if there is one thing I love, its humour, I’m never too good with overly serious, but neither can I do stupidly funny. I always prefer a bit of laughter to break the ice, and although afterlife gave more humour in perhaps uncomfortable situations, I loved it all the same. If the X-files had been deadly serious all the time it’d get boring, there would always be a snap of quick humour here and there, and afterlife does exactly that too.
One small comment as well is, if there is one thing that almost scares me every now and again in episodes of afterlife, its Alison’s clothes; granted I am not the most fashion-conscience person around, but some of what she wears is very… interesting to say the least, which granted is a good thing; it really shows her character!
As with a lot of television programmes I find numerous uncomfortable moments; segments in a show where you will sit there and think ‘oh god that is silly/embarrassing’ after all it happened in Doctor Who more than enough times, and the séance in the finale to the first series of afterlife did exactly that to me; but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it any less.
Afterlife as a show has received some good and bad press; I think it’s really you love it, or you hate it, all boils down to everybody’s taste.
Afterlife also did something that has not happened to me in bloody years; and that’s one episode in particular genuinely surprised me which as an awful person -I am always trying to figure out the narrative of a story- completely blew me away! I was focusing so much on the episode, but did not see it coming in the slightest way whatsoever! Which for me; makes the show that bit more amazing.
So now that’s over and done with; I’ll leave you with a bit of banter of my opinions of each episode, and I hope you enjoyed reading and that you will go out and watch afterlife, maybe tell me if you think I’m wrong on my opinions.
More than Meets the Eye – being a first episode; they never seem to be very good always introducing the characters and whatnot especially in dramas, though the story itself was good enough
Lower Than Bones – was a good insight to Alison and her actual abilities, though the conclusion was a little off; I probably would have preferred it with perhaps a different conclusion
Daniel One & Two - great episode! Taking Alison back to a psychiatric ward, some nice interactions, and a good conclusion
Misdirection - was nice in terms of an insight into characters, and the overall point of the episode was nice but a little silly; I actually felt the title misdirection would have suited the next episode far better. Though Mark Benton as a guest star was a definite plus!
Sleeping with the Dead - bit iffy in terms of Alison’s abilities, though the episode as itself was all-round decent.
7:59 Club - best episode in the season in terms of character development, we find out loads about Alison, and a bit more about Robert. As I’ve mentioned I did not really like the séance; it was nice to see Robert believe in Alison’s powers, but it didn’t make me believe them any more.
Roadside Bouquets - amazing episode! Nuff said, though the time change between 7:59 and then was a little; ‘5 months later’ kinda thing (so cutting corners in a way), loved the episode though
The Ratman - another amazing episode, with a partially chilling ‘bad-guy’, and more delving into Alison’s past/character, though the resolution was a bit quick for my liking.
Lullaby - could have been something more; the side story with Robert was rather dominative, and I can’t say I felt much towards the couple with the child, but was first episode of the second series written by someone other than Volk, perhaps would have been more shocking to watch if I hadn’t of missed it when it was on TV; and watched it after seeing up to episode 6
Your Hand in Mine- again a bit of an iffy episode, though none-the-less an enjoyable episode, Liam Cunningham was a plus as well.
Mirrorball - a rather controversial episode it would seem from response on the net; full of some –close to- graphic sex, I must say it was also not my exact cup of tea. But it did have relevance; either way, an interesting episode, if you forget all the sex.
Mind the Bugs Don’t Bite; one of the best episodes ever! Not only does it make great use of flashbacks to tell us about Alison’s past –I really loved the tone of the flashbacks- as well as the events surrounding her mother, and the eventual passing of her. Hands down, amazing episode!
Things Forgotten - similarly to other episode’s that I felt a little detached with; it was not written by Volk, and the young boy’s story; if not a little predictable on my standards, was almost pushed to the background and seemed to come off as a little less important with a lot focus being put on Robert; for good reasons too, with a shocking ending; though it had to happen sooner or later. The inclusion of Claire Rushbrook as a stereotypically fake medium was great fun though!
A Name Written in Water - I wait in anticipation for it to be shown; the last in the current and perhaps whole of the series, and there are still 11 hours to go as I write this, but personally I cannot wait to see how Volk leaves us –especially after the ending of the first season.