In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, Sky Living
In the US: Saturdays, BBC America. Some time in 2011
Think of Sky Living (formerly Living TV) and what comes to mind? Largely reality TV shows like Britain's Next Top Model and daft psychic and ghost-hunting programmes like Most Haunted. So Bedlam is something of a departure for the channel: its first scripted drama.
Not much of a departure though, because this is essentially Most Haunted: The Even More Obviously Fictional Version. Featuring a host of young, pretty actors – and Will Young (yes, the winner of Pop Idol) – Bedlam is set in 'Bedlam Heights', a former mental asylum in which the patients were abused, murdered, etc, and which has now been turned into a block of luxury apartments by Hugo Speer (The Full Monty).
Can you see what's going to go wrong here?
Speer's daughter Kate (Charlotte Salt) lives in one of the flats with her pals Molly (Ashley Madekwe) and Ryan (Young). All seems to be going well until they find an old ring (no clues there) and Kate's cousin Jed (Theo James) turns up. See, the thing is, former mental patient Jed can see dead people and it turns out there's a lot of them at Bedlam Heights…
Cue the artistic, creepy trailer.
Everybody has a dark side.
That's the tag line for Sky Living's brand new spooky drama series, Bedlam.
And it's a phrase which is bound to haunt the lead characters as they settle into Bedlam Heights, the converted lunatic asylum that they have chosen to call home.
Kate (Charlotte Salt) has been working with her father, Warren (Hugo Speer) to renovate the former asylum into the latest in modern living. She's also bagged herself a rather stylish flat in to the bargain, smart girl, which she now shares with best mate Molly (Ashley Madekwe) and Ryan (Will Young).
That's until Kate's troubled cousin, Jed (Theo James), turns up. He says he just needs a place to crash, but the creepy goings on at Bedlam Heights soon start to get under his skin. Can he really 'Save Kate'? And from whom, or what, does she need saving?
Is it any good?
Well, compared to the epic disaster I was expecting, mainly as a result of Most Haunted (as well as Hex, which will probably cloud our perceptions of British-made supernatural dramas on Sky until the day we all die), this is actually surprisingly good. It's about half an hour's worth of material strung out to an hour, it's a little rough round the edges, it's got a great big sign above it on which is writ large "Yes, we have seen The Ring thank you very much" and it's hard to really like the characters. But it provides a reasonable number of scares, largely prefers intelligent suspense to blood and guts, manages to subvert expectations on a number of occasions and actually looks like some money has been spent on it.
The show itself starts strangely with an odd non-sequitur of a scene. While it does manage to fool you quite cleverly, it doesn't seem especially related to the rest of the episode and gives you false expectations about the show (is it about a professional ghost hunter? No). But after that starter, things settle down and we get to explore Bedlam Heights and the characters. To a certain extent, this does feel a little bit like Hex – young people talking about sex a lot, confident lead woman shagging while her mousey friend doesn't since she's pining after Will Young.
Fortunately, it doesn't really go down that God-foresaken path and instead concentrates on trying to work out what a particular ghost wants. This seems to take an awful long time, partly because no one believes there's a ghost until right at the end, and usually involves a lot of people naked in baths. Indeed, Theo James' role seems largely to be walking/lying down without his top/trousers on. And of course no one takes showers because it's bloody hard to be drowned by a ghost in a shower.
Over the episode, we learn that Will Young's brother was murdered; we learn that Jed's just come out of a mental hospital because he can see dead people; and the Hugo Speer is probably up to something. We also learn that ghosts can text Jed – typically "Save Kate" a lot (although this takes an interesting turn at the very end of the episode).
At the end, we're left with Will Young and Theo James, ghost hunters, ready to work out what's really happening at Bedlam Heights before any of the ghosts can try to kill them again.
Young is surprisingly good – not the world's best actor but a lot better than you might have thought. Theo James is pretty much just a sculpture come to life – disconcertingly, he talks exactly like Chris Bates on The Apprentice. Charlotte Salt is appealing as Kate while Ashley Madekwe is a little under-served by the material by fine with what she's got.
The whole thing could do with a little more pacing and action and it does occasionally descend into silliness. But actually, it's a pretty good piece that does a good job of creating atmosphere and scares through things you can only sometimes glimpse. So I'll be watching, and not just because Joanna Page is going to be in a later episode.
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