Review: Sanctuary 1×1

Black! Black! You lock me in the cellar and feed me pins!

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, SciFi; 7p, Movie Central; 8e, The Movie Network
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, ITV4

There are two big trends in TV and film production at the moment. Okay, there are lots of trends, but here are two big ones.

The first is green screen, in which rather than building great big sets, you stick the actors up against a green screen and use special effects to add a computer-generated set in later. George Lucas pioneered it on Phantom Menace, but it’s only proved its truth worth recently on films like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and 300, in which pretty much everything other than the actors was computer-generated.

The second is the Internet. You might have heard of it. Now, all sorts of shows that don’t manage to get a look-in on the mainstream networks can be shot cheaply, uploaded to YouTube or a dedicated web site, and suddenly everyone’s watching it and one of the big networks picks it up. Quarterlife and The Peter Serafinowicz Show both managed it, but many argued they should have stayed on the Internet.

Sanctuary is a shiny new show, airing almost simultaneously on the US’s SciFi, Movie Central and The Movie Network channels and ITV4 in the UK, that combines both these trends. Not only is there a massive amount of green screen work, but it started off on the web before being spotted by SciFi. Starring and produced by Amanda Tapping of Stargate SG-1, it’s a bit of a dark piece in which faux-Brit Tapping, her faux-American kick ass daughter and a faux-bright criminal profiler join together to investigate odd beasties that they then take to their ‘Sanctuary’.

But despite all these shiny trends, is it a show that’s good in its own right, or simply "not bad for the Internet"?

Sanctuary blazes a trail across the TV landscape with never-before-seen production technology. Starring Amanda Tapping, best known to fans as the brilliant Col. Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, Sanctuary is the first series to shoot extensively on green screen, using virtual sets and extraordinary visual effects.

Sanctuary follows the adventures of the beautiful, enigmatic and always surprising Dr. Helen Magnus (Tapping), a brilliant scientist who holds the secrets of a clandestine population — a group of strange and sometimes terrifying beings that hide among humans.

Along with her new recruit, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), her quirky tech wiz Henry (Ryan Robbins) and her fearless daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), Magnus seeks to protect this threatened phenomena as well as unlock the mysteries behind their existence. The series also stars Christopher Heyerdahl as the sinister John Druitt.

Created by Damian Kindler (Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis), Sanctuary is produced in association with SCI FI Channel and is distributed by Tricon Films and Television. The show is executive produced by Damian Kindler, Sam Egan, Amanda Tapping, Martin Wood, Keith Beedie and N. John Smith.

Is it any good?
Well, it’s not bad for the Internet. While it does have a great mood and look, it does suffer from a few problems. The first is that it’s pretty derivative. There’s a little bit of everything in there – a bit of Torchwood, a bit of Buffy, a bit of Friday the 13th: The Series, a bit of Psych (really) and so on. The dialogue and indeed the whole set-up oozes clichés and the acting is mostly pretty leaden or over-sedate ("Really? The world’s ending? Care for some tea?"). Criminal profiler looks about 12. The plots are dreadfully predictable. And all the ‘English’ accents in it suck*.

On the other hand, it does have Danish-Canadian actress Emilie Ullerup, last seen to great effect in jPod, running about in motorcycle leathers, kicking arse. It’s not a great role at the moment, but one that bears sticking with, I think, even if they have given her a rubbish fringe.

Despite the clichés, it is reasonably smart in places although I think the whole show would disappear in a puff of incredulity if anyone ever turned the lights on**. Reasonably diverting, but nothing so special that your life would be empty or indeed less than 99% full if you didn’t bother to tune in.

I can’t access YouTube at the moment, but there are a whole host of unembeddable clips and interviews over on the ITV4 web site.

* Although I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, given accents change so much over the centuries (you’ll have to watch the show to understand why that’s important)
* Didn’t perpetual night lose its kudos post-The Crow and Dark City?