Third-episode verdict: Damien (US: A&E)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: Mondays, 10/9c, A&E
In the UK: Not yet acquired

So first off, let’s have a look over A&E’s most recent shows: Bates Motel, a prequel to PsychoUnforgettable, a show that originally aired on CBS until A&E picked it up; The Returneda remake of Les Revenants; Those Who Kill, a remake of Den Som Draeber; and now Damien, a sequel to The Omen

Now let’s once again consider A&E’s tagline: “Be original.” How’s that work then? Do they not know what ‘original’ means or are they simply saying “Look at us. If you don’t want to suck like we do, be original”?

Talking of “How’s that work then?”, explain to me how a show about the coming of the Antichrist has just had an episode in which said spawn of Satan heroically risks his own life to save the life of a small child who has fallen on the subway lines? Was there no induction manual in Hell?

That’s just one of the many, many problems Damien faces: in an effort to make the Antichrist a viable central figure for a TV series whom the audience can root for, they’ve turned him into a reluctant Antichrist – a good little posh boy who doesn’t remember anything about his accident-ridden childhood in which numerous people died or were molested by dogs, hasn’t ever had an inquisitive barber ask how he got that 666 birthmark on his scalp, and who’s quite appalled that he’s supposed to bring about the Apocalypse. Me? Surely not? That seems just horrid.

The other problems are by no means small, either. The show can’t quite decide whether it’s supposed to be funny or not. At least, I’m assuming that it’s supposed to be funny at times, because if it’s supposed to be serious, they really have cocked up quite massively. Woman killed by mysterious sinkhole in a car park? Man with his face ground off by an escalator after his tie gets caught in the works? At least Final Destination knew it was playing it for laughs.

On top of that, there’s the constant flashbacks to the movie and almost literal reverence for it, right down to a room full of props that evil, evil Barbara Hershey has stashed, including Damian’s childhood tricycle. Creepy? Yes. Terrifying? No. And it would probably go big on eBay.

Most of the three episodes we’ve had so far have spent their entire time referencing The Omen, purely so that Damien – who seemed pretty sure he was the Antichrist back then – can be reminded of his childhood death dog squad, his surrounding suicide entourage and the epic death toll wherever he went.

He’s still not convinced mind, despite having a birthmark in the shape of 666. It’s. A. Birthmark. It’s. 6. 6. 6. He was born with it. How can he not be convinced? Surely that’s supposed to be funny. And yet the show doesn’t seem to think it is. That’s just natural scepticism that is.

Where the show isn’t referencing the movie, it’s sole attempts at originality are Conspiracy Theory 101, with dozens of groups out to manipulate the Antichrist for their own ends, despite the fact just about anyone who comes within a 1 mile radius of him ends up getting strangled by their own large intestine in a freak letterbox-opening accident. Do they think the Devil’s not watching? Do they think they can beat the Book of Revelations? Do they think they can win Judgement Day or something?

Then there’s the acting. While lead Bradley James can excuse his middling transatlantic accent on the general grounds that Damien was brought up in England then moved to the US, nothing can excuse James’ pal Megalyn Echikunwoke’s astonishingly unsubtle performance, which rivals Bonnie Langford’s back in 1980s Doctor Who. Hershey is trying to be subtle yet evil, but it just comes across like she knows she’s getting a big paycheque and hopes to get the kudos Jessica Lang did for her American Horror Story performances. She won’t be.

If you look at the beautiful, exacting and multi-talented Barrometer above, you’ll notice that episode two scored a lot higher than the other episodes. That’s because it was full of the show’s redeeming feature: there’s a little bit of thought going on behind the scenes. Is the Antichrist truly evil? Is the Devil truly evil? Or are they both part of God’s plan? Indeed, there are indications that God might be the one protecting Damien and the Satanists might want to throw a spanner in the Judgement Day works so that they do win. Damien also has a nifty line in Christopher Hitchens-style arguments about God and man’s evil – man doesn’t need the devil when he can torture babies himself, all while the ‘loving’ God watches, unmoved.

But it’s nowhere near enough to avoid the seven circles of stupidity that episodes otherwise put us through.

Will I be watching more of this? Probably not. It does have a strangely compelling quality, in part because of its subject matter, in part because of the source material. It’s almost a guilty pleasure in some ways, it’s so bad.

But probably not.

Barrometer rating: 4
Would it be better with a female lead? Yes, provided it wasn’t Megalyn Echikunwoke
Rob’s prediction: One season at most


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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