Preview: Superstition 1×1 (US: Syfy; UK: Netflix)

Buffy but with Mario Van Peebles

Superstition - Season 1
SUPERSTITION -- Pictured: (l-r) Brad James as Calvin Hastings, Mario Van Peebles as Isaac Hastings -- (Photo by: Mitchell Galin/Xlrator Media/Syfy)

In the US: Fridays, 10/9c, Syfy. Starts October 20
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

October is scary enough with Halloween, but with a Friday the 13th in it too this year, it’s unsurprising that Syfy is cranking out not one but two spooky shows to capitalise on the moment. We’ve already had the unendurable Ghost Wars, about which the less said the better. Now we’ve got Superstition, which has been created, written and directed by no lesser a man than Mario Van Peebles – he stars in it, too, since he had a few spare hours left in the day, it seems.

No, he doesn’t sing the theme tune.

Super Mario

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember that Van Peebles’ New Jack City had as much impact at the time of its release as John Singleton’s Boyz N The Hood, albeit for very different reasons. 

But Peebles wasn’t just a director, he was an actor, too, and he went on to star in all manner of action movies afterwards.

Yeah, they weren’t much good.

Still, if that were a crime, Jean Claude Van Damme would be in the nick for life right now (Universal Soldier and Time Cop excepted). Except he’s not and he’s got a TV series now, so why shouldn’t Mario, hey?

Superstition

The idea of Superstition is that Peebles is the patriarch of the Hastings family, longtime owners of the only funeral home and graveyard in the southern town of La Rochelle (it probably has some French exchange students living there).

In addition to providing services for all faiths, the family specialises in handling ‘afterlife care’ for unexplained deaths at the hands of demonic ‘Infernals’, as well as other unworldly phenomena that have long haunted the town. Over the years, the Hastings have developed a skill-set in the dark arts to help combat this Infernal problem. Using arcane weaponry, brute strength, mystical alchemy and a deep knowledge of the occult and ancient lore, they quell the evil within the shadows

On top of that, they have alliances with other members of the town’s great and good, such as a CSI who’s in on the secret and who works with them to diagnose supernatural causes of death.

Most importantly, there’s also a wayward son (For Better or Worse‘s Brad James) who’s spent 16 years in Afghanistan and has returned back to help the family because he’s started getting visions that lead him to suspect something nasty’s about to happen. However, James discovers on his return that he’s got a daughter he never knew about, too.

Cover yourself in holy water

Superstition isn’t great. I’ll tell you that right now. It’s slow, a bit silly, a bit dull, a bit under-budgeted and James’ backstory is a tad too soapy. In fact, Solo‘s only marginally worse.

But Superstition is at least impressive in a few areas. For starters, although it’s a new show, it feels like it’s already had a pilot movie and three seasons before it. It’s got a fully formed mythology that it doesn’t always feel the need to explain. All the characters already know all the tricks of the trade and pick on each other for not drilling their runes correctly, for example, giving it a surprising degree of plausibility, once you accept its ground rules.

I can’t believe Peebles is a huge Buffy or Supernatural fan, but there are very similar vibes: there are Gilesian moments of research, the town has its own Hellmouth, and there’s a touch of smartness in its references to the likes of Glycon the snake god (I can’t believe Peebles is a huge Alan Moore fan, either, but you never know) that put it a cut above the rest. There’s also a nice Southern feel to the whole thing, too – better still, it’s actually filmed in Georgia, not Canada, so it looks the part as well.

Peebles gets to do his action thing, like he’s been ‘Infernal’ hunting for decades and he gets to do martial arts and firearms work just like in the good old days, albeit a tad slower now. Not David Carradine slow, though, thank Glycon.

Trouble is (spoiler) Mario gets his head cut off at the end of the episode. That means subsequent episodes aren’t going to be quite as interesting. Although, you know, ghosts are always possible.

Okaystition

I doubt I’ll stick with Superstition, though. It’s okay, there’s a reasonable degree of innovation, and it embraces the genre wholeheartedly, while creating so much of its own. But ultimately, the format is pretty derivative and the characters are too busy fighting and angsting for me to really like them, so I’m just not feeling it.

Sorry, Mario.