Sky has been promoting its new supernatural show called Bedlam, and I decided to tune in for an episode. The premise is simple: an asylum that has been in the Bettany family for hundreds of years has been re-fitted into flats for Yuppies and creepy things begin to happen. This ain’t a new concept, but it’s all about the execution after all.
Alas, execution is what’s going to happen to this series, because it’s clumsily put together, hackneyed, and not very scary at all.
There is an attractive cast of characters, including the heiress vixen (Charlotte Salt), her dad the evil landlord (Hugo Speer), the troubled, sexy young man who sees ghosts (Theo James), the gay sidekick (Will Young), and a pretty other girl (Ashley Madekwe) who doesn’t seem to have a particular purpose except to round out the odd scene or two.
Various ghosts of departed asylum inmates show up in between the laboured personal drama between the property developer dad of the vixen, who is also the (adopted) uncle of the lad who sees spooks. The trio turn up in various combinations and accuse each other of bad behaviour in between the hauntings.
There are a couple of scenes of people in bed which don’t even have a titillation factor. When Young went clubbing and started kissing a boy I figured we might be on to something, but somehow he ended up going home alone – just in time to discover the mad old dear who used to be an inmate of the place, but has been living in the basement of the building for years (nobody’s noticed).
The supposedly scary set-pieces are ruined because of obvious musical cues and adhering to the usual horror clichés, including a shower scene, an appearance of a phantom in mirror, a dream sequence, elevator trouble, lights dimming and people with a history of mental instability having hallucinations who are therefore deemed ‘unreliable’. It smacks of people who have never worked with horror before, but think they know how it works.
So, who is behind this?
The writers and series creators are David Allison, Neil Jones and Chris Parker and I’m rather unsurprised to see that they’ve all worked on British TV soaps, with Hollyoaks being their common denominator. There’s the typical soap dynamic of inter-related characters who are aching for the shouting, pushing-the-character-against-the-wall scene where they spill the family secrets. Plus the dinner party, followed by the requisite bitching session.
The actors do what they can with the material, and directors Alrick Riley and John Strickland seem decent (a couple of scenes show promise), but the project is lacking a coherent, gripping story featuring any intriguing characters who have major stakes at risk.
For a properly weird series set around a building nothing can top The Kingdom (1994), the Danish Twin Peaks, which is set in a modern hospital. That was created by a young fellow called Lars Von Trier, who also co-wrote (with Tómas Gislason and Niels Vørsel) and co-directed (with Morten Arnfred) the episodes.
If only Bedlam showed a smidgen of the oddball vision of The Kingdom, I would be happier.
Alas, it’s forgettable paint-by-numbers horror television that makes The Ghost Whisperer seem like watchable telly.